The Zero Equation – CH1

14 Jan

And here we go …

Chapter One

I awoke, to a soft insistent tapping on the other side of my drapes.

“Coming,” I said, sitting upright and swinging my legs over the bed. My watch said it was ten o’clock in the morning. Sandy had let us sleep in. “Sandy?”

“Yeah,” Sandy said. Her voice sounded muffled. Rose had cast silencing charms on my drapes, but they hadn’t lasted. “You’re wanted in the changing room down the corridor.”

I winced. I’d been trying to forget that Rose and I had been summoned to Magus Court. It had been a week since we’d been rescued and it hadn’t been easy getting back to school. But then, school hadn’t been easy in the first place. Even now …

“Cat,” Rose said, from outside. She sounded as tired as I felt. “Can I come in?”

“Yes, please,” I said, pulling a small bag from under the bed. “How are you feeling?”

“Rotten,” Rose said, as she pushed the drapes aside and stepped in. “How are you?”

I looked up and winced, again. Rose looked pale, so pale that her red hair was more striking than usual. She’d been having nightmares, I knew; nightmares that had left her feeling as though she hadn’t had any sleep at all. I was surprised that Sandy hadn’t insisted that Rose sleep somewhere else, if she wasn’t going to take anything to help her rest. Or, perhaps, attend counselling with Magistra Haydon. My father had offered to let Rose speak with one of the family’s experts on mental health, but that would have to wait until after the hearing. I didn’t think she’d enjoy it very much.

But she might need it, I thought. I’d had problems with the shrinks – they’d assumed that I was deliberately repressing my magic, the magic I didn’t have – but Rose was a far simpler case. They might be able to help her.

I slung my bag over my shoulder, then stepped through the drapes myself. The other beds were empty, suggesting that our dormmates had gone down to breakfast or found something else to do with their time. Sandy might have chased them out, I supposed. Normally, weekends were lazy days … even with exams coming up. But no one would argue with Sandy when she was in a bad mood. I’d heard that she’d received a tongue-lashing for letting Rose, Akin and myself be kidnapped. It wasn’t her fault, but I knew the staff were in desperate need of someone to blame.

“They’re in the changing room,” Sandy said, jerking a finger towards the door. Her stern expression softened, just slightly. “Good luck.”

“Thank you,” I said. I’d reassured Sandy that I didn’t blame her, but my word counted for nothing. “We’ll see you this evening.”

Sandy shrugged, then lay back on her bed. I hesitated, trying to think of something to say, but none of the etiquette lessons Mum had forced me to take had covered this situation. Sandy hadn’t made a fool of herself, unlike a few upperclassmen I could mention, nor had she been deliberately malicious … and yet her future had been ruined anyway. No one would want to offer her an apprenticeship now. I wished there was something I could do for her, but nothing came to mind. My father was hardly likely to listen to my pleading on her behalf.

I felt oddly exposed as I walked through the door and down the corridor. My hair hadn’t been washed, let alone braided. Mum would have pitched a fit if she’d seen us, even though there was no reasonable chance of being seen by the adults. And if I was seen … I’d be the talk of the town, not in a good way. There were just too many people who wanted to embarrass our house. They’d gleefully dissect my etiquette failings for the rest of the year.

Not that it matters, I thought. They spent the last three years dissecting my failures in magic.

The familiar bitter resentment welled up inside me as we reached the changing room and stepped inside. I’d had no magic – no apparent magic – for six years, while my siblings had developed their magic at a terrifying rate. Even now, even after discovering what I could do, I still felt a little resentment. The kidnappers – Fairuza and her mystery patron – had treated me as an object, rather than a person. And too many others felt the same way. They were more concerned with what I could do for them than what they could do for me.

“Cat,” Alana said. “You look terrible.”

I tensed, automatically. Alana had been my tormenter for six years, regularly hexing and jinxing me for her own amusement. Our relationship had never been pleasant. Even now, I was wary of her. She’d veered from regarding me as a ball and chain around her future prospects to fearing that my unique talents would allow me to outshine her. Dad might have ordered her and Bella to help us prepare for the hearing, but … I hoped she’d have the sense to behave herself. Dad was on the warpath.

“I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” I told her. It might well be true. I wasn’t ugly, but my face had more character than traditional beauty. “Are you well?”

Alana’s dark face twisted into an ugly scowl. “Get in the shower and wash,” she ordered, flatly. “We’ll be ready when you come out.”

I looked from Alana to Bella, then shrugged. It was hard to believe, sometimes, that we were really related. We had the same eyes and skin tone, but Alana’s face was sharper than mine while Bella’s had grown pudgy. They took more after Mum than Dad, something I supposed was lucky for them. I had inherited his cheekbones. Mum had told me that I’d grow into my looks, but I rather suspected it was the kind of thing mothers told their homely daughters.

“Fine,” I said. The sooner we were washed, the sooner we could get dressed and have our hair braided. “You get set up here.”

Rose followed me into the shower. She looked as nervous as I felt, even though she knew she needed Alana and Bella more than me. I could braid my own hair, given time. I could even devise Objects of Power to help me braid my hair. But Rose had grown up in the countryside. Everything she said, every move she made, marked her as someone of no account. She needed to be dressed properly, if nothing else, or she’d be dismissed as hopelessly gauche.

And yet, that would be simpler, I thought, as I stripped down and stepped into the warm water. If I’d grown up on a farm …

I shook my head. If I’d grown up on a farm, no one would have thought there was anything odd about my lack of magic. But it wouldn’t have been an easy life. Rose had told me enough horror stories about life on the farm to convince me that it wasn’t something I wanted for myself. And yet … I wasn’t sure what I did want. I’d wanted to be famous – and now I was famous – but it had come at a price. My life would never be my own.

Rose muttered a drying cantrip as we stepped out of the shower and back into the changing room. Alana and Bella had been unusually efficient; they’d set up the dressing tables and hung the dresses behind the door, rather than leave them in the bags until they were actually needed. I hesitated, unwilling to let Alana any closer than absolutely necessary, then sighed and nodded to the dress. Better for Bella to work on Rose than risk Alana hexing my friend when her back was turned. I didn’t think Alana would be stupid enough to anger Dad that badly, but she’d done stupid things before.

“Get this on,” Alana said, shoving an undershirt at me. “We have to hurry.”

“We have time,” I said, soothingly. “They’re not going to start without us.”

“They’ll notice if you’re late,” Alana countered. She unhooked the dress and carried it over to me. “I hope you haven’t put on weight.”

Bella made a small sound of protest. I winced in sympathy. Bella wasn’t exactly overweight, but she was pudgy enough for it to be noticed. Thankfully, she had the patience to help Rose don unfamiliar undergarments. I didn’t know what Rose had worn on the farm, but I was fairly sure it was something simple. She’d had a great deal of trouble with the school uniform when she’d first arrived. I’d had to help her get dressed more than once.

I ignored her as I studied the blue dress. It was a miniature version of a dress Mum wore on special occasions, right down to the runes sewn into the silk and the family crest on my left shoulder. No one would fail to recognise me. Alana helped me into it, tightening fastenings and doing up ribbons. I tried to keep the dismay off my face as I inspected myself in the mirror. The dress looked nice, but it wasn’t designed to be easy to remove. I was going to have real problems when we returned to the school.

“We should be coming with you,” Alana said, once she’d finished. “You know … show off to the crowd.”

“Dad said no,” I reminded her. Dad couldn’t keep either Rose or myself from attending the hearing, but he’d put his foot down when his other daughters had been invited. “You can ask him if he wants to change his mind.”

Alana shook her head, hastily. I hid my smile as I sat down in front of the dressing table and braced myself. Sisters braided each other’s hair all the time, I’d been told, but I wasn’t too keen on allowing Alana anywhere near my hair. She’d once hexed my barrette to fall out at a particularly embarrassing moment, which would have been bad enough, but it had somehow undone my braids at the same time. Mum had been furious. Alana had been lucky not to be grounded for so long her grandchildren would still be stuck in the bedroom.

I had to smile. That had been a very peaceful summer.

Alana’s reflection scowled at me. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” I said, quickly. I made a show of looking at the clock. “Hurry?”

Alana nodded, then went to work with a smooth comb. My hair – our hair – had never been easy to keep under control, but my mother had charmed our combs and brushes to work out the tangles and other problems without a long struggle. I tried to stay calm as Alana brushed out my hair, then started to work it into long dark braids. If she hexed my hair …

She wouldn’t be that stupid, I told myself, again and again. My father knew how my talents actually worked. He knew he’d made a dreadful mistake by allowing Alana to hex me repeatedly in hopes of bringing out my magic. She wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it any longer. And besides, we were going to Magus Court. If Dad was humiliated in front of his rivals …

I shivered. Akin was going to be there – and so was his father. Lord Carioca Rubén had been working steadily to undermine my father’s position since they were both young men. Akin had told me that Carioca Rubén had been delighted when it had seemed I didn’t have magic, then horrified when he realised the truth. It would be hard, almost impossible, for us to be unseated if we were the only source of new Objects of Power. Dad had wondered if Carioca Rubén had backed the kidnappers, even though he’d sworn an oath denying it. They had every reason to try to remove me before my mere existence shifted the balance of power permanently against them.

And we have their Family Sword, I thought. I’d hidden it under my bed, locked away in a box I’d designed myself. I didn’t know if Akin had told his father about the sword. I knew I hadn’t told my father. That won’t make our lives any easier.

“Nearly done,” Alana said. Her fingers worked their way through my hair. “You do remember your manners, don’t you?”

I smiled. “Shake hands with the left hand, stick my tongue out at the guests, run off as soon as decently possible …”

Alana didn’t see the funny side. “Well, if you want to be disowned … go right ahead.”

“I remember how to behave myself,” I said. Mum – and my aunts – had put us through hour after hour of etiquette training. The formal dinners I’d shared with my cousins had been nightmarish. Putting the slightest foot wrong had been grounds for a long lecture on precisely why we were meant to behave in a specific fashion. I knew it was important, but … I’d hated it. “And we’re not going to a wedding.”

“Thank the ancients,” Alana said.

Bella coughed. “I heard that Susan of House Fitzwilliam is getting married to Jan,” she said, tersely. “We’ll be invited, of course.”

I groaned. Weddings were hard enough at the best of times. But a match between a Great House and a New Man? They were always awkward. The Great Houses understood the importance of new blood, but there was always someone who would look down on the newcomer. And there was probably no way to get out of it, if we were invited. Mum and Dad would make us go.

“I’ll try to come up with an excuse,” I said.

Alana snorted. “You know what they say,” she said. “If you’re on your deathbed, bring your deathbed with you.”

Rose giggled. She clearly thought Alana was joking. I knew better. Weddings were the social event of the year, as far as the families were concerned. Anyone who didn’t attend would be deemed to have snubbed the families, something that would have thoroughly unpleasant repercussions further down the line. I’d heard enough horror stories to know that a feud that started at a wedding would linger for centuries, long enough for everyone involved to forget what actually started it.

“Done,” Alana said, shortly. “What do you think?”

I looked at my reflection. The braid was perfect, not a single hair out of place. Alana had placed a couple of clips into the hair to hold it firmly in place, but I doubted they were necessary. She’d done a very good job. The blue dress looked striking, although I had the feeling it was going to get crumpled by the time we reached Magus Court. Thankfully, the family dressmaker had charmed the material to ensure it didn’t get rumpled – or dirty.

Those charms might not last, I reminded myself. I’d discovered that charms fed off a magician’s personal magic, but – as far as I knew – Rose and I were the only people who knew it. And I was the only person who knew the source of magic. The dress might start getting dirty halfway through the hearing.

“Good enough,” I said, unwilling to praise her too much. “Rose?”

“She’s ready,” Bella said.

I glanced at Rose. She looked as if she didn’t dare to move. The green dress my parents had sent her was expensive, very expensive. My family could afford a hundred such dresses and never notice the cost, but Rose’s family could no more buy silk from Hangchow than they could purchase an Object of Power. If she tore it … I shot her a reassuring look. The dress was charmed to keep it intact and Rose, unlike me, had plenty of raw magic to power the spells. She wouldn’t be able to damage the dress unless she used a pretty destructive spell.

“You look great,” I told her. She did. Her red hair was tied into a pair of neat pigtails, drawing attention to her pale face and the client crest my father had given her. It was unusual for someone so young to be taken on as a client, but it would give Rose a little extra status at Magus Court. “How are you feeling?”

“Hungry,” Rose said.

“There’s food in the cooler,” Alana said. She opened the box to reveal a selection of sandwiches. “Eat quickly.”

I felt my stomach growl, so I took a sandwich and ate it quickly. It tasted like ashes in my mouth. We were going to Magus Court … the butterflies in my stomach were multiplying at terrifying speed. Normally, I wouldn’t visit the court while it was in session, at least until I was old enough to have my Season. A mistake made in front of everyone who was anyone would haunt me for the rest of my life. Alana would spend the rest of her life rubbing it in.

“You’ll be back before you know it,” Alana told us. “Try not to embarrass the family.”

“Thank you,” I said, sourly.

I opened my bag and removed a pair of protective bracelets, glinting under the light. I slipped one onto my wrist and passed the other to Rose. Magus Court was supposed to be protected against all threats, from subtle mind-altering charms to outright death spells, but I knew better than to place my faith in Devices of Power. Too many magicians would be working hard trying to find ways to circumvent the wards. Even Objects of Power could be beaten if one knew how to do it.

And I can’t even sense magic, I thought, as I snapped the earrings into place. I’m vulnerable.

There was a sharp rap at the door. Alana opened it.

“The carriage is waiting for you,” an upperclassman I didn’t recognise said. Her blue eyes flickered over us for a long moment, her lips twisting in a mixture of stern disapproval and bitter envy. “Are you ready?”

I looked at Rose, who nodded. “Yeah,” I said, standing. “Let’s go.”

33 Responses to “The Zero Equation – CH1”

  1. Simon January 14, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

    Sounds good, I can’t wait until it’s ready

  2. Thorum January 14, 2018 at 5:01 pm #

    I also can’t wait to read more of it.
    I am sometimes not sure if I should read these excerpts or not. On one hand I want to read more about the series. On the other hand I want to immediately read more but I have to wait till the finished book is released or another excerpt/snippet is released.

    I thought you are currently taking a break from writing or was this Chapter already finished before the break? Or did the ideas come anyway and you got the urge to write it down?

    Thanks and good work as always.

  3. Aleisha January 14, 2018 at 5:53 pm #

    I Love this series and I can hardly wait until the next book is out. I know in the last book you teased that Cat was going to help the school rebuild its wards but here’s a thought… what if she got the idea to essentially treat the whole school as an Object of Power? Just gonna leave that thought there.

  4. George Phillies January 14, 2018 at 11:15 pm #

    What is the issue with going to Magus Court? Why is the upperclassman jealous? That piece needs to be spelled out in this book.

  5. doug lake sr January 15, 2018 at 12:15 am #

    How soon, please?

    • chrishanger January 28, 2018 at 10:34 am #

      The plan is mid-feb. It may not work out.

      Chris

  6. William Ameling January 15, 2018 at 7:13 pm #

    So does Akin’s House already have an old Family Sword that is NOT the one that Cat just repaired and found out that Akin could use? I was assuming that they already had one, but maybe they didn’t. However, their branch of the House (Main branch in Empire Capital) was established while the Empire was still functional, so I was assuming that they brought a Family Sword with them (unless they could NOT have a separate Sword from the Main House).

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 15, 2018 at 7:27 pm #

      In Chapter Four, it is established that their Family Sword was lost fairly recently in a House War against another House.

      So the Sword that Cat repaired is the lost Family Sword.

  7. George Phillies January 15, 2018 at 8:52 pm #

    Cat might think ‘I had been kidnapped. I escaped and was returned. Now there would be an inquest. What had happened?’

  8. Dani January 16, 2018 at 12:20 am #

    We don’t actually know that it’s Carioca Rubén’s family’s sword. It could be his wife’s family sword.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 16, 2018 at 12:29 am #

      Well, in Chapter Four we know that the Ruben Family Sword was lost and nothing was said about Carioca’s wife being of another Family which lost its Family Sword.

      Also Chris has said that Carioca could use the Sword repaired by Cat.

  9. William Ameling January 16, 2018 at 1:46 am #

    Do you mean Chapter 4 of the new book 3 (Zero Equation) or a previous book (1 or 2) ? So it might be a more recently lost/damaged Sword rather than from the lost main branch of the family in the Empire’s Capital which would have to been lost since the fall of the Empire (and probably be a lot harder to find).

  10. William Ameling January 16, 2018 at 11:22 pm #

    OK, so their old Family Sword got lost 200 hundred years ago (in a war between Houses), and the repaired one should be it.

  11. Dan January 18, 2018 at 12:19 am #

    Fixing the family sword could prove benificial for cat or maybe complicated on one hand fixing and possibly returning the family sword would strengthen her father’s enemy but it would in that society also most likely mean that house Ruben now owes cat an extraordinary favor. Putting them effectively in her debt returning said favor could prove challenging as finding something of equal value would be difficult so house Ruben could no longer openly challenge her house without risking looking like they are ungrateful witch would be a social blow for them. I could see the Ruben house returning the favor by setting up a betrothed between cat and akin but this is all conjecture we will have to wait and see.

  12. William Ameling January 18, 2018 at 7:45 am #

    Not JUST a betrothal between Cat and Akin, but a Peace Treaty between their Houses, possibly even mutual support or Alliance. That is one of the things marriages between Houses were often used to symbolize. Cat’s Father and his House do not want a War with House Carioca like the War 200 years ago with the then leading House of Shalot. After all House Carioca will be getting a lot out of the deal (their Family Sword and access to Cat’s abilities) compared to what Cat’s Father is getting with a betrothal. Cat’s Father needs more from the betrothal and a Peace Treaty or Alliance is that something “more”.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 18, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

      As Chris mentioned in his post on Great Houses, a betrothal leads to what you’re talking about.

      IE Once a betrothal occurs, the Families do attempt to work together.

      He also said that there were cases where the betrothal didn’t lead to a marriage but the Families continued to work together.

      In societies like this, betrothals/marriages between high-ranking members of the Families is very close to a union of the Families.

  13. William Ameling January 18, 2018 at 3:30 pm #

    We are thinking the same things, I am just making it more explicit for the sake of discussion, and to make sure that it is understood and not implied by various readers of these messages.

    Of course, what Cat gets out of it is protection from abuses of power (by being married to the Heir of another House) by her sisters after her Father dies, which might not be for decades (probably, but you never know, he could die of accident or disease, or be killed by enemies of their City or State).

  14. William Ameling January 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm #

    Of course, since this Sword is the old damaged and repaired Family Sword, we do not know if a House can have and use more than ONE Family Sword. Personally, I suspect that only one Family Sword is possible, i.e. one person can only hold and use only one Sword which cuts him/her off from any other Sword. Additional Sword(s) would go to/create a separate Family(s), at least, within a Great House (Clan). But we will have to see what Chris tells us.

    • Ann January 18, 2018 at 11:55 pm #

      Why a person probably has genes from all 4 grandparents and if lucky might be able to use 4 family swords. But its also possible that they have no genes linking them to any past relative and can’t use a sword that their parent can. When you get half’ your genes from a parent some genes don’t get passed on.
      The other way is to have some magical ritual that marks a person as a family member and triggerfamily linked object of power recognition off that.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard January 18, 2018 at 11:58 pm #

        The problem of “How does the Family Sword know who is a true member of the Family” has come up in a recent Chapter.

        No answers to the problem have been given. 😉

    • chrishanger January 28, 2018 at 10:35 am #

      There’s no reason you can’t have more than one. It’s just very rare.

      Chris

  15. Dad January 19, 2018 at 7:00 am #

    I realized, after the fact, that I posted a comment on a pretty old post, so I will throw one here.

    Is this series okay for a 12 year old to read? Just curious as I cannot find a lot of information online about it. My daughter loves strong female leads and they are hard to come by so was hoping this series might be okay for her. Thanks!

    • chrishanger January 19, 2018 at 7:56 am #

      Its about the same level as Harry Potter, so I’d say yes. Schooled In Magic is for someone a little older,although it’s still very clean.

      Chris

      Sent from my iPad

      • allyk January 19, 2018 at 10:19 am #

        until book 9 (sleeping together in bed) or 10 (doing more than sleeping in bed together) or 12 (going at it like bunnies)

  16. William Ameling January 19, 2018 at 10:07 am #

    It is better to think of chromosomes than genes when thinking about inheritance. While half (23) of them of each pair comes from each parent, you will get anywhere between 0 and 23 of them of them from any one grandparent. X and Y chromosomes are somewhat different. A Y chromosome MUST come from a male ancestor and makes the child male, while if the child is female it got an X from both parents. So you would have a 1 in 2 to the 23 power ( = 8,388,608) chance of getting NO (or 23) chromosomes from one grandparent, but as soon as you have more than 46 ancestors in the same generation, e.g. 2 to the 6th is 64 or 4xgreat grandparent, at least some of them ( 18 assuming no multiple lines of descent from the same ancestor) did not contribute a chromosome to a particular child.

    Crossover between chromosomes happens occasionally when chromosomes trade part of a branch of the chromosome with each other (a matching member of the same pair).

    So if you go back far enough in your family tree not all of your ancestors are related to you, i.e. you did not inherit one of their chromosomes). You could have inherited a copy of the same chromosome that they have from a more distant ancestor of both you in a different line of descent.

    The point of all this is, does the Family Sword somehow mark one or more of your chromosomes so that inheriting that/those chromosome(s) makes one of your distant descendants able to use the Family Sword (assuming that no one in between used/touched the Family Sword) ? or does it recognize a common relationship (somehow)? There has to be some unexplained (to us yet) mechanism governing the ability of being able to use a Family Sword.

    • Ann January 19, 2018 at 11:30 pm #

      If it can ‘store’ a relationship between original genome and most recent accepted user it could base new acceptances off the most recent user rather than the original genome. Its not based on the Y chromosome as females can use swords and it isn’t based on mitochondria as it isn’t mother linked so KISS is most likely.
      Hmm if they were originally made for empire soldiers then why should families be able to use them at all rather than a superior reassigning them to another soldier.
      They must’ve been personal possessions rather than military equipment which means the military should have a way of shutting them down or over-riding capability.

  17. William Ameling January 20, 2018 at 10:20 am #

    I would be tempted to say by inheritance of marked chromosomes (using a Sword marked “some” of your chromosomes so if/when they got inherited that descendant could use the Sword), except because of the possibility that a near blood relative “might” be able to use the brand new Sword of a first time user like when Cat made that new Sword; but we do not know if any his relatives were actually able to use the sword.

  18. William Ameling January 20, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

    There is the interesting question of if YOU can use a Family Sword do ALL of your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren have the ability to use the Family Sword?

  19. William Ameling January 21, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

    Also the question of Suppose you already had children or grandchildren before you first touched a new (just made) Sword, would they be able to use it, or only your children born after you touched the Sword, i.e. does the Sword somehow imprint something on you that can be inherited but is not accessible to other close relatives ?

  20. William Ameling February 2, 2018 at 7:04 am #

    Anyway, we will find out Chris’s answer to all the speculation about Family Swords when Book 3 comes in a couple of weeks (we hope). There are various possibilities not all of which are possible, because they contradict each other. Including some my own suggestions which are mutually exclusive.

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  1. Review: The Zero Curse, by Christopher G. Nuttall - SuperversiveSF - February 7, 2018

    […] Chapter One of The Zero Equation is up on Christopher G. Nuttall’s blog […]

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