Snippet: Little Witches (Schooled in Magic 21)

29 Sep

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.  Swindlers like Vesperian have triggered off a dozen crises, just like he did.  Religious nuts are promising a whole new world.  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.  My source at Laughter has gone quiet, but something is clearly happening there.

“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.

Prologue II

Daniel stayed low as he reached the bottom of the Howling Peaks and paused for breath, heart thudding in his cheeks as he looked from side to side and up the mountainside.  The giant trees seemed to form an impassable barrier between the road and the school high above, a barrier he knew was nothing more than illusion.  It was easy to navigate the trees, if one had grown up in the mountains.  And yet …  He hesitated, torn between the determination to make a name for himself and a flicker of fear.  Trying to reach the school was a rite of passage for the young men of Pendle, yet … he’d heard the stories.  Those who got to the school without being caught were rewarded, he’d been told, but those who got caught …

A shiver ran down his spine.  It wasn’t that bad, he’d been assured.  And yet … he remembered Blair, a bullying blowhard of a lad who’d come down from the mountains and fled into the distance, leaving his home and family behind with nary a word to his friends and loved ones.  Danial had known Blair too well to think that anything minor could have convinced him to run.  It was suddenly easy to believe the darker stories, the suggestions that the witches did unspeakable things to young men … he shivered, again.  The urge to just turn around and go home was almost overpowering.  What was it worth, really, to slap his hand against the school’s walls?

And yet, he knew he’d be called a coward if he turned and ran.

He cursed under his breath as he walked off the road and into the trees.  There was no hope of escaping the taint, once he was branded a coward.  The witches themselves would happily confirm they hadn’t so much as laid eyes on him, let alone hexed him or cursed him or done anything to him.  He knew the girls, from their weekend excursions to the town.  Some were friendly, some looked down on the local lads … all were distant from the townspeople, even the ones who’d been born in the town.  A local girl had gone up to the school and come back a very different person.  They’d tattle on him.  They’d think it was funny.

The wind whistled through the trees, the shadows growing darker – somehow – as the sun started to sink behind the distant mountains.  It was meant to be safe near the school, in twilight, but Daniel still felt hopelessly exposed as he flitted from tree to tree.  Everyone knew the truly dangerous creatures only came out after night fell completely, yet … it wasn’t very reassuring now he was well away from the road.  He clambered over a dry gully, carefully avoiding a pool of water on the upper ridge.  They could be very dangerous, he knew.  Anything could be hiding within the pool.  Anything at all.

Sweat trickled down his back as he forced himself to move faster.  He’d picked his time very carefully.  The majority of the witches – the student witches, at least – would be in the town, swaggering around in their cloaks and hats and flirting with the older boys.  The older witches would either be supervising their charges or taking the opportunity to have a rest before the younger witches returned to the castle.  Daniel had heard stories of what happened behind the high stone walls, stories he wasn’t sure he believed but listened to anyway.  The older witches had to be pushed to the limit by their students.  They wouldn’t have time to monitor the approaches to the school.  Or so he hoped.

They’ll be coming back up soon, he reminded himself.  You have to hurry.

His arms and legs started to ache as he kept going.  He thought he saw things in the darkness, sensed unseen eyes looking at him.  The sense of threat grew stronger, making him ball his fists even though he knew it was probably useless.  The Other Folk – the Awful Folk – were supposed to have agreements with the witches, although no one knew for sure.  Anything powerful or nasty enough to ignore those agreements was unlikely to be troubled by him.  He’d heard those stories too.

He reached a clearing and stopped, trying to gauge the time.  The darkness was swelling rapidly now, sweeping majestically over the land.  It wouldn’t be long before the witches started walking or flying back to the castle, showing off as they glided over the mountains and landed on the castle battlements.  He felt a twinge of envy, mingled with something he didn’t dare try to put into words.  Magic ran strong, in the folk of Pendle.  He might have magic himself.  And if he did, he would be sent away to study.  He might never be welcome within the town again.

And if I get to the walls and back, he thought, I’ll be a hero …

His ankles snapped together, hard enough to hurt.  Danial toppled over, landing face-first in the muddy ground.  Realisation dawned a second later.  Hexed.  He’d been hexed.  His ankles were held together by an invisible force that felt like iron, impossible to break no matter how hard he struggled.  He forced himself to roll over and try to pull himself up by his arms alone.  Hexes didn’t last, he’d been told.  He could hide himself until the magic wore off and then make his way back to the town.  He’d be ribbed for being caught, but he was far from the only one to fail to reach the walls.  Very few young men had ever made.

And then he saw the witch.

She was strikingly pale, her blonde hair practically glowing in the darkening air.  Her dark dress seemed to blend with the shadows.  She couldn’t be more than two or three years older than himself, although it was never easy to tell with a witch.  She was beautiful, practically perfect compared to the hardworking girls in the town below.  She looked as surprised to see him as he was to see her, a faint expression on her face that suggested she shouldn’t be in the forest any more than himself.  Daniel forced himself to sit up and smile, trying to look harmless.  His ankles were still bound together.  There was no way he could get to her, or get away, before she zapped him.  All he could do was concede he’d been caught and hope she didn’t do anything worse to him.  He’d be ribbed mercilessly for that too.

The witch looked at him.  Daniel had the oddest feeling she wasn’t really seeing him.  The witches looked down on the magic-less townsfolk, even the nicer ones considered themselves a cut above the rest, but this one … he braced himself, trying to inch away from her as best as he could.  If she wasn’t really aware of him, perhaps he could get away.

Her hand jabbed at him.  Danial saw a flicker of light, an instant before the spell hit him.  A wave of pain rushed through his body, his mouth opening to scream in utter agony before melting into nothingness.  His vision twisted painfully, as if his eyeballs were on the verge of popping out of their sockets … his entire body twisted painfully.  He thought he felt his bones breaking and shattering as the magic coursed through him.  It was … he understood, now, why Blair had fled the town without looking back.  The spell was no joke.  It was pure torture.  It was … it was …

His vision cleared.  He found himself looking up at the witch.  She was a giantess.  No, he’d shrunk.  His body felt weird, as if he’d been changed … horror ran through him as he realised he had been changed.  The lads had joked about the witches turning boys into frogs, but … there was nothing funny about this.  He couldn’t move … what had she done to him?  She stared down at him, her pretty face oddly slack.  And then she lifted her foot and stamped down.  Hard.  There was an instant of soul-shattering pain and then …

Darkness.

Chapter One

Emily hid behind a rock and closed her eyes, concentrating on her senses.  It wasn’t easy to sense anything, let alone a whorl of magic, in the forest, but she knew Void was out there somewhere.  Void was looking for her.  She felt a flicker of excitement, remembering the days Alassa had made her play hide-and-seek in the corridors of Whitehall.  The consequences of losing had been embarrassing, back then.  Now … they were a great deal worse.

You told Void you were up for it, she reminded herself, severely.  Get this wrong and he will be very unhappy indeed.

She smiled, although it wasn’t really funny.  Void had taken her away from Kuching Castle after the war, pointing out that the death of her bilocated self would have severe effects on her.  He hadn’t been wrong, she conceded.  The shock had caught up with her shortly after he’d teleported her home, the trauma of being killed sending her into meltdown.  Void had been as comforting and supportive as he could be, but … Emily still had nightmares about her death.  It wasn’t really that reassuring to know she’d survived her own death.  And he’d insisted on keeping her isolated until she’d recovered to his satisfaction.  Emily had found it a relief, at first.  It hadn’t taken long for it to become maddening.

The forest seemed empty of human life, save for herself.  She could sense flickers of magic and life darting through the trees, a faint haze that shouldn’t have hidden a full-fledged sorcerer from her.  Emily wasn’t reassured.  Void was out there somewhere, looking for her.  He’d agreed to let her leave the tower if she beat him … he wouldn’t let her go easily.  She reached out, masking her presence as best as she could.  She had the feeling it wouldn’t be particularly successful.  She’d spent the last year exploring the forest and valleys, but Void knew them like the back of his hand.  He’d had years to weave his magic into the warp and weft of the mountains themselves.  It was his place of power.

Her eyes snapped open as she heard something running through the trees above her.  She looked up and frowned as she saw a squirrel.  It looked harmless, and she couldn’t sense any magic around the little creature, but she knew that was meaningless.  Void could have turned the woodland creatures into an early-warning system, if he wished; his mind could be riding inside the squirrel, seeing through its eyes without tipping her off before it was too late.  She prepared a spell, then stopped herself.  The squirrel didn’t deserve to be shocked – or killed – because it might be an unwitting spy.  And if it wasn’t, blasting the poor creature would have given away her position.  Void would be looking for her too.

He knows I won’t have left the valley, Emily thought.  She considered, briefly, doing just that … but it would be cheating.  Probably.  Void wouldn’t be amused.  He’ll keep scanning the valley until he finds me.

Her mind raced as she considered her options.  Void was strong, the strongest magician – in skill if not raw power – she’d ever met.  He wouldn’t crash around like a necromancer, smashing everything that got in his way until his madness consumed him and he forgot what he was looking for.  He’d keep his power masked as he tried to locate Emily and get the drop on her.  And that meant he wouldn’t stop looking … unless he thought he’d found her.  She frowned as she glanced around, noticing just how many creatures were running along the branches or flying through the trees.  Void might have already found her.  It wouldn’t take more than one unwitting spy to uncover her …

He’d be on top of me by now if he knew where I was, Emily thought.  He wouldn’t be holding back.

She scowled as she inched backwards, one hand reaching for the dagger in her sleeve.  Void had been insistent she stayed in the tower, even though he’d been popping in and out so often it was hard for her to continue her apprenticeship.  She’d loved learning magic with him, pushing the limits of what she could do and developing newer and better ways to combine magic with earthly concepts.  It was frustrating to be so isolated, particularly after Void had warned her that not everyone was happy with her.  She knew he meant well, but it was still stifling.

The dagger felt solid in her hand.  Void had suggested she charm the blade – he’d taught her a number of enchantments, including the runes that had almost killed Imaiqah – but she’d resisted the urge.  Charmed blades could be dangerous to the wielder as well as the victim, she knew from grim experience; they could be sensed and guarded against by a magician who might not think to look for a mundane weapon.  Emily braced herself, then carefully cut her hand just lightly enough to allow a dribble of blood to splash to the ground.  Void was going to read her the Riot Act, when he found out what she’d done, but … hopefully, he’d also appreciate the trick.  She touched the blood, summoned a tiny flicker of magic and shaped it -carefully – into an illusion.  And then she hurried back into the shadows and reached out with her senses once again.

She shivered as the ether started to shimmer with magical essence.  Her magical essence.  The spell felt like a convincing search-spell, an attempt to locate Void before he could come after her … she opened her mind wider, bracing herself.  Either Void spotted the spell and came for her or the spell spotted him, hopefully allowing her to get the drop on him before it was too late.  She felt her heart pounding in her chest as the seconds grew longer and longer … Void was no fool.  He’d sense the magic.  Would he realise it was a trick?  Or would he try to drop a hammer on her before she realised her mistake?

He might assume I made a deliberate mistake, she thought.  She’d learnt that tactic from several of her teachers, including Void himself.  Or he might be going easy on me.

Emily shook her head.  Void had never gone easy on her.  He’d put her through dozens of tests and training exercises, each one more complex and dangerous than the last.  Emily was all too aware he was pushing her to the limit, with every test raising the spectre of serious injury or even death.  No, he’d want to make it clear she wasn’t ready to leave the tower again.  Not yet.  If she made a mistake, he’d want – he’d need – to rub her face in it.  And that meant she’d have a chance to hit him first …

She barely registered the black shape in the sky before it dropped to the ground in front of her, right on top of the charmed blood.  Void could fly?  Emily kicked herself, a moment later, for even doubting it.  She didn’t know how to fly herself, but she knew it was possible … if one was prepared to accept the dangers.  She could have cancelled Void’s spells and sent him tumbling to the ground, if she’d seen him coming in time.  He’d flown very fast to keep her from realising what he was doing until it was too late.

Void started to swing around immediately.  He knew he’d been tricked.  Emily didn’t hesitate.  She mustered the first piece of spellwork and thrust it into his wards.  Void lit up brilliantly as his wards struggled to ward off the corkscrew of magic digging through his defences.  Emily could sense him shoving his wards away, pushing the tip of her attack further and further from the core of his being.  Magic sparked in all directions as streams of light were redirected.  She was genuinely impressed.  Void was the only sorcerer she’d met who’d taken a direct hit from a necromancer and survived.  The corkscrew magic she was using was sneakier than anything a necromancer would use, but far weaker.  She could sense the spell structure already starting to break up.

She readied the second piece of magic and thrust it into his wards, using the first spell to cloak the second.  There was so much magic crackling around him that he shouldn’t be able to pick out the second spell before it nestled itself within the wards.  She could barely follow it herself and she knew it was there.  She hoped.  The spell vanished into the blaze of magic, like a candle against the sun.  It was suddenly difficult to be sure it was still intact.  Emily felt the remnants of the corkscrew shatter a moment later, magic spilling out in all directions as Void ripped the spell apart.  She separated herself from the magic before he could reach back along the threadlines and catch hold of her, then turned and ran.  Void would be after her the moment he realised she was running.  He knew he had to run her down and catch her before she mustered the power for another attack.

A wave of magic washed out behind her, brushing against her wards.  Emily suddenly felt naked as his magic locked onto her, making it impossible to hide.  She ducked as a spell shot over her head, unwilling to take the risk of catching or deflecting it with her wards.  She thought she could dismantle a duelling spell before it caught her, but there was no point in taking chances.  Void wouldn’t mess around, not now she’d caught him by surprise.  She’d probably singed his pride as well as his cloak.

She realised her mistake a second later as the trees came to life, branches withering in the air as they reached for her.  The ground below her feet shook and burst as roots thrust their way out of the soil and wrapped themselves around her ankles.  Emily stumbled, a stab of pain running up her legs as she tried to pull herself free.  The roots were growing stronger, layer after layer piling themselves on her until … she gritted her teeth and hit them with a disintegration spell, pulling herself free and levitating into the air before they could grip her again.  A branch struck her back, the magicless wood reaching through her wards as though they weren’t there; Emily threw a blasting curse back, blowing the tree into little chunks of sawdust.  She wasn’t sure if Void’s animation spell would survive, but it would take it some time to muster the power to strike again.  She glided forward, throwing back a series of spells to buy time.  Hopefully, it would look like she was panicking.  She doubted Void would fall for it. 

Buy time, she told herself.  Keep him focused on me.

She glanced behind her as she landed on the ground and kept moving.  Void was lost in the trees … she looked up, half-expecting to see him dropping out of the sky.  Or trying to snipe her from high above.  Magical snipers were rare, but they existed.  She stayed low, grimly aware there was still no point in trying to hide.  He had a solid lock on her.  All he had to do was get the drop on her and the game would be over. 

A necromancer would be crashing through the trees as if they were paper, she thought, as she wiped sweat from her brow.  Her shirt and trousers felt sodden.  Void is a great deal smarter.

She frowned as she sensed a wave of magic moving towards her.  Void … coming at her from the front?  That was odd.  She would have expected him to try to sneak around her and take her from the rear.  He was immensely powerful and skilled, far more than herself, but he’d told her – more than once – that there was nothing to be gained from taking foolish chances.  A weak but smart opponent might prove far more dangerous than an overpowered enemy with little in the way of common sense.  There was certainly no point in showing off when it could put one in mortal danger.  Emily’s eyes narrowed as she reached out carefully with her mind, looking for the second spell.  There was no trace of it in the magic moving towards her.

Which means …  Emily allowed herself a smile.  He’s sending an illusion out to trick me while he moves up behind me.

Bracing herself, Emily started to move towards the fake.  Void wouldn’t expect her to go on the attack, not until she regained enough magic to have a chance of victory.  Even if he thought she was more powerful than she actually was, he might assume she’d want a moment to catch her breath.  If she was right … she picked up speed, knowing she couldn’t hide from him.  But she should be putting more distance between them ….

She pushed through the trees.  A whorl of magic greeted her eyes as it glided towards her, a faint impression of Void’s magic resting on a complicated piece of spellwork.  It was very nearly a mimic … Emily reached out to cancel the spells, then stopped herself and tried to trace the magic back to its source.  Void couldn’t have completely automated the whorl, not in the handful of minutes he’d had before sending it after her.  It had to be drawing power from him and … her blood ran cold as she traced the power, her legs automatically hurling her to one side as another wave of magic flashed past her.  He was behind her.  She couldn’t help feeling impressed.  She hadn’t even had a hint of his presence.

Another burst of magic slammed into her wards.  Emily shoved them away from her, using the movement to throw herself across the clearing and land on the muddy ground.  Void stepped through the remains of her wards, then snapped out a single spell.  Emily threw back a cancellation spell of her own, erasing his magic before it could strike her and then driving the spell into his wards.  Void smiled – she thought she saw a flicker of respect on his face – before he banished her spell and cast another one of his own.  Emily sensed movement behind her, too late.  The branches caught her by the arms and yanked her up, holding her in place.  This time, she didn’t have the power to budge them. 

Emily didn’t hesitate.  She sent the trigger code to the second spell, the one she’d embedded in Void’s wards.  It came to life, tearing into his magic.  The branches loosened, giving her a chance to pull free, as Void concentrated on saving himself.  Emily braced herself, readying a spell.  Void had only two choices, both of which would leave him vulnerable.  Unless he was skilled enough to think of a third open …

Void shoved his wards away from her, the magic – her magic – crashing towards her.  Emily levitated into the air and launched the spell, blowing Void across the clearing.  He landed badly, lying on his back … she felt a twinge of guilt, even though he’d knocked her down more than once during her apprenticeship.  She dropped to the ground, raising her hand to cast the final spell, just as he produced a wand from his sleeve and jabbed it at her.  Emily’s body locked, her arms and legs snapping together an instant before she fell and hit the ground.  It was painless – the magic saw to that – but it was humiliating.  She’d won!  She’d won and … he’d tricked her. 

She felt a hand flipping her over and found herself looking up.  Void was staring down at her, his dark eyes unusual serious.  The wand rested in his hand … she kicked herself, mentally, for not expecting a trick.  She kept a dagger in her sleeve … why not a wand?  Void was advanced enough, as a magician, to avoid the pitfalls and use it without danger.  She wondered if he’d intended to use it to teach her a lesson or if she’d genuinely surprised him.  It was never easy to tell.

Void waved the wand at her.  The spell broke.  She felt mud soaking into the back of her shirt as she found herself able to move again.  He’d won.  She scowled as she forced herself to sit upright, the aches and pains from earlier in the duel returning to haunt her.  He’d won and she’d lost and …

She found her voice.  “You cheat.”

Void laughed.  “Do you expect your next set of enemies to play fair.”

Emily shook her head in bitter resignation.  Her teachers had been at pains to point out that the world wasn’t fair – as if she hadn’t known it already – and that no one, absolutely no one, played fair when the stakes were high.  She’d never cared for duelling, at least in part because her tutors had never cared for it either.  Duellists followed the rules or they got kicked out of the circle.  A real fight had no rules.

“You did well.”  Void held out a hand to help her to her feet.  “You should have clobbered me while you had the chance, which is why you lost, but otherwise you did well.  Your trick with the embedded spell was risky, yet it worked.”

“Thank you,” Emily said.  Her legs felt wobbly.  She brushed mud and leaves off her shirt as she gathered her breath.  “What now?”

“Now?”  Void turned.  “We go back to the tower to eat.  And then … I suppose I can’t keep you here any longer.”

Emily frowned at his back.  “What do you mean?”

“As your master, it is my duty – among other things – to protect you from the world,” Void said, curtly.  He started to walk, his boots squelching in the mud.  “I wanted to be sure you were able to look after yourself before you left the tower.”

“I can,” Emily said.

“You have powerful enemies,” Void said.  “You need to watch your back.” 

10 Responses to “Snippet: Little Witches (Schooled in Magic 21)”

  1. jared September 29, 2020 at 10:30 am #

    O ya!!!! I can’t wait!!!!

  2. anotherwoodopple September 29, 2020 at 11:52 am #

    Woohoo Chris! Bring it on! Once again the prologue hooks you from the beginning:)
    I’ll read your creations any day:)

  3. Rhino September 29, 2020 at 4:28 pm #

    This is very satisfying, I hope it’s 800 pages long (and that would still be too short).

    • Brian G September 30, 2020 at 1:34 am #

      Agreed! I’m still irked that Void was twiddling his thumbs in the last book when Emily could have REALLY used his help.

  4. Rene de Visser September 30, 2020 at 3:09 pm #

    Good stuff!

  5. Kira October 3, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

    wow Chris! This was an AWESOME read!!! I want more!
    Kira

  6. Dale Switzer October 4, 2020 at 4:36 pm #

    I am going back and reading Oathkeeper again after a month. I think that Chris is especially good at pacing. The early chapters hook, but do not move too quickly. I am hoping for several questions to get answered. Where was Jan during the war? What has had Void so busy on ‘things I have let fester too long.’ Who is Cloak and Nannette?

    One of the things that bothers me about Emily’s enemies is that they are intelligent and yet don’t seem to ask themselves, “Why does killing her make any difference? Her innovations are already loose.”

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 4, 2020 at 5:04 pm #

      Even intelligent people can do dumb things.

      Also, many of them may be thinking that killing Emily will lessen additional innovations.

      Then of course, some of the innovations threaten the pollical/social structures that keep them in power and their position is their due.

    • chrishanger October 26, 2020 at 12:41 pm #

      Emily has a lot more power and influence than she knows. (Think Gates and Zuckerberg). Her enemies think they can slow things down if she’s out of the picture.

      Chris

  7. Matthew R Woolley October 4, 2020 at 5:34 pm #

    “She goes to Whitehall and turns the school upside down. She does to Mountaintop and turns the school upside down”

    I think you meant to type. “She does the same to Mountaintop.”
    the current double sentence is not going to get spell checked, but needs to be fixed.

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