Archive | August, 2020

SIM: The Leveller Manifesto

31 Aug

A little bit of background for later books <grin>

The Leveller Manifesto

Historian’s Note

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

The Speech

Who decreed the order of society?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, you say, but what about the magicians? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snippet – Little Witches

29 Aug

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

Prologue I

The White City felt … different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordian frowned.  “It’s that bad?”

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

“Lady Emily,” Gordian said.

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

“Effectively gone,” Gordian pointed out.

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

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

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

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

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

“As if it ever was,” Gordian said.

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

“We owe her,” Gordian said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master Lucknow told him.

Background Notes: The Heart’s Eye University

28 Aug

What do you think?

The Heart’s Eye University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Updates …

27 Aug

Sorry, another bunch of updates …

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

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

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

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

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

Oct – Little Witches (Schooled in Magic)

Nov – Fighting for the Crown (Ark Royal)

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

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


Possible SIM Spin-Off/Serial

23 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

How does that sound?


Out Now: The Lion and the Unicorn (Ark Royal XV)

23 Aug

The Ark Royal universe returns!

The war isn’t going well.

In five years of heavy fighting, humanity and its alien allies have steadily been pushed back towards Earth, towards the very heart of humanity itself.  The virus is steadily wearing the defences down, mounting campaign after campaign to infect and enslave every other alien race.  The only hope rests with newer and better weapons, with technology that may turn the tide, but can the weapons and starships be deployed in time?

HMS Lion and HMS Unicorn are two new ships, designed to take the war to the enemy and tip the balance of power in humanity’s favour.  But with untested technology, clashes between their commanding officers and trouble below decks, they may find themselves facing more than they can handle …

… And the odds of coming home are very low.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from the links here: Amazon USUKCANAUSDraft2Digital

Out Now: Debt of Loyality (The Embers of War II/Angel in the Whirlwind VII).

16 Aug

The Commonwealth has fractured, its interstellar order breaking down into civil war. On one side is Hadrian, the outlaw king of Tyre, driven from his homeworld and forced into a fragile alliance with the colony worlds; on the other sits a parliament determined to restrain him at all costs. The time for talk is over. The matter can be settled only by war.

Loyal to the king, Admiral Kat Falcone leads her fleets into battle, joined by allies with motives of their own. But her friend and former comrade Commodore William McElney has chosen to join the Houses of Parliament. They now find themselves on opposing sides of a civil war, trapped into waging a series of battles that neither wants to fight but that they dare not lose. And as shadows and secrets come to light, they may find themselves watching helplessly as the war tears the universe they fought for apart.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase HERE!

Snippet – The Truthful Lie (The Unwritten Words III)

6 Aug

Prologue I

Imagine … imagine two worlds.

One of them is human, as common and comprehensive to us as our own.  People are born, grow up, marry, have children and die … a pattern we understand, even if we do not follow it slavishly.  The rules are universal, binding everyone; they are relatively simple, understandable and have few loopholes.  The rules themselves are unbreakable.

The other world – realm, really – is so inhuman as to be beyond our comprehension.  It is a single point that is both infinitively large and impossibly tiny at the same time.  It does not, in fact, have time, not in any sense humans would understand.  The inhabitants of the alien realm are eternal, bounded within their universe and yet unbounded by cause and effect, by the harsh and unsentimental rules of the human world.  They are, in effect, patterns of energy shaped by ideas … ideas that are so inhuman that we literally do not have words to describe them.  They are – they were – so different from us that their world and ours were never intended to meet.

But they did.

Historical records from that time have been lost in a haze of pain, horror and simple incomprehension, but certain things are clear.  The direct contact between humans and the idea entities was utterly devastating.  Human minds shattered under pressure from entities so powerful as to defy understanding, human society bent and broke as the laws of the known universe twisted and warped through the presence of the entities.  The entities themselves were exposed to time for the first time in eternity, to the loves and lusts and hates of a race they found utterly incomprehensible.  Both sides recoiled, tearing away at themselves in a fruitless bid to save themselves from madness.  The universe itself screamed in pain as the Old Gods took form.  They ruled for an eternity. 

And then the New Gods arrived.  Born of contact with human minds, shaped by human thought and belief, they united the power of both races.  They turned on their parents, sealing them back into the realm of ideas.  They sought to rule as the God-Kings of Eternity, to command both races in a quest for glory everlasting.  Everyone would bow and praise their names.  Their rule, it seemed would never end.

But the New Gods had underestimated their human allies.  Determined to free themselves, the humans united their world and turned on their former masters, using powers and knowledge they’d gleaned from the New Gods to lock them out of the human realm.  The New Gods howled in frustration as they fell back into the realm of ideas, the Godly Realm, and watched helplessly as all knowledge of them was erased from the world.  What could not be destroyed was sealed off, left to rot until time and tide removed it from living memory.  The purge was terrifyingly complete.  Little knowledge of the entities lingered for the Bookworm, many thousands of years later, to absorb when she triggered an ancient trap and started the chain of events that brought the Empire down.

All that time, the New Gods were waiting.  Timeless, they could wait for eternity.  Humans being humans, they didn’t have to.  The Fall of the Empire shattered the barriers keeping the New Gods from returning to the human realm.  They could only advance slowly, at least at first, but smaller creatures – shadows that had haunted humanity’s nightmares since the New Gods were driven out – went ahead.  The New Gods made contacts, offering power and prominence and everything else the humans wanted … in exchange for worship and unthinking servitude.  And, on the Summer Isle, they made their first beachhead.  The death of the former monarch ensured their tool, Lord Havant the Usurper and his sister, Queen Emetine were in position to take control.  It looked as though they could not be stopped.

They were not to know that Crown Prince Reginald of Andalusia would mount a bid for the Summer Isle himself.  Claiming the former king had left his kingdom to King Romulus XIII of Andalusia, Reginald and his ally, Isabella the Sorceress, led an army to the Summer Isle.  There, they encountered the entities and their pawns in open battle, winning through a combination of luck, guile and exploiting rules they did not – yet – understand.  Their victory, however, came at a price.  The entities – and Queen Emetine – made the jump to Andalusia and took control.  Thinking themselves safe, they reached into the heart and souls of everyone in the kingdom … and began preparations for their ultimate return.

Reginald returned, to discover his father a broken shell of a man and his sister in servitude to the entities.  Forced to fight for his kingdom, Reginald drove the entities back to one of their old haunts in a final desperate bid to stop them.  There, the entities performed a ritual to bring one of the most dangerous New Gods back into the world.  They succeeded …

… And now, the entire world is in dreadful danger.

This is, of course, the truth.

But … it is also a lie.

Prologue II

Kings didn’t shake.

King Forsyth of Zycrest sat in the tower and shook.  It was undignified, to say the least, for an absolute monarch to shake, but he couldn’t help himself.  The fear – the fear of everything had pervaded his mind for years, well before his father had died in glorious battle and Forsyth had inherited the throne.  He’d been cursed, perhaps.  His father had been a brave man, a man who’d been easy to follow if not to like, but Forsyth was a coward.  He could barely get out of bed each morning, let alone make the hard decisions.  He was so afraid of everything that he’d shut himself up in the tower and hidden from the world.

He knew, intellectually, that there was no reason to be scared.  He’d inherited a powerful kingdom, with a council and bureaucracy that existed to make his every whim law, but he was too scared to use it.  The fear was just too strong.  He wished his father had had more children, a younger son who could take the throne instead of a cripple king.  He wondered, sometimes, if he’d been cursed.  It was possible.  The fear seemed to have no focus.  He wasn’t scared of the dark, or spiders, or assassins … he was scared of everything.

Tears pickled at the corner of his eyes.  The councillors were already plotting.  He knew, although he couldn’t have said how he knew.  They were trying to find a way to legally remove him, to put a distant relative on the throne.  Forsyth feared the council, as much as he feared everything else.  It was just a matter of time before they declared him incapable of ruling and packed him off to a country estate.  Why not?  He was too scared to stand up to them, let alone rally the people and lead them in war against the usurpers.  The worst of it – he admitted to himself, if no one else – was that he’d be relieved if he was removed from power.  Who wanted a king who was afraid of the dark?

Bitter resentment welled up within him.  It wasn’t fair.  It just wasn’t fair.  He had male cousins who were strong and manly and performed great feats of daring … all, no doubt, with one eye on the throne.  He had female cousins, so cunning their guile far exceeded the councillors themselves, who were nudging their husbands towards the throne.  A strong king would have no hesitation in slapping them down, in reminding them who was boss, but Forsyth couldn’t so much as bring himself to issue a mild reprimand.  His weakness shamed him.  His weakness humiliated him.  And he was too afraid to do anything about it.  There was no doubt, in his mind, that he would be removed.  It was just a matter of time.

His hands shook, again.  He willed them into stillness.  Maybe he had been cursed.  The fear was so strong that nothing, not even alcohol or potions, could quench it.  Drunkenness only made the fear worse.  The potions … he shuddered, recalling the one time he’d tried to use magic to overcome the fear.  The results had been horrific.  He’d shamed himself in front of the entire court …

… And something was behind him.

Forsyth knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that something was there.  He could feel it pressing against his personal space.  A strange sense of calm washed over him as he stood and turned, one hand dropping to the sword he didn’t know how to use.  The air seemed … twisted somehow, as if whatever was there wasn’t truly there.  Forsyth eyed it as it took on shape and form, a humanoid figure that looked as if it couldn’t decide if it were male or female.  He knew he should be scared, he knew he should run, but … for once, he stood his ground.  The feeling was so wonderful he wouldn’t have cared if the figure had come for him, if he could take the feeling of being brave to the grave.

“I greet you.”  The words seemed to appear in Forsyth’s mind without ever passing through his ears.  “I greet you, Chosen of the Gods.”

Forsyth felt the fear start to return.  He’d heard tales of the chosen ones, of men and women honoured by the gods and sent on quests … quests he knew, all too well, he could never handle himself.  His old nursemaid had told him tales until his mother had overheard and told the woman never to speak of such matters again.  She’d been dismissed shortly afterwards, without a single bronze coin to her name.  It was funny how he’d forgotten her until now.

“I greet you,” he managed.  He was king, yet … a god or a god’s messenger was so far above him he might as well be scrabbling in the dirt.  It never occurred to him to doubt the entity.  It was just so real.  “I … what do you want from me?”

The entity seemed to come closer, without actually moving.  “Lead your troops,” it said, the words hanging  leaden in Forsyth’s mind.  “Restore us to the world.”

The fear grew stronger.  “I cannot,” Forsyth admitted.  The shame overwhelmed him as he sank to his knees, crying like a child.  He hated the fear, hated himself … hated himself with a self-loathing too powerful to be ignored.  He wanted to stumble to the window and throw himself out, but he was scared of death as well as everything else.  “I’m … I’m scared.”

“You do not have to be scared,” the entity said.  It loomed over him, millions of miles tall even though cold logic told him it couldn’t possibly fit into the chamber.  “Accept me into your heart, King of Kings, and all will be well.”

Forsyth swallowed.  He was suddenly aware, very aware, that the council had made its decision.  He was to be removed from power and … removed.  Killed, he knew.  They were going to murder him.  The new monarch could hardly keep the old one around, just in case he decided to retake his throne.  He felt a sudden surge of pure rage, overpowering in its intensity.  He was sick, so sick, of being scared.  He wanted to be free!  He wanted to rule as he pleased, to exert his power, to do whatever he wanted.  He wanted to be the man his father had been, the man everyone had served …

He looked up.  “I accept.”

The entity moved forward.  There was a flash of insight as it flowed into him, a sudden awareness that he might have made a terrible mistake, then nothing.


Xhafer, High Chancellor of Zycrest, made his way up the steps towards the king’s chambers, feeling oddly unsure of himself.  The council had debated for days and weeks over precisely what they were going to do with a monarch who started at shadows, a coward who was too afraid to do anything … even protect himself.  They would never have dared to even consider the issue when the last king had been alive – he’d had a temper that had cowed even brave men – but the current monarch was a nightmare.  The kingdom had too many problems to risk leaving a coward on the throne.  Xhafer regretted having to turn against a man he’d known since childhood, but there was no choice.  Better for everyone, including the king himself, if he was quickly removed from power.  He was no threat.

The air seemed to shift around him, a faint air of unreality brushing against his awareness as he reached the top of the stairs and stopped for breath.  The king’s ancestors had designed the tower for defence, ensuring that anyone who climbed the stairs would be exhausted by the time they reached the top.  A brave man with a sword could hold the landing indefinitely, as long as his courage and stamina held out.  There was no way to escape, as far as Xhafer knew, but who cared?  A king who fled, back in those days, would be king no more.

He told himself he was seeing things as he straightened.  He was too old, really, for such malarkey.  It was why the council had chosen him to bear the message.  If he was arrested for high treason – as if the coward-king could muster the will to do it – he would be dead well before the torturers started their work.  Or so they’d said … Xhafer snorted at the sheer absurdity of the thought.  The poor king would go into a gilded cage without a fight.  There was nothing to be gained by killing him.  It wasn’t as if he posed a threat.

The antechamber stood empty.  Xhafer frowned.  Where were the guards?  The king needed to be protected at all times, but the guards were gone.  His eyes narrowed, then he shrugged as he walked into the bedchamber.  He had a flicker of unease as he passed through the doors, a sense that something was wrong … he dismissed it, effortlessly.  The king was a coward and a fool and …

His thoughts seemed to slam to a halt.  His mind was assailed by a series of disjointed impressions.  The throne, looming large … impossibly large.  The guards, standing beside the throne, their faces so cold and hard that it was no longer possible to believe them human.  And, sitting on the throne, a king … a true king.  Xhafer felt his knees buckle as he met the king’s eyes.  They were so … so certain that he found himself dropping to his knees well before his conscious mind caught up.  The man in front of him was no coward.  Fear washed through him as he remembered the council’s debates, remembered how the king’s father had treated traitors.  And now … resistance was inconceivable.  They’d plotted against a true king and his wrath would be terrible.

“Look at me,” the king said.

Xhafer looked up.  It was like staring into the sun.  The king was Forsyth … and yet it wasn’t.  He had a presence so strong that Xhafer quailed, unable to muster the will to do more than follow orders.  The king’s eyes bored into his, leaving him feeling naked and helpless.  He thought the shadows were closing in, reaching out for him … he couldn’t look away.  The king had him in his thrall.

“You will serve us,” the king said.  “And this kingdom will be the core of a whole new empire.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Xhafer managed.  His mouth was dry.  He stumbled over the words.  “I am your loyal servant.”

“Indeed.”  The king’s voice was amused, vastly amused.  He knew what they’d been planning.  “Summon the remainder of the council.  It is time they pledged themselves to me.”

Xhafer stayed on his knees as he inched backwards.  The king … the king had suddenly become a true king.  He couldn’t rise, let alone turn his back … the door slammed closed the moment he passed through, but he couldn’t so much as consider any thought of defiance or resistance.  He’d been the king’s man from the moment he’d entered his presence, all thoughts of a palace coup melting like snowflakes in the fireplace.  The king was a true king who’d lead the kingdom to glory, who’d reunite the empire under his banner …

… And nothing, Xhafer knew with a certainty that could not be denied, would ever be the same again.

Chapter One

He was bored.

Sergeant Theodore Ashworth stood outside the door and tried not to look bored, even though the boredom was killing him.  He was used to action and adventure, to marching with the army and fighting with the foe, not standing on guard outside a simple iron door.  The Queen Sorceress had given him his orders personally, and he was ruefully aware she could turn him into a frog – or worse – if he disobeyed, but … he was bored.  He peered up and down the corridor, wondering if anyone would so much as dare to enter the dungeons.  The Queen had taken them for herself, when she’d married King Reginald and moved into the castle.  She’d issued orders to keep everyone out of the very lowest levels, unless they had her permission.

Theodore snorted to himself.  The castle had only been reoccupied and cleansed six months ago.  The prisoners who’d been held at the king’s pleasure had been dead well before the Crown Prince had reclaimed his throne.  There was no reason for a queen, even a sorceress, to secure the dungeons for herself.  It was just a matter of time before the king started filling the cells with new prisoners, with men who’d defied his will or … Theodore snorted, again.  King Reginald was out fighting a war with men who’d defied his will.  Theodore doubted any of the aristo bastards would last long enough to grace a prison cell.  The king wouldn’t leave any of them alive, no matter how much they grovelled.  They were just too dangerous to leave alive.

I should be out there, Theodore thought.  He wasn’t blind to the trust the king – and his family – had placed in the guards, but he wasn’t a fancy-pants palace guardsman.  The uniform felt itchy and unpleasant, as if whoever had designed it hadn’t wanted the guards to move freely.  I shouldn’t be here.

He allowed his eyes to roam the stone walls, silently counting the bricks and stones.  The queen was in residence, as were both surviving princesses, but … they were in no danger.  It would take a brave or foolish man to challenge a sorceress, particularly one in her place of power.  Theodore knew the advantages and disadvantages of magic as much as anyone else.  He knew what would happen to anyone who tried.  It would take time and effort to break down the wards, time the sorceress could use to best advantage.  Theodore shivered, despite himself.  He was a brave man, but magic still made him weak at the knees.  The entities who’d infested the kingdom were worse.  He’d sensed enough of their power to fear it.

And they’re still out there somewhere, he reminded himself, sharply.  They could be anywhere …

He forced himself to stand up straighter.  There might be an inspection at any moment, although he doubted it.  The officer commanding was an experienced man, smart enough to put competence ahead of appearance.   He wouldn’t punish Theodore for having a button out of place, but if Theodore happened to fall asleep on duty … the beating would be savage, the demotion would be worse.  Theodore sighed as he returned to counting bricks.  He would be relieved shortly, allowing him to get back to the barracks and catch some sleep.  Or go into the city for some fun.  The city was slowly returning to normal.  The local sellers were happy to open their wares to the king’s personal guard.

Help me …

Theodore blinked.  He’d heard … he’d heard someone calling for help.  His hand dropped to his sword as he listened intently, wondering if he’d just imagined the cry.  It could be another maid, being harassed by an aristocratic buffoon.  Or an innocent village girl … Theodore smirked, coldly.  The Crown Prince had issued strict orders against harassing the villagers and given his guardsmen permission to do whatever they had to do to stop it.  Theodore had enjoyed those days.  It wasn’t often he got permission to manhandle aristos and he’d made the most of it.  And he’d been careful not to let himself be identified.  The vengeful assholes hadn’t known who to punish.

Help me …

The sound echoed through the air, brushing against Theodore’s mind.  He tensed, turning his head from side to side, as the call came again.  It seemed to come from a great distance, yet he was hearing it … it was coming from behind him.  He turned to look at the iron door.  He’d been given strict orders not to open the door without permission, let alone permit anyone to enter or leave the chambers beyond, but … someone was crying for help.  His orders warred with the increasing desperation in the voice, with the certainty of punishment competing with the desire to help the person on the other side.  The world itself seemed to dim as his fingers moved of their own accord, grabbing and twisting the iron knob.  The door clicked open.  He practically fell into the chamber.

He stared.  The giant chamber had been turned into a workshop.  Two wooden tables were placed against the walls – a third wall was covered with half-full bookcases and potions supplies – but they didn’t catch his eye.  His gaze was locked on the iron cage in the centre of the room.  A young girl sat in the centre of the cage, wearing a simple white shift.  Her eyes were modestly downcast.  Theodore felt a sudden surge of protectiveness, even though he was aware – at some level – that something was badly wrong.  The girl … the girl looked strange, almost inhuman.  She was his ideal bride given shape and form.  He knew she couldn’t be real, yet he refused to believe it.  He didn’t want to believe it.

She looked up.  His resistance melted away.  She was a prisoner … it was outrageous she was a prisoner.  Whoever she was, whatever she was, she could not be held prisoner.  Theodore stumbled forward, his eyes searching for the lock.  He’d open the cage, free her and … he wasn’t sure what he’d do then, but it didn’t matter.  All that mattered was letting her out of the cage.  His hands touched the iron padlock and pulled at it, trying to get it free.  It was useless.  Desperation overwhelmed him at the thought of failing her.  He wanted to die … he tried to tell himself not to be silly as he looked around for tools.  He’d pick the lock and free her and let her go and all would be well.

Blue sparks flashed.  He found himself flying across the room, slamming into the far wall without any clear memory of what had happened.  His fingers hurt, as if he’d burnt them on a hot stove or picked up a superheated rock without thinking.  The pain was so intense he was completely unmanned, screaming so loudly he was sure the entire castle could hear him.  He thought he saw, just for a moment, something utterly alien within the cage, something so alien his mind couldn’t even begin to grasp what he was seeing.  And then it was gone and the girl was looking at him with despondent eyes and …

Something blocked his gaze.  He looked up into the queen’s eyes.  “I …”

The queen stared back at him.  “Why did you enter the room?”

Theodore hesitated.  He wasn’t sure himself.  There’d been a voice calling to him and … his memories were a jumbled mess.  He’d disobeyed orders and he wasn’t even sure why.  He cursed himself under his breath, as thoroughly as he knew how.  The very least he could expect was being summarily demoted and sent off on a suicide mission.  King Reginald was known and respected for being fair, but … there was no way he could let the matter pass.  No one would blame him for ordering Theodore’s execution.

“I … I heard a voice,” he said, finally.  “It needed help.”

“I see,” the Queen said.  “And you listened to it?”

Theodore forced himself to look up, into her eyes.  Queen Isabella was … odd, by the standards of the princesses and aristocratic ladies and even the maids who’d once swanned around the court.  Her dark hair was cut short, defying fashion; she wore a simple leather shirt, a jerkin and  a pair of trousers rather than the dresses the other ladies wore.  Theodore knew she’d been a mercenary as well as a sorceress, hired when Crown Prince Reginald had invaded the Summer Isle to claim his patrimony.  He felt a flash of admiration that had nothing to do with her stern face, muscular arms and magic.  She had the position and power not to have to care what the ladies of the court had to say.  She didn’t follow fashions.  She set them.  The next summer was going to be interesting …

He put the thought aside.  He was woolgathering.

“I had to,” he managed.  The voice was a fading memory.  He felt an urge to look past the queen, to look at the girl in the cage … he suppressed it, ruthlessly.  “It called to me.”

The queen studied him for a long cold moment.  “Go outside and wait,” she ordered, curtly.  “And don’t come back inside, whatever you see or hear.”

Theodore stood and bowed.  “Yes, Your Majesty.”


Isabella watched the sergeant go, closing the door behind him.  It had been sheer goddamned luck – her lips quirked at the thought – that Sergeant Ashworth been unable to open the cage and release the entity.  He was a good man, with a splendid record of loyalty and devotion to his monarch, but he’d nearly been seduced into disobeying orders and doing something incredibly dangerous.  No, he had been seduced.  Isabella had worked as many protective hexes and charms into the chamber as she could, designing them to make it difficult for her to operate without being aware of her every movement, yet they’d nearly failed.  The entity had called the sergeant into the chamber, manipulating him effortlessly.  And, somehow, it had bypassed most of the protective spells.

She turned, already knowing what she would see.  A young woman knelt in the cage, looking innocent and helpless and frighteningly pure.  She looked like Isabella herself, but a version of Isabella that had been washed clean of all taint and corruption and the scars of a troubled childhood, a magical education and years as a mercenary.  Isabella wondered, idly, what the sergeant had seen.  The entities were shaped by human thoughts, emotions and desires.   It was, in some sense, what they were.  The sergeant would have merely been the first to die – or be warped beyond recognition – if he’d opened the cage.

Maiden Lembu looked up.  Her eyes were utterly inhuman.  Isabella forced herself to stand her ground, even though finely-honed instincts were screaming at her to run.  The entity was no longer pretending to be anything other than a monster.  She shivered, remembering her first meeting with the three-in-one.  She’d tutored Isabella, showing her how the new rules worked.  And she’d offered more, for a price.

“I have eternity,” Maiden Lembu said.  “It’s just a matter of time.”

Isabella said nothing.  The entities were bound by strange rules, governed by logic so alien she could barely comprehend it.  And yet, some of those rules were clear.  As long as the cage remained locked and sealed, as long as there was no way out, the entity was caught like a rat in a trap.  The other entities couldn’t try to free her either, not directly.  But if they did something that accidentally damaged the cage or opened a path for the entity to leave …

“I offer what you most desire,” Maiden Lembu added.  “It’s just a matter of time.”

“So you keep saying,” Isabella said, curtly.  She knew the entity was right.  Lembu – Mother, Maiden or Crone – was timeless, effectively immortal.  It was just a matter of time before she seduced someone long enough to compel her victim to free her, or for something – anything – to happen that might let her go free.  “And yet, right now, you’re my prisoner.”

“A prisoner you cannot contain for long,” Maiden Lembu said.  She stood, her dress spilling down around her as if it were made of shimmering light.  Perhaps it was.  “You have only the barest fraction of understanding.”

She stepped up to the iron bars.  “And I will teach you, if you pledge yourself to me.”

Isabella shook her head.  She understood, now, how the entities really worked.  They traded power – miracles, really – for worship.  They demanded servitude and respect and, in exchange, they promised to grant wishes and … everything.  And, the more they manifested on the human plane, the more damage they did.  She didn’t think they were malicious, not in any sense a human might understand, but it didn’t matter.  Their motives didn’t matter.  The results were horrific and that was all that mattered.

“Your husband may stray,” Maiden Lembu said.  “Do you not wish to bind him to you?”

“I know a hundred love spells,” Isabella said, tartly.  “And they are all banned, with good reason.  Do you think I would gain anything by crushing his free will?”

“You wouldn’t be breaking his will,” Maiden Lembu said.  “He would just never stray from you.”

Isabella snorted.  “One cannot remain faithful and have it mean something if one doesn’t have the option not to be faithful.”

Maiden Lembu smiled.  “And you don’t want to fit in here?  I could make it happen …”

“Really?”  Isabella snorted, again.  “You promise the world, but the price is too high.”

She waved her hand, dismissively.  She had no doubt the entity could – and would – keep whatever promise she made.  It was one of the rules.  The entities had to make a good-faith effort to keep their side of the bargain.  But the price was just too high.  Isabella had to admit, at least to herself, that she didn’t enjoy being regent in Reginald’s absence.  She didn’t like having to alternatively cajole and threaten the king’s councillors to make them follow orders, even though the princesses were both in her corner.  And she didn’t like the sneers the women of the court aimed at her back … she rolled her eyes in disgust.  If sneering was the worst they could do, she could endure.  She would even feel sorry for them too.

“You can’t keep me here forever,” Maiden Lembu said, again.  “And you may come to regret not pledging yourself to me.”

“We shall see,” Isabella said.  “You’ll be trapped here until long after I’m dead and gone.”

She allowed her eyes to wander over the entity.  The human seeming was starting to collapse into something many-angled and dangerous.  Her head hurt just looking at it, as if the entity existed in realms and dimensions the human mind was not designed to comprehend.  The appearance of a harmless maiden was just the smile on the face of the tiger, the hints of knowledge and the promise of something more a lure to draw her into pledging herself.  She’d worked out some of the rules, through trial and error and observation.  She’d work out the rest for herself, given time.  And she wasn’t alone.

“Your husband will return changed,” Maiden Lembu informed her.  “And you will regret it.”

Isabella said nothing as she turned away.  The entities claimed to be able to predict the future, and to offer their insights to their human servants, but she’d never been convinced the future was fixed.  And the insights could be twisted, until they were neutralised.  Princess Sofia’s prediction might have promised trouble, but Isabella had outthought it.  There’d been a price to pay …

“We shall see,” she said, again.  There was no point in debating with the creature.  She couldn’t afford to let herself forget, now or ever, that she had a dragon by the tail and that the slightest mistake might get her killed.  Or worse.  “Goodbye.”

She glanced at the workbench, where she was brewing a mind-expanding potion, then turned and walked through the door, replacing the damaged or destroyed charms as she moved.  The chamber was surrounded by cold iron, the one metal the entities couldn’t bend to their will, but Maiden Lembu had clearly managed to get a message through the gap.  Isabella scowled as she closed the door firmly, muttering another charm in hopes of keeping the metal in place.  She’d thought the design was airtight – it wasn’t as though the entity needed to breathe – but there had to be a gap somewhere.  She would have to find it, sooner rather than later.  The maiden had been right.  It was just a matter of time until she found a way to break free.

“Your Majesty.”  Sergeant Ashworth knelt, clumsily.  “I offer my life and …”

“Don’t worry about it,” Isabella said.  It wasn’t the queenly thing to do, she was sure, but it was practical.  Sergeant Ashworth was a good man.  It was how the entity had crawled into his mind.  Besides, she’d felt Maiden Lembu’s power for herself.  She’d been tempted with knowledge.  It had been sheer luck she’d pulled back before pledging herself to the entity for evermore.  “Just … be careful.”

She turned and headed down the corridor, wondering if she’d done the right thing.  She couldn’t serve as Queen Regent and guard the prisoner, not indefinitely.  She wasn’t even sure she was safe, when alone with the entity.  Maiden Lembu was the least of the three-in-one.  The mother and the crone were far more dangerous.

And we still don’t know what happened to Emetine, Isabella thought.  She still had bad dreams about the ritual, when Sofia and her father had both met their deaths.  She knew Reginald had them too.  Or the entity she called into the world.

Updates …

2 Aug

Hi, everyone

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least.  Shielding restrictions in Edinburgh have been steadily lifting, allowing me to get out of the house a couple of times.  The streets are a little eerie, although most people don’t seem to be wearing masks unless they’re going into a shop.  The shops themselves are divided.  Many are restricting the number of people who enter, many don’t seem to care one way or the other.  Personally, I miss the libraries too.

On the plus side, I’ve completed the first draft of The Lion and the Unicorn and I’m currently waiting on the edits.  I’ve also completed the edits for The Lady Heiress and I’m currently waiting on the cover.  (I messed up the timing a little).  I’m also hoping to get the audio version of Mirror Image out next month, although – as you know – there have been delays.  Watch this space.

On slightly different news, we’ve got the pre-order pages for Debt of Loyalty and Debt of War up on Amazon now.

I’m still thinking about the next Fantastic Schools novella.  I’ve got a rough set of ideas, for SIM, Royal Sorceress or Zero, but I haven’t decided.  Part of the problem is that I don’t want to write a story that ties into the mainstream books, because the last set of delays meant that Oathkeeper came out before Nanette’s Tale.  If you have any thoughts about school stories, feel free to send them to me.  I offer cameos <grin>.

My rough plan for the next few months is:

Aug – The Truthful Lie (The Unwritten Words III)

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

Oct – The Right Side of History (Schooled in Magic 21)

Nov – Fighting for the Crown (Ark Royal)

Beyond that, I don’t know yet.  I have plans and concepts, but … we will see.