The Zero Equation Snippet

27 Dec

It’ll be a while before I start on this one, but i just had this scene buzzing through my head.

Prologue I

I was nine when I touched the Family Sword for the first time.

It wasn’t something I was meant to do. My parents had made it clear to us that my sisters and I were not supposed to enter the Great Hall without an escort, let alone touch one of our family’s most priceless heirlooms. But … well, I suppose I should start at the beginning.

My sisters and I had been studying magic for two years. We were home-schooled, of course; we weren’t sent to primary school for another year. My family’s tutors saw to it that we were fed a diet of magical theory, ancient languages, magical runes and, of course, practical studies. My sisters had moved ahead in leaps and bounds, while I … I had yet to cast a single spell. I could see the disappointment on my father’s face, even though he tried to hide it; I could see the scorn and contempt on my sisters’ face when they realised I lacked any spark of magic. My potions were perfectly brewed, my runic diagrams and magical calculations were perfectly drawn …

… And it didn’t matter. I couldn’t perform even the simplest spell.

One cold winter evening, I stumbled out of the schoolroom feeling as though my head was on fire. It had been a long session, with a doddering old great-great-uncle for a tutor … he wasn’t a bad sort, not really, but he had a habit of addressing us by names that belonged to our older relatives. And he’d made me draw out a basic diagram again and again, as if simple repetition would finally lead to magic flowing out of my fingers and into the design. My head hurt, my fingers hurt … all I wanted was to catch an hour or two of sleep before dinner was served. I could hear my sisters and cousins playing in the snow outside as I reached the top of the stairs, the sound mocking me. They were animating snowmen and using them to have snowball fights, but … what could I do? There was no way I could join them. The best I could hope for was being turned into a snowman myself.

I was alone. It hurt, more than I cared to admit.

The sound behind me caught me by surprise. I started to duck, too late. The spell slammed into my back and my entire body froze. I was utterly unable to move, unable to save myself as I tumbled over and over, falling down the stairs. My body crashed into the banisters, the sound echoing though the stairwell as an unseen force pushed me further and further downwards. I caught a glimpse of Alana standing above me, posing dramatically on the top of the stairs. Her dark face was alight with glee.

I prayed to all the ancestors that her spell wouldn’t snap until I reached the bottom, praying with a desperation I rarely felt. The freeze spell saved me from feeling any pain, but if it gave out while I was still falling I’d crash straight into the banisters. Or something. My body kept flipping over and over – Alana must have combined her hex with a locomotive spell – until I crashed into the Great Hall and rolled over the marble floor. I hit the statue of Aguirre Primus and stopped, dead. My distant ancestor’s statue seemed to be glowering down at me in disapproval. How could one of his bloodline be so weak?

The spell held me firmly, keeping me still as Alana inched her way down the stairs. I could hear her footsteps tap-tapping on the stone, pausing every so often to make sure no one was coming to find out what was making the noise. Alana might be the favoured of the family, the one deemed most likely to succeed my father as Aguirre Matriarch, but even she would be in trouble if she was caught in the Great Hall. Dad would be angry and Mum would be furious. The Great Hall was for impressing guests, not for little girls to play. I tensed inwardly as I heard her walking over towards me, bracing myself for another cruel hex – or worse. And then she rolled me over and glared down at me.

“You are pathetic,” she said, nastily. A faint mark on her dark cheek glimmered with an unearthly light. She’d had a potions accident and the remnants of the brew had yet to wear off. It wasn’t dangerous, but it made her look silly. “You can’t even cancel a simple spell.”

I wanted to snap out a response, but I couldn’t move a muscle. She was right. I knew she was right. The freeze spell we’d been taught was among the simplest of hexes, the easiest to cast – and to cancel, if you knew how to focus your magic. I’d watched from the upper levels as the extended family romped around in the snow, freezing each other with gay abandon. And I’d wanted to join them, even though I knew I couldn’t …

Alana leaned forward, as if she had something important to share. “You want to know a secret? You’re not our sister.”

I had to fight to stay calm. I wanted to scream. It was hard to believe, sometimes, that I could really be the daughter of Joaquin and Sofia Aguirre. My parents were amongst the most powerful magicians in the kingdom, perhaps even the world. And I didn’t have any magic at all.

“Dad just wanted to claim he had triplets,” Alana added, in a sweet tone that didn’t fool me for a second. “He took a foundling girl and …”

The spell snapped. I started upwards, too late. Alana leapt backwards with commendable speed, one hand raised and ready to cast a spell. She knew better than to be within arm’s reach of me. Forging had made me strong for my age. I wanted to lunge at her, to break her nose for the second time, but … she’d get me before I managed to strike. I dreaded the thought of what she’d be like, after she went to school. She was quite bad enough now, with only a handful of spells at her disposal.

“I look like Dad,” I said. It was true. My face was solidly feminine, but I looked more like my father than my mother. “I …”

“There are glamours that can change a person permanently,” Alana reminded me. “Given time, they soak into the skin.”

I bunched my fists, feeling hot tears prickling at the corner of my eyes. She was lying. She had to be lying. And yet, there was a quiet nagging doubt at the back of my mind. What if … what if she wasn’t lying? A foundling girl would be defenceless. She’d have no family to come to her aid. No one would care if someone took her into their family and wrapped her in a glamour … no one would question her bloodline, if she was formally adopted. My father could have done that to me …

“That’s why you have no magic,” Alana said. She tried to sound regretful and failed utterly. “You’re not one of us.”

I tried to think, even though I wanted to cry. What if … what if … a thought struck me and I turned, looking for the Family Sword. It was embedded in a stone anvil, the visible part of the blade glowing faintly with a pearly white light. My father’s family had owned the sword since we’d joined the Thousand-Year Empire. We – those who shared a bloodline that dated back nearly two thousand years – were the only ones who could lift it.

“I’ll show you,” I said.

I heard her gasp as I walked towards the glowing sword, half-expecting to run into a protective spell. Dad would be furious if he knew I’d touched the blade. I’d be grounded for life or sent to bed without supper or … maybe he’d take one of Great Aunt Stregheria’s particularly unpleasant child-rearing suggestions. Her children didn’t exist and I still felt sorry for them. No magic snapped at me as I clambered onto the anvil, no ward held me in place while summoning the master of the house; I wrapped my dark fingers around the blade and pulled. It came out of the stone easily.

Alana gasped a word that Mum would have washed her mouth out with soap merely for thinking, let alone saying. I almost echoed her. The sword was huge, taller than I, yet I had no trouble holding it upright. It felt as light as a feather. The blade glowed brightly in my hands. I jumped down, holding the sword upright. It seemed to hum as I waved it through the air.

“You’re going to be in big trouble,” Alana said.

She jabbed a finger at me, casting a spell. A brilliant hex flashed through the air … and exploded harmlessly against the blade. The sword had moved in my hands, cutting the spell out of the air. I could feel it twisting, readying itself to deflect another spell. A trickle of unease ran through me as my body shifted, not entirely as I wished. The sword seemed to be controlling me, not the other way around. It felt as if it was going to slash out at Alana … no matter what I wanted. I was no longer in control.

Alana took a step backwards, fear flickering over her face. “I think you should put the sword back,” she managed, her voice quivering. “Cat …”

My legs moved forward of their own accord. The sword hummed louder, pulling me onwards. I tried desperately to let go, but my fingers seemed to be sinking into the hilt … it felt as though the sword was becoming part of me. The horror stories I’d been told about the dangers of Objects of Power suddenly felt terrifyingly real. I’d made a horrific mistake.

“Stop,” Dad’s voice said. He was behind me. The sword froze in my hands. “Put the blade down.”

I obeyed. The sword no longer felt part of me. It’s light dimmed the moment I let go of the hilt. And then I swung around and hugged my father, desperately. I knew he was going to be angry, I knew I was going to be punished, but … I wanted to hold him. I wanted to know it was going to be alright. I wanted …

“That was unwise,” Dad said, lifting me into his arms. “You’re nowhere near ready to touch the sword.”

“But I could touch the sword,” I said, plaintively. Alana had been wrong. I was my father’s daughter. “I’m one of the family. Right?”

“Oh, Caitlyn,” Dad said. He held me tightly. I heard a faint choke in his voice. “Was that ever in doubt?”

I couldn’t answer. Not then. But we both knew the truth.

24 Responses to “The Zero Equation Snippet”

  1. Jack Hudler December 28, 2017 at 3:31 am #

    Nice opening, can’t wait read it.

  2. William Ameling December 28, 2017 at 6:13 am #

    Interesting, I have been wondering how family relationships and family swords work. In particular, if your Mother and Father come from different families that each have a Family Sword (and each of them had touched their Family Sword), which Family Sword do you belong to? Only ONE (in which case WHICH One), or BOTH (in which case, what about your children, etc.?) How Far out does the ability spread? First cousins (probably I would think), Second cousins (maybe), third, fourth etc. cousins?

    Also could your family have more than One Family Sword that could be used by multiple members of the family?

    Also, how long or down a family tree can a lost Family Sword still recognize a Family Member, like what happened to Akin? I assume that Akin’s Family already had a Family Sword that had been handed down for a very long time (if it did not have such a sword how were they the 2nd strongest family in the city). Can a Lost Family Sword respond to many (hundreds or thousands) of possible descendents or only to some narrow family line?

    Cat’s abilities to make new Orbs of Power, including Family Swords, will probably reveal some interesting and probably long forgotten information and properties of Orbs of Power and Family Swords.

    It is interesting that Cat as a true ZERO, still had the connection to the family sword. It is interesting that her Father seemed to have some control over it even when he was not holding it. Is there some special magical ritual to confirm who is the new Head of a (magical) House that involves the Family Sword when the old Head dies?

    • chrishanger December 30, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

      You have to have the bloodline.

      Basically, Cat could use a sword that belonged to either of her families; her mother could NOT use her father’s sword or vice versa.

      Technically, the sword belongs to the senior family member, so yes – her father does have some power over it.


  3. William Ameling December 28, 2017 at 6:18 am #

    Did Cat have an unusual connection or ability to use the Family Sword as a ZERO? (different from the rest of the family)

    • chrishanger December 30, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

      More like a problem with it, as she lacks the magic (and she’s too young) to control it.


  4. Simon December 28, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

    Interesting how the Sword dealt with the magical attacks against Cat, does that happen for all wielders or just a zero?

  5. Anarchymedes December 29, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I guess, magic swords are as dangerous as guns in the hands of bullied kids – and bullying is just as evil in the magic universe as it is in ours.

  6. Doug December 29, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

    “I wrapped my dark fingers around the blade and pulled” Since Cat apparently still has all of her fingers, you might replace the word “blade” with perhaps hilt. More seriously, I realize you are using the word blade to refer to the entire sword but hilt still works better in my mind (the immediate mental picture I got when reading that sentence was unsettling to say the least) .

  7. Kell December 30, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    Something has to be done about alana by the end of the series she is horrible

  8. William Ameling December 30, 2017 at 10:32 pm #

    But assuming Cat’s Mother could use a Family Sword from a different Family (if that Family had a Family Sword) (which you just said she could) could a child of Cat use both of them (Cat’s Mother’s and Cat’s Father’s), and assuming she married Akin that child could use Akin’s Family Sword (for 3 different Swords). There has to be a cutoff somewhere, or after many generations most members of most most magical Families could use most Family Swords. (remember 2 to the 10th is 1012 and 2 to the 20th power is over a million, and it has been 30 to 50 generations since the fall of the Empire. 2 to the 30th power is over a billion, 2 to the 40th is over a trillion).

    The easiest way to handle it is that the first Family Sword you touch that you are eligible to use, becomes the only Family Sword that you can use. Which works with the end of book 2 as long as Akin had not touched his Father’s Family Sword (assuming that they have one). So assuming Cat’s mother had a different Family Sword than Cat’s Father, once Cat touched her Father’s Sword, she could no longer use a Sword from her Mother’s Family. This also means that if Akin’s Father already had a Family Sword, that Akin could not now use it and Akin’s Father could not use Akin’s new Sword.

  9. William Ameling December 30, 2017 at 10:38 pm #

    That could help explain why many of the students who tried touching the repaired sword could not use it, because they had already touched their old Family Sword. Only those who had not touched a Family Sword would be eligible and then blood line cuts it more, but there might have been more than Akin and his sister who “might’ have been able to use it because of intermarried Magical Houses.

  10. William Ameling December 30, 2017 at 10:40 pm #

    Also if Akin’s Father can use the repaired Sword, who is the senior member that can use it, Akin or his Father?

    • chrishanger January 8, 2018 at 2:23 pm #

      This has inspired a scene in the third book.


      • William Ameling January 8, 2018 at 3:02 pm #

        We will see what you do with the question (or inspiration).

  11. William Ameling December 31, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

    Unfortunately, I do not think my proposal will fit the facts so far. But there are has to be some kind of fading or limit on ties between Family Swords and people who can use them, including descendants. I am just not sure how Chris will do it. It is one thing when the ties get renewed every generation, but when something (a Family Sword) has been lost for hundreds of years or a thousand years, plus the unknown effects of being damaged and repaired, what really determined what can happen? Was it really the Sword from a Lost Branch of the Family or did being repaired somehow reset (within some limits) who could own it?

    • William Ameling January 8, 2018 at 3:25 pm #

      More interesting questions, related to ideas mentioned above, can a Magical House own and use more than one Sword (Orb of Power) ? or is it the other way around, the Sword owns/creates the Magical House by possessing it (with only one Sword per House)? Or in other words, did Akin just start his own Magical House by getting the Sword (I am assuming that Akin’s father already has a Family Sword)? Also how do Family Swords affect the client versus patron relationships in their society (when Cat made a Sword for a friend (client?) of their family) ?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 8, 2018 at 4:17 pm #

        Thoughts on the relationship between Great Houses and Family Swords (lets call them Magic Swords).

        It is very likely that a Great House is considered a Great House because of the Power (magic or otherwise) that it possesses in the society.

        The older Great Houses (dating to before the Fall of the Empire) likely have at least one of these Magic Swords but newer Great Houses lack Magic Swords unless a holder of a Magic Sword has married into their Family.

        From what we saw of the creation of these Magic Swords, being usable by relatives is a side-effect of the process of making such a sword for a specific person.

        When Cat created the Sword for Sir Griffons, she used his blood to “make it his own” but told him that a close relative could also use it.

        So IMO a Family Sword is a Magic Sword owned by a Great House.

        Sir Griffons’ sword isn’t a Family Sword because he’s not the head (or even member) of a Great House. Of course, it’s possible that Sir Griffons will found a Great House.

        I suspect that a Great House could own several Magic Swords usable only by members of the family.

        However, from what Chris has said it may be rare that a Great House owns more than one Magic Sword.

        I suspect that a Great House owning more than one Magic Sword would designate one of the Swords as the “Family Sword”.

      • chrishanger January 11, 2018 at 9:43 am #

        There’s no reason you need a sword to found a Great House


  12. William Ameling January 8, 2018 at 10:09 pm #

    I would suspect that at least in some cases, if a Great Magical House had more than one Magic Sword that it might establish a cadet branch with one of the Swords (in the long term, over the centuries since the Fall of the Empire).

    I was making my questions because I am not sure of the details yet, just guesses. I am waiting for Book 3 to get the real details. I know that I am not right about everything, for one thing some of my suggestions/questions contradict each other !

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 8, 2018 at 11:23 pm #

      Good thought, especially in terms of “After the Fall of the Empire”.

  13. William Ameling January 9, 2018 at 5:18 am #

    Or as suggested above, they could pass a 2nd Sword on to another Family via a marriage into that Family that brought a spare (or the 2nd) Sword along with it. The question is how useful is a second Sword inside the same Family (assuming that both can be used). Giving a (spare) Sword to another family that needed a Sword ought to cement a very long term alliance between the families.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 9, 2018 at 2:24 pm #

      On “what use is a second Magic Sword for a Great House”, I suspect that the major uses of “Family Swords” at this time is Identifying Who Is A True Family Member and Prestige.

      A second “Family Sword” would be a Prestige item as such Swords are rare.

      Now, since the Swords can only be used by a relative of the person that the Sword was originally made for, they would likely be “given” to another family only as a “wedding gift” when a member of the first family married into the other family.

      It would be IMO meaningless to give a Magic Sword to another family if nobody in the second family would be able to use/hold the Sword.

  14. William Ameling January 10, 2018 at 3:32 am #

    But the descendants of the person (probably a woman) who brought a Sword with (her) when they married into another House (probably to the Heir of the House) would be able to use the Sword, think of it on a multi generation/century time scale, so eventually that House would be able to use that sword.

    The problem in my mind is when does the relationship dilute enough that you can NOT use a Sword. Otherwise, with ANY intermarriage between Houses, eventually MOST Swords could be used by MOST members of MOST Houses e.g. after 10 or 20 or 30 generations,and there has been a lot more than that since the Fall of the Empire.After 20 generations your number of potential ancestors is over a million, and after 30 generations it is over a billion. I realize that that over time periods like that, the same ancestor will come done to you over many different paths of descent, so the actual number is a lot less.

    Or put in a different way of putting it, if a person(woman) marries into another House WITHOUT bringing a Sword with (her)(the normal case), at what point will her descendants STOP being able to use her OLD Family Sword and can now use only their NEW Family’s Sword? There has to be some cut off (or dilution) point, or cut off Ceremony or Magical Rite (spell) that cuts off (her) descendants. Otherwise, for example, children of Cat and Akin could use BOTH Family’s Swords and would be members of BOTH Houses.

    Changing the subject slightly, we already know that Akin’s House was a Cadet branch of a House in the Empire Capital, that returned to their origin city, presumably with a Family Sword since Orbs of Power where still being made then.

    I am going to throw out an interesting idea, that does not get taken into account in normal discussions of this sort, because of a lack of knowledge about actual biology and genetics (either on our part or in the (possibly fictional) society being discussed). Since a human being only has 23 pairs of chromosomes or 46 total chromosomes, you can only have a maximum number of 46 ancestors at any point in history (going back far enough). This does NOT take into account crossover between chromosomes and mutations, which are additional complications. 2 to the 6th is 64, so going back 6 generations (or more) in a family tree starts LOSING potential ancestors because inheritance comes in 46 separate packages called chromosomes.

    The argument applies in the other direction as well, some of your great great great great grand children (6 generations) will NOT have inherited ANY of your chromosomes, so are they really your descendants? (ignoring crossover and mutations).

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