Archive | October, 2020

Stuck In Magic CH3

30 Oct

Chapter Three

I would have gone mad, if it hadn’t been for Jasmine.

She understood, to some extent, what I was feeling.  She was always happy to chat, even when she was doing her bit for the clan.  She explained what I was seeing, told me how the clan worked and, often, answered questions I hadn’t thought to ask.  We might not be close friends – we were just too different – but she was, in her way, as isolated from the rest of the caravan as me.  The rest of the clan kept their distance.  It was hard not to feel a little offended, even though I knew I should be grateful.  I’d had enough of that back home.

Jasmine explained it, when I asked.  “They’re not sure if you’re going to be hanging around for much longer,” she said.  “They don’t want to get close to you if there’s still a chance you might leave.”

I frowned.  “Where would I go?”

“You’re not the first person to come stumbling out of the Greenwood,” Jasmine said, as we sat on the edge of the campsite.  “Some try to make their way back home, even though hundreds of years might have passed since they were lost.  Others find new homes and wave goodbye to us.  It happens.  We don’t open our hearts to newcomers unless they’re committed.”

“They don’t seem to like you either,” I said.  “I thought you were one of them.”

Jasmine’s mouth twisted, as if she’d bitten into something sour.  “I went to school,” she said, softly.  “They don’t know if I’ll come back, after I graduate, or make my life elsewhere.  If I don’t … my parents won’t disown me or kick me out, but I won’t be one of them anymore.  A friend, perhaps, yet … an outsider.”

I winced in sympathy.  I understood the feeling.  “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Jasmine said.  She smiled, rather wanly.  “I haven’t decided yet.”

She waved a hand at the caravans.  “There are two circles,” she said.  “The inner circle consists of those who are committed to our lives, who would sooner die rather than surrender the freedom of the open road.  The outer circle consists of those who travel with us for a time and then go on to make their lives elsewhere.  They’re welcome, in a way, but they’re not truly us.”

“I see,” I said.  “What should I do?”

Jasmine looked me in the eye.  “Follow your heart.”

I changed the subject and tossed question after question at her, trying to get the lay of the land.  Or the lie of the land, as my old sergeant had put it.  Jasmine didn’t know that much, although I had a feeling she knew more than the average peasant.  I’d met tribesmen in Central Asia who hadn’t known anything beyond their villages.  They neither knew nor cared who ruled their country, let alone what side they were supposed to be on in the forever war.  I had the feeling the Diddakoi paid as little attention as they could to such details.  It left me feeling more than a little frustrated.  How was I supposed to decide where to go, let alone what to do, when I didn’t know what the options were?

We kept moving, never staying in one place for more than a day or two.  I slowly grew used to the limits of my new home, to the simple absence of everything I’d taken for granted.  We cooked dinner on a fire, not in a microwave; we washed in streams, when we could, rather than fancy showers.  I’d hoped to impress them with my knowledge of ‘little devils’ in water – and the importance of boiling the water before drinking it – but it turned out they already knew it.  Martin Padway had known enough tech to ensure that darkness never fell on the Roman Empire … he’d come from a less advanced world.  I knew a lot, but I didn’t know how to build crap I’d taken for granted a few short weeks ago.  If I’d known …

If I’d known, I would have crammed the car with supplies, I thought.  The toolkit and first aid supplies were useful, but they wouldn’t last for very long.  I had only a limited amount of ammunition and no way of making more.  I could have brought enough arms and supplies to build a whole kingdom for myself.

The thought sobered me.  Jasmine had shown me enough magic – parlour tricks, she’d insisted – for me to be very aware there was an unpredictable element in my new world.  She might imagine herself to be performing tricks, but I … I now knew how primitive tribesmen had felt when they’d come face to face with the wheel, guns and every other piece of technology that was light years ahead of them.  The gulf was so wide I feared I couldn’t begin to cross it.  Even Jasmine’s assurances there would be work for someone like me, if I was willing to work, fell flat.  How could I learn to use magic?

“You can’t,” Jasmine said, when I broke down and asked.  “You don’t have the talent.”

I gave her a sharp look.  “What happens to people who can’t do magic?”

“They don’t go to magic school?”  Jasmine shrugged.  “Seriously, there are places for everyone.”

I sighed and resigned myself to asking more questions as I struggled to learn the language before it was too late.  I’d always been good with languages, but this one … Jasmine’s spell was a hindrance as much as it helped.  She wasn’t that good a teacher either.  I found it hard to believe that everyone spoke the same language, with some slight local variations, but … the more I thought about it, the more it seemed true.  Back home, there was an entire industry built around teaching people to speak foreign languages.  There were people who knew what they were doing.  Here … there didn’t seem to be any need.  I forced myself to learn, trying to come to terms with the underlying grammar.  It didn’t help that there seemed to be a higher and lower language, as well as a written script that made no sense.

They always leave this part out of the books, I thought, grimly.  They wave their hands and overlook the problem so they can get on to the meaty part.

It grew harder, as the days wore on, to remember that I had children.  The boys … I wondered, grimly, if they’d ever guess what had happened to me.  They’d report me missing, right?  I’d certainly be listed as AWOL when I failed to show up for duty.  And then … and then what?  They’d never find my car, let alone my body.  Cleo would probably insist I’d gone underground to avoid paying child support.  And when they realised I hadn’t cleaned out my bank accounts … I made a face.  Cleo would get the money, along with my army pension and everything else.  She’d push to have me declared dead as quickly as possible. 

I felt a pang.  I loved my sons.  I’d even loved her.  And I’d never see any of them again.

“You’re brooding,” Jasmine said, when she found me on the edge of the clearing.  “It doesn’t really make things better.”

I glared at her.  “What do you know about loss?”

“Too much.”  Jasmine didn’t sound angry, merely saddened.  I’d told her I couldn’t stop thinking about my family.  “They’re not dead.  They’re just out of reach.”

I stared into the trees.  We were a long way from the Greenwood, but I’d been warned – time and time again – never to go out of the clearing after dark.  The urge to just walk into the woods and keep walking, in the desperate hope of finding my way home, was almost overpowering.  Jasmine had told me that there was no guarantee of going anywhere – and I believed her – and yet it was hard to stay where I was.  My father had deserted me when I’d been a child.  I’d promised myself I’d always be there for my sons.  And, through no fault of my own, I’d broken the promise.

The stars mocked me, every night.  They were so different.  I wasn’t on Earth.  I was … I was somewhere else.  It was good news, in a way; I could tell myself I wasn’t in the past, years before my children had been born, or so far in the future that my great-grandchildren were nothing more than dust.  And yet, they might as well be.  I had no hope of ever seeing them again.  I glared down at my hands, wondering if there was any point in going on.  Who knew what would happen when we finally reached the city?  Would I stay or would I go?

Jasmine touched my shoulder, lightly.  “They’re not dead.”

I rounded on her.  “They might as well be.”

She stood her ground.  “You can remain lost in memories, if you wish, or you can look to the future.”

I shook my head, slowly.  There were times when it was impossible to forget that we came from very different worlds.  Jasmine had grown up in a world where the slightest scratch could mean certain death, if the cut got infected.  There was a fatalism in her attitude I’d seen  in the Third World, but not in America.  Death was her constant companion, despite her magic.  She’d learned to accept death in a manner I found impossible …

She’s never had any children, I thought, sourly.  She doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a child.

I knew I was being unfair, but the thought refused to fade.  Jasmine was young.  It was hard to be sure of her age – Jasmine herself didn’t seem certain – but she couldn’t be any older than nineteen.  She didn’t seem to have any suitors sniffing around either.  That surprised me.  Jasmine was strikingly pretty as well as a gifted magician and singer.  But then, it was also unclear if she’d stay with the clan.  If she left, her partner would either have to let her go or leave the clan himself.  There weren’t many people in tribal communities who’d make that choice.

“I had a wife,” I said.  Cleo and I would probably have gotten divorced – I couldn’t trust her again, not after she’d cheated on me – but … it hurt.  “Don’t you have anyone?”

Jasmine shrugged.  “Everyone here is related to me, in one way or another,” she said.  “If I stay, I’ll meet prospective suitors when the clans assemble for the winter ceremonies.”

I reminded myself, again, that Jasmine was young.  “You don’t have anyone at Hogwarts?”

Jasmine blinked.  “Hogwarts?”

“Whitehall,” I corrected.

“No.”  Jasmine shook her head.  “How many of them would want to live out here?”

She waved a hand at the caravans.  I shrugged.  Her description of Whitehall had made it sound like a boarding school from hell, where you couldn’t walk down a corridor without someone zapping you in the back and turning you into a frog.  The whole idea was utterly terrifying.  Jasmine seemed to take it in stride, but … her attempts to explain magic to me had been incomprehensible.  Nothing she said made sense.  It all boiled down to trying to explain things like the whichness of the why and … it made me think of the song about the dancing centipede.  She’d lost the talent as soon as she’d tried to figure out what she actually did.

“They might see it as a step up,” I pointed out.

“A step down,” Jasmine corrected.  “None of them grew up here.”

We stood together in companionable silence.  It struck me, suddenly, that she was oddly relaxed in my presence.  I liked to think we’d become friends over the last couple of weeks, but … it was odd.  I was a big beefy man and black besides.  I was used to people eying me with concern, even with fear.  Sometimes I understood and sometimes they were just assholes.  And yet, Jasmine didn’t.  She neither learned towards nor away from me.  It was curious …

It clicked, suddenly.  Jasmine wasn’t nervous, around me, because she didn’t need to be.  She had magic.  She could protect herself.  I’d known women in the sandbox who’d been able to rely on their relatives to protect or avenge them – such protection had a price, up to and including complete submission – but Jasmine was different.  She wasn’t a defenceless girl, she was … my head spun as I realised she was strong in her own right.  I’d known some female soldiers who were just as tough as the men, women who’d earned their spurs, but this was different.  The world seemed to turn upside down as I glanced at her.  I was wondering why Jasmine wasn’t nervous around me?  Perhaps I should be nervous around her!

She let out a breath.  My paranoid mind wondered if she could read my thoughts.  The concept made my skin crawl.  What if she could?  What if … I tried not to think of her naked and promptly thought of her naked.  I told myself, sharply, that I was being silly.  She’d told me enough about magic to convince me she couldn’t read minds, although it was possible she was lying.  Or simply accidentally misleading me.

“You can make your own choice, here,” Jasmine said.  “Be what you want to be.”

I laughed as we made our way back to the caravan.  The clan was moving out again, heading down a road that looked as if it had seen better days.  I had the feeling it had been trodden down by thousands of people, over hundreds of years.  The air grew warmer as we picked up speed, inching our way out of the woods.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw, for the first time, hints of real civilisation.  I could see tiny villages in the distance, half-hidden amidst the fields.

My heart sank as I took in the sight.  I was no farmer – I knew very little about farming – but I could tell the peasants were working desperately to scratch a living from the soil.  The land looked almost painfully dry, the plants seeming to droop as they fought to draw nutrients from the soil.  The handful of workers in view looked tired, utterly beaten down.  They were all men.  I couldn’t see any women at all.

The air seemed to grow even hotter.  I felt sweat trickling down my back.  Jasmine seemed unbothered.  I couldn’t tell if she was using magic to shield herself or if she was simply used to it.  I kept my eyes on the countryside, my eyes trailing over row upon row of sickly-looking crops.  A dry ditch marked the edge of the fields.  It looked to have dried up years ago.  The ground looked as hard as stone.  I couldn’t believe the farm would last for much longer, no matter how hard the peasants worked.  They looked permanently on the edge of starvation.

We drove through a town, the locals paying very little attention to us.  They didn’t show any sign of interest, or fear, or anything.  I’d been in places where the locals greeted American troops with sticks and stones – at least partly because they knew the local insurgents would kill anyone who wasn’t insufficiently unwelcoming – but this was different.  The locals didn’t care about us or anyone.  I saw a woman making her way down the road, just as we left the town, and stared.  She looked ancient.  It was hard to believe she was still alive.

I heard a galloping sound and looked back, just in time to see a line of horsemen cantering past.  The hooves kicked up dust, which the wind blew into our faces.  I reached for my pistol, then stopped myself.  Who knew who the riders were?  What would happen if I killed one or more of them?

“Local toffs, out for a ride,” Jasmine explained.  She waved a hand, the dust fading from the air.  “They’ll own the estate for sure.”

I glanced at her.  “Who owns the land?”

“The local lord,” Jasmine said.  “That” – she said a word her spell couldn’t or wouldn’t translate – “is probably his son.”

She sounded indifferent.  I had the feeling it was a matter of great concern to the peasants.  Land ownership was a major issue right across the world.  The people who worked the land could find themselves displaced, or enslaved, if the land was sold to someone else.  And it would be perfectly legal.

“Asshole,” I commented.  I didn’t know the brat, but I disliked him already.  “Why don’t the peasants revolt?”

“It happens,” Jasmine said.  “They all get killed.”

I put my thoughts aside as we drove down towards the city.  The land looked like a chessboard, patches of cultivated land rubbing shoulders with fields that had been left fallow and ditches that looked as if they’d dried up years ago.  An irrigation project would probably have done wonders for crop yield, I thought – I’d seen it work in Afghanistan – but I doubted anyone was interested in trying.  It looked as if no one was even thinking about helping the peasants.  The riders I’d seen cantering past had been doing them harm simply by existing. 

And they keep the peasants so downtrodden they can’t even think of a better life, I mused.  It made sense.  I’d seen it before.  It was just sickening.  They’d sooner keep their power than make life better for everyone, including themselves.

The wind shifted, blowing an unholy stench into my face.  “What the fuck …?”

Jasmine giggled.  “Do you know what we call cityfolk?”

“No.”  I forced myself to breathe though my mouth.  The stench was appalling, the scent of piss and shit and too many humans in too close proximity.  “What?”

“Stinkers,” Jasmine said.  She sobered.  “Believe me, it fits.”

I nodded as the city came into view.  Somehow, I didn’t doubt it.

Snippet – The Cunning Man’s Tale

26 Oct

Hi, everyone

The Cunning Man’s Tale is a short story/novella for Fantastic Schools III, set in Heart’s Eye.  It takes place at roughly the same time as Little Witches (more or less.)  It should be more or less stand-alone.

I’m trying two different things here.  First, this story is written in first person (rather than third person).  I’ve done that before, but this is the first time I’ve done it for SIM.  Second, I planned this novella with the intention of eventually filling it out and turning it into a more serious novel.  If you have any suggestions for expansion and suchlike, please feel free to pass them to me.

Chris

PS – If you read, please comment from time to time.  It encourages me.

PPS – If you want to write yourself, check out the link below.

Chapter One

I had barely rested my head on the pillow when I was awakened by a terrific banging.

I jumped awake, half-convinced I’d overslept and my master was furious.  Master Pittwater was decent and easy-going, as masters went, but he had every right to be upset if I’d overslept.  The apothecary didn’t run itself, as I knew all too well.  If Master Pittwater had to work the counter himself, he was going to be mad.  He needed to restock on a dozen potions before the rush began …

My head spun as I sat up.  Where was I?  It wasn’t my garret above the shop.  It wasn’t the bedroom I’d shared with my brothers, back in Beneficence.  It was a small room, bare and barren save for an uncomfortable bed, illuminated by a single glowing crystal.  My bag lay in the corner, where I’d left it … I blinked as memory returned.  I’d been so tired, when I’d finally reached Heart’s Eye, that I had very little awareness of being shown to a room and collapsing into sleep.  Master Pittwater had warned me about portal lag, about the body being convinced it was in one time zone while actually being in another, but I hadn’t believed it.  Not until now.  The clock on the wall insisted it was ten bells, but it felt like the middle of the night.

There was another hard knock on the door.  I cursed as I stumbled to my feet and staggered towards the sound.  I honestly had no idea who was out there.  Master Pittwater had promised he’d make the arrangements, and advised me to check in with Master Landis as soon as I arrived, but I couldn’t remember if I actually had.  Everything – the portals, the train – was a blur.  I wondered, as I turned the doorknob, if I actually was in Heart’s Eye.  It was quite possible I’d been in such a state that I’d gone to the wrong place.

“Well,” a feminine voice said, as I opened the door.  “It’s about time.”

I blinked in surprise.  A girl – young woman, really – was standing on the far side of the door, eying me as if I was something particularly unpleasant under her foot.  She was striking, in a way that most female magicians are striking, and yet the sneer on her face made it hard to like her.  Her eyes narrowed with contempt as she looked me up and down.  I looked back at her, noting the long red hair and magical robes.  Her skin was unmarked by life, her hands lacking the scars on mine.  She looked like a person from another world.

“I trust you have been getting ready to attend upon us?”  The girl sounded as though she didn’t believe it.  “Or have you been lollygagging around in bed …?”

She looked past me, as if she expected to discover that I wasn’t alone.  I felt my temper flare.  I didn’t know who she was, or who she thought I was, but I didn’t like anyone talking to me like that.  I was a free citizen of Beneficence, not a serf or a slave or a runaway peasant.  I might be an apprentice, but I had rights.  They didn’t include having to take such … disdain … from someone who was clearly as immature as someone half her age.

I cleared my throat.  “Who are you?”

“Lilith,” the girl snapped.  “Don’t you know me?”

“No,” I said, in honest bemusement.  I was supposed to know her?  She wasn’t a customer at the shop – my former shop – and I was fairly sure she didn’t live in Beneficence.  Even the snootier magicians at least tried to be polite.  Mostly.  “Am I supposed to know you?”

Lilith gave me a nasty look.  “I am” – she paused, clearly rethinking what she was about to say – “I am Master Landis’s apprentice.  And I have to take you to the lab.”

She looked me up and down.  “And you’re not even appropriately dressed!”

“I only got in last night,” I said.  The urge to just slam the door in her face was overwhelming.  “You woke me up.”

“That won’t do at all,” Lilith said.  “Get dressed in lab robes and meet me there in ten minutes and …”

“I don’t even know where the lab is,” I said.  “I can’t …”

Lilith scowled.  “Get dressed,” she ordered.  “I’ll wait outside.  Hurry.”

I scowled back as I closed the door, opened my bag and dug through it for the apprenticeship robe.  Master Pittwater had given it to me as his farewell present, along with a handful of printed textbooks and tomes.  I felt grimy as I shucked my trousers and shirt, taking time to change my underwear before pulling the robe over my head.  I had been far too long since I’d had a proper shower, let alone a bath.  Master Pittwater had been insistent I shower every day, if I lived above the shop.  I’d grown used to the luxury.

Gritting my teeth, I dug out the letters of introduction and slipped them into my pocket.  Master Pittwater had assured me that everything had been sorted, that Master Landis would give me a fair shot at an apprenticeship.  He hadn’t mentioned another apprentice, a girl no less.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that.  Female apprentices were rare, outside the magical community.  And Lilith clearly had a massive chip on her shoulder.  If I’d shown that sort of attitude, I would have been in deep trouble.

“You’re not an apprentice,” Lilith said, when I opened the door.  “You shouldn’t be wearing those robes.”

I glared at her, feeling pushed to breaking point.  “I came here for an apprenticeship,” I said, sharply.  “Shouldn’t I be dressed for the part?”

“You’re not a real apprentice,” Lilith countered.  She held up her palm.  A spark of light danced over her skin.  It was a trick magicians often used to identify themselves.  I tried not to wince as I looked at the reminder I would never be a magician.  “All you’re good for is preparing the ingredients.  Menial work.”

She turned and marched down the corridor, then stopped.  “Did you even think to have something to eat?”

“No,” I said.  I was used to hunger – my family had never been wealthy enough to be sure of putting food on the table – and I could have gone on for quite some time without making mistakes, but I wanted to irritate her.  Just a little.  “Is there something to eat?”

Lilith snorted and turned to walk down a staircase.  “Follow me,” she snapped.  “And stay a step or two behind me.”

I ignored the insult as I peered around with interest.  Heart’s Eye was big, easily larger than anything I’d seen in the city.  The corridors seemed like giant mazes, although someone had helpfully hung signs and markers everywhere.  There were no paintings on the walls, save for a handful of strikingly-realistic portraits.  I frowned as I ran my eye over the names below the portraits.  MISTRESS IRENE.   LADY EMILY … the Emily, I assumed.  CALEB.  MASTER LANDIS … I stopped to study his face, wondering just how closely the painting matched reality.  He looked very different to Master Pittwater.  A pale face, neatly-trimmed goatee, green eyes … I couldn’t help thinking he reminded me of someone, although I wasn’t sure who.

“That’s your new boss,” Lilith said.  She seemed in no hurry, all of a sudden.  “We don’t want people forgetting who runs this place.”

I gave her a sharp look.  “Do you even want to be here?”

Lilith looked thoroughly displeased.  “I have no choice,” she said.  “You do.  Why don’t you leave.”

She turned and strode down the corridor before I could think of a reply.  I glared at her back as I started to follow her.  I didn’t have a choice, not if I wanted to be something more than an apothecary’s assistant.  Master Pittwater had made that clear, when he’d told me I could go no further in his employ.  I could either accept being a lowly assistant for the rest of my life or take a chance on Heart’s Eye.  He hadn’t promised me it would be easy.

I heard people talking as we reached the bottom of the corridor and stepped into a large hall.  It was crammed with people, ranging from students to older men and women wearing worker’s overalls and protective outfits.  The tables seemed to be scattered at random, although I could tell there were dozens of groups and subgroups already.  I glanced from table to table, noting youngsters who were clearly magicians and men who looked like proud craftsmen.  I felt a tinge of envy.  I’d thought about becoming a craftsman myself, but I hadn’t been able to get an apprenticeship.

Lilith pointed to the table at the front of the hall, raising her voice so I could hear over the din.  “Take what you want,” she said.  “Don’t worry about paying for it.”

“Really?”  It sounded as if she wanted to get me in hot water.  “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Lilith said.  She walked beside me, the crowd parting in front of her.  I couldn’t help noticing that she – and I – were getting wary looks, even from the magicians.  “Right now, the food is free.”

It was also very basic, I decided, as I filled a bowl with porridge and dried fruit.  Oats were easy to grow, if I recalled correctly; they were probably shipped in by the ton through the portals.  Or something.  Heart’s Eye was in the middle of a desert, but I’d been told the land was slowly becoming fertile again.  I put the matter aside for later consideration as we sat down, Lilith nursing a mug of Kava.  I couldn’t help thinking we were in a bubble.  The others gave us a wide berth.  Even the magicians seemed wary of her.

“Eat quickly,” Lilith said.  She didn’t seem pleased with her seeming unpopularity.  “We don’t have much time.”

I nodded and tucked into the porridge.  It tasted bland, but I knew I should be glad to have it.  My stomach growled warningly, suggesting I should go back for seconds.  There was dried fish too, as well as meats I didn’t recognise.  I wanted to go, but Lilith was clearly impatient.  I drank my Kava – stronger than anything I’d had back home – and stood, carrying the plates and bowls to the collection point.  It looked as if the staff had a full-time job.

“Who does the cooking?”  I asked, as Lilith led me out of the hall.  “And everything else?”

“Depends,” Lilith said.  “The cooks do the cooking” – she wasn’t looking at me, but I could hear the sneer – “assisted by students who are working their way through the university courses.  They do the labour and, in exchange, are allowed to attend courses.  It is quite the arrangement.”

I stared at her back.  “What’s wrong with it?”

“They cannot use it,” Lilith said.  “What’s the point?”

I couldn’t put my feelings into words.  Lilith didn’t seem to notice as she walked down two flights of stairs and along a long corridor.  I felt a tingle passing through me, my hair threatening to stand on end, as we crossed the wards.  Silence fell, noticeably.  I hadn’t really been aware of the background noise until it was gone.  A pair of young girls walked past us, going in the other direction.  They both gave Lilith a wide berth.  I frowned.  Lilith wasn’t that bad, was she?  I’d met people who were worse.

“This is the lab,” Lilith said, as she pushed open a door.  “Master Landis will key you into the wards, once you prove yourself.”

“I proved myself to Master Pittwater,” I protested.  “I know …”

“An apothecary,” Lilith said, in a tone that suggested Master Pittwater was one step above a gutter rat.  “This is an alchemical lab.  The rules are different.”

She muttered a word as she stepped inside.  The air glowed with light.  I felt a thrill, despite myself, as I looked around.  The chamber was massive, a dozen wooden tables – neatly spaced, in line with the rules Master Pitt water had drummed into me – dominating the room.  The walls were lined with shelves upon shelves of potion ingredients, alchemical textbooks and everything an alchemist needed, from cauldrons to glass vials, jars and bottles.  I stepped closer, admiring the collection of ingredients.  A number were so expensive that Master Pittwater had rarely, if ever, used them.  I couldn’t help shuddering as I saw a pickled frog in a jar.

“That was a boy who tried to kiss me,” Lilith said.  I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.  “I turned him into a frog and pickled him.”

I felt sick.  “Do you think that’s funny?”

Lilith shrugged.  “There’s a washroom through there,” she said.  “I take it you know how to wash your hands and put on a proper apron?”

I didn’t bother to dignify that stupid question with a stupid answer.  I hadn’t worked a day in the shop before I’d learnt the dangers of cross-contamination and injury.  It was very easy to get seriously hurt, even if one couldn’t brew the more dangerous potions.  I’d helped Master Pittwater clean the wounds, after one of his previous ancestors had splashed himself with cockatrice blood.  It wasn’t as lethal as basilisk or manticore venom, but it had still done enough damage to terminate the poor man’s career.  I had no idea what had happened to him afterwards.  I hoped he wasn’t starving on the streets somewhere.

Lilith rattled around in the lab as I washed and dried my hands, then donned a apron.  It wouldn’t provide much protection, if a cauldron exploded, but it might give me a few seconds to tear it off before the boiling liquid burned through to my skin.  I tested it lightly, making sure I could pull it free, then headed back into the lab.  Lilith had laid out a set of ingredients, and a small collection of tools.  I felt a thrill when I looked at them.  I knew how to use them all.

“To work,” Lilith ordered.  She jabbed a finger at the pile.  “Ready these for use.”

I frowned as I stared at the pile.  Some were common, so common a child could prepare them properly.  A couple required almost no preparation.  The remainder were tricky.  I couldn’t prepare them unless I knew what we were going to brew.  The Darkle Roots needed to be sliced one way for a sleeping potion and quite another way for a purgative.  The Candy Seeds needed to be left intact for a shape-change potion and crushed for a healing potion.  And the daises … Master Pittwater had joked about a vile old witch who found daises soothing, but – as far as I knew – they had no real magical applications.  They were useless.

“Interesting,” I said, as neutrally as I could.  “What are we going to brew?”

Lilith sniffed.  “A simple painkilling potion,” she said.  She hadn’t said which one.  There were over fifty different recipes, with varying levels of potency.  “Prepare the ingredients.”

I kept my face under tight control as I considered the recipes I’d memorised.  There were only four that involved all, but one of the ingredients.  The daisies were a mystery.  I shrugged, resisting the urge to ask about them as I started to work.  I chopped up the Darkle Roots, being very careful to avoid mixing them with the Hawthorne Thistles.  They didn’t go well together unless they were blended in a cauldron.  The Jigger Stems were of too poor quality for two of the four recipes, so I angled my work towards the remaining two.  Lilith watched, occasionally tossing in a question.  I was almost insulted.  I’d covered most of them within the first two months of my time in the shop.

“I’ve done everything, but the daises,” I said, finally.  “What are we going to brew?”

Lilith snorted.  “We?  I’m going to brew …”

I felt my temper snap.  “I just prepared the ingredients for you,” I said, sharply.  A thought struck me.  “Did I just help you with your work?”

“It’s your job,” Lilith snapped.  “You prepare the ingredients.  I turn them into potions!”

“I came here for an apprenticeship, not to be a servant,” I snapped back.  I didn’t mind preparing ingredients.  It was part of the job.  But I didn’t want to be just a preparer.  “I need to learn to brew and …”

“With what?”  Lilith turned to face me.  “You have no magic.  You can toss this lot into a cauldron and get what?  Sludge!  You cannot do anything with this.  All you’re good for is preparing the ingredients!”

“I can learn,” I said.  “I can …”

Lilith jabbed a finger at me.  My entire body froze.  I could neither move nor speak.

“I learnt that spell before I went to school,” Lilith said.  She tapped me on the head.  It sounded as if she’d rapped her knuckles against solid metal.  “You are powerless against it.  You cannot defend yourself against even the merest touch of magic.  You have no place here, save as a servant to your betters.  And the sooner you learn it, the better.”

I struggled to move, but I couldn’t.  My entire body was locked solid.  I couldn’t even move my eyes.  I watched, helplessly, as Lilith took the ingredients I’d lovingly prepared and started to turn them into a potion.  She was good, I admitted grudgingly; she was far better than the other apprentices I’d met.  Her fingers moved with easy skill, her magic sparking with life as she worked.  And yet she thought of me as a servant …

My heart sank.  How the hell did I get into this mess?

Stuck in Magic CH2

26 Oct

Chapter Two

“Can you understand me?”  Jasmine was eying me, worriedly.  “Can you …?”

“Yes,” I managed.  “What … what was that?”

“Magic,” Jasmine said.  She sounded slightly reassured.  “A simple translation spell.”

A simple … my mind seemed to stagger in utter disbelief.  Magic?  Impossible.  I was dreaming.  I had to be dreaming.  I’d crashed the car and fallen into a coma and any moment now I’d wake up in a hospital bed, facing an enormous bill.  Or I might die.  The road had been empty when night had become day and … it was unlikely anyone would see the crash in time to save my life.  It had been very dark.  A car might drive past, the driver unaware there was anything to see.  I could die at any moment.

Jasmine stepped forward.  “What would you like to be called?”

I blinked.  It was an odd way of asking my name.  “Elliot,” I managed.  “I’m called Elliot.”

“Pleased to meet you.”  Jasmine bobbed what looked like an old-fashioned curtsey.  “You came out of the Greenwood?”

My incomprehension must have shown on my face, because she pointed to the car and the trees beyond.  It did look as though I’d driven through the foliage and straight into the ditch, although it was clearly impossible.  There was no suggestion I’d crashed my way through the trees.  They were practically a solid barrier.  The handful of chinks within the foliage were barely big enough for a grown man.  I felt claustrophobic just looking at them.  I’d delved into enough tight spaces, during the war, to feel uneasy about going back inside. 

I found my voice.  “What happened to me?”

“Some people walk into the Greenwood and come out in a different time and place,” Jasmine said.  She walked past me, her eyes narrowing as she saw the car.  “I’m afraid there’s no way home.”

“I have a family,” I protested.  “I …”

Jasmine turned to look at me.  “I’m very sorry,” she said.  I didn’t doubt her for a moment.  “But there’s no way home.”

“You can walk back into the Greenwood, if you like,” the older man said.  “I just don’t know when and where you’d come out.”

I pinched myself, hard.  It hurt.  It didn’t feel like a dream – or a nightmare.  Cleo and the boys were … where?  When and where?  Was this the past?  Was this a time when magic had actually existed?  Or was I on another world?  Jasmine and her family looked human enough, but … they were such a strange mixture of races I found it hard to believe they lived and worked together.  They looked like gypsies.  Maybe they were travellers, moving from place to place.

“I’m Grandfather Lembu,” the older man said.  “And we are the Diddakoi.”

“He doesn’t know anything about us, Grandfather,” Jasmine said.  “He’s in shock.”

“I don’t know anything,” I said.  It wasn’t the first time I’d been abroad, but … if magic was real, the world would be very different.  Right?  “Where am I?”

“You’re in the Kingdom of Johor,” Grandfather Lembu said, calmly.  “Does that mean anything to you?”

I shook my head, wondering – too late – if they understood the gesture.  It was possible it meant something completely different here, if they had had no contact with my world.  Or … I looked around, feeling hopelessly lost.  What was I going to do?  Where could I go?  I was as ignorant of this new world as a newborn child …

“You are welcome to stay with us, at least until we reach the nearest city,” the old woman said.  “As long as you honour our ways, you will be welcome.”

“I’ll take care of him,” Jasmine said.  She shot me what I thought was meant to be a reassuring look.  “He won’t know how to behave.”

It was hard not to feel a twinge of panic.  I tried not to show it on my face.  I had no idea of the rules, or how to behave … for all I knew, smiling at someone was a grave insult.  Or something.  It was terrifyingly easy to give offense if one didn’t know the rules and the offended rarely bothered to give the offender the benefit of the doubt.  If I’d managed to get in trouble when I’d moved from state to state, just by not knowing what I was doing, it would be far worse here.

“First, we bury that … thing,” Grandfather Lembu said, waving at the car.  “We can’t leave it lying around for the peasants to find.”

Jasmine nodded.  “Take whatever you want from it,” she said to me.  “And then we’ll bury it here.”

I didn’t want to leave the car behind, but there was no choice.  Even if I could get it out of the ditch, the engine was fucked.  There was no hope of driving down the road and out of the nightmare.  I turned and walked back to the car, going through it to recover everything I could.  I’d known operators who crammed their cars with their kit, on the grounds they might be called back to duty at a moment’s notice.  In hindsight, I should have done the same.  I just didn’t have anything like enough supplies to last for more than a few days, if that.

Jasmine sat on the ditch and watched me calmly.  Her eyes seemed to skim over the car, as if she couldn’t quite see it.  I glanced at her in puzzlement, then looked away.  She was stunningly pretty, yet meddling with the local women was a pretty universal to get into trouble.  I’d known a guy who got into deep shit because he’d fallen in love with a girl from the sandbox.  And besides, Jasmine looked to be around nineteen.  She was practically half my age.

“I should have brought more,” I muttered.  Was the remnants of the car any use?  Could I tear out the windows for trade goods?  What about the gas in the tank?  Given time, I was sure I could figure out a way to drain it safely.  “If I’d known …”

“You’re not the first person who walked into the Greenwood and came out somewhere else,” Jasmine said.  She had very sharp hearing.  “All you can do is make the best of it.”

I straightened.  If this was real, a single mistake could get me killed.  If it wasn’t … I pinched myself again, just to be sure.  It still hurt.  The wind shifted, blowing the scent of arid sand into my nostrils.  It felt … wrong.  I picked up the bag and clambered out of the ditch.  I’d go through the bag later, in hopes of determining what I could use for trade goods.  I had no idea what was worth what, not here.  For all I knew, the small toolbox was nothing more than a curiosity.

Jasmine stood beside me.  “Are you sure you have everything?”

“Everything I can carry,” I said.  “Do you want me to help bury the car?”

“No need,” Jasmine said.  “Watch.”

She raised a hand.  My hair stood on end as the dirt and sand started to rise of its own accord and cover the car.  I stumbled backwards in shock, my head spinning in disbelief.  Magic was real?  I’d seen one spell already, but … I thought I understood, now, how the Native Americans had felt when they’d seen European guns and technology.  It was so far beyond their comprehension that they must have felt they could never catch up.  The first contact between the two worlds had been an outside context problem … this was an outside context problem.  Jasmine, a girl so slight I could break her in half with ease, had enough power to shake the world.

I forced myself to watch the tiny whirlwind as it covered the car completely.  The ditch looked ruined.  I couldn’t help wondering if someone was going to be very annoyed about that, one day.  The ditch didn’t look to be in good condition – I could see patches where the sides had caved in – but the hump hiding the car was a great deal bigger. If it rained heavily, it was going to reveal the car …

Jasmine lowered her hand.  The storm faded away.  I felt a sudden sense of loss as I looked at the mound.  The car hadn’t been a good car, but she’d been mine.  I’d bought her, I’d refurbished her, I’d repaired her … I felt as if I’d been completely cut off from my life and world.  I wanted to jump over the ditch and run into the trees, but Grandfather Lembu was right.  There was no guarantee I’d get home if I tried.  The sense of unseen eyes looking at me grew stronger with every passing second.

“Come on,” Jasmine said.  “I’ll show you around.”

I followed her numbly as she led the way back to the caravans.  They seemed to be an entire mobile village.  A cluster of women were lighting fires and boiling water, while the menfolk fed their horses and the children ran and played.  I stayed close to Jasmine, doing my level best to ignore the stares.  They didn’t feel hostile – I’d been in war zones, I knew the difference – but they didn’t seem very friendly either.  It wasn’t uncommon, in isolated communities.  A newcomer couldn’t walk up and demand admittance.  He would have to work long and hard to earn their trust.

And I’m the newcomer here, I thought, sourly.  They don’t know me.

Jasmine motioned for me to sit by the fire.  I sat, watching the travellers watching me.  They were a very diverse group, far more than I’d realised.  And yet, there was something about them that made them look alike.  I studied them, drawing on my years of experience.  The men and women seemed separate, but equal.  There was no sense the men were automatically superior or vice versa.  The children were certainly playing together without any sense of separate worlds.

“Drink this,” Jasmine said.  “It’s safe.”

“Thank you,” I said.  The mug looked like something out of a bygone age.  The liquid inside looked like soup.  I sipped it carefully, tasting hints of chicken and vegetables.  My stomach growled, reminding me that it had been a long time since I’d eaten.  Thousands of years, perhaps.  I couldn’t help smiling at the thought, even though it was a grim reminder I’d never see home again.  “I … I don’t know anything about being here.”

“I understand.”  Jasmine’s eyes darkened, as if she was remembering something unpleasant.  “I had to go away too, for a while.  It’s never easy.”

“No,” I agreed.  “Where did you go?”

“Whitehall School,” Jasmine said.  She held out a hand.  A spark of light danced over her palm.  “It was very different.  Being in a room … ugh.”

I had to smile.  “What did you study there?”

“Magic,” Jasmine said.  She sounded wistful.  “I have to go back at the end of the summer.”

My head spun again.  A school for magicians?  A real-life Hogwarts?  It wasn’t a pleasant thought.  I’d read the books to my kids and I’d been unable to look past the multitude of unfortunate implications.  Jasmine seemed nice enough, but … for all I knew, pureblood supremacism was a very real thing.  If there were people dumb enough to think they were superior, just because their skin was lighter than mine, I was sure there were people who thought magic made them superior.  My skin crawled.  What could magic do?  What could it not do?  The teenage girl sitting next to me might have the powers of a minor god. 

And without her, you couldn’t talk to anyone here, I thought.  You need her.

I forced myself to think.  “The spell you put on me, how long will it last?”

“I’m not sure,” Jasmine confessed.  “I can keep renewing it, you see.  Without renewal” – she frowned – “it’ll last around six months, at best.  It also has its limits.  Focus on learning the language before it wears off.”

“I’m good at learning languages,” I said, although I wasn’t sure it was true here.  There’d been teachers who’d taught me how to speak and write a handful of different languages.  I’d had multilingual friends who’d helped me to develop my skills.  “I’ll do my best to learn.”

Jasmine nodded.  We fell into a companionable silence as we drank our soup.  I couldn’t help noticing that Jasmine seemed as isolated as I, although she was one of them.  I’d wondered if I was treading on someone’s toes, if Jasmine had a partner or admirer amongst the travellers, but … she seemed too isolated for it.  I didn’t understand it.  In my experience, beauty made up for a lot of things.  Maybe she was just too closely related to the rest of the clan.  There’d been tribal societies with strict rules to prevent inbreeding.

“I need to pay my way,” I said, as the travellers started to pack up.  “What can I do to help?”

“You can help us set up the campsite when we reach the crossing point,” Jasmine said, mischievously.  “There’s a lot of fetching and carrying for all of us to do, when we arrive.”

I smiled.  If there was one good way to integrate yourself, it was through being helpful.  And I did want to pay my way, even if I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing.  Jasmine stood and escorted me towards a small caravan, so small it looked like a children’s toy.  I glanced inside, half-expecting it to be bigger on the inside.  It wasn’t.  There was barely enough room for a single person.  I had the feeling I’d break my bones if I tried to sleep inside.  I’d probably be sleeping under the caravan.  The horse – no, donkey – gave me a bored look as Jasmine scrambled up and took the reins.  I sat next to her, put my bag in the rear and watched as the traveller convoy lurched back into life.

“You have magic,” I said.  I tried to keep my voice casual, but it was hard.  “Does everyone have magic?”

“No.”  Jasmine looked pensive.  “A lot of us” – she waved a hand at the caravans – “have a spark of magic and know a few simple spells, but most people don’t.  The really talented magicians go to school and learn how to do far more advanced magics.  They don’t always come back.”

I winced, inwardly, at the pain in her voice.  It was never easy for someone to leave a traditional community, learn something very different and then come home and try to fit in once again.  I’d seen it happen back home, to kids who might have been great if they hadn’t been dragged down by their peers; I’d seen it happen in Iraq and Afghanistan, where religious fanatics had no qualms about murdering educated women and blowing up schools for girls.  Jasmine might not be facing death – I had the feeling she was still part of the clan – but she didn’t quite fit in any longer.

“Magic,” I repeated.  “How does it work?”

Jasmine launched into a long and complicated explanation I couldn’t even begin to understand.  There were too many things that didn’t make sense, too many words I didn’t know … I lacked too many concepts, I guessed, for the translation spell to work properly.  I wasn’t even sure how it worked.  The military had messed around with universal translators, but they’d never been particularly useful.  They’d been too many dialects and too little time.

I shivered, again, as she talked about her schooling.  The students were dangerous … I recalled my earlier thoughts about pureblood supremacism and cursed under my breath.  It was impossible to believe magicians didn’t have a superiority complex.  There was no real difference between whites and blacks, but magicians and muggles?  I didn’t want to know what they called muggles in this universe.  It was probably something just as insulting.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do here,” I said.  “This place is so … different.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Jasmine assured me.  “It’ll take us two weeks to reach the city.  After that, if you want to stay with us, you’ll be welcome.  Or you can strike out on your own.”

I hoped she was right, as the sky started to darken.  The caravans came to a halt in a clearing, Grandfather Lembu snapping out orders to hew wood and fetch water.  I jumped to the ground and helped, carrying water from the stream to the campsite.  The young men said little to me as I worked, although I caught them giving my clothes sidelong glances.  I made a mental note to find new clothes as soon as possible.  I looked like a stranger, someone who didn’t fit in.  And yet … I thought I saw glimmerings of respect as I helped set up the fire and a dozen other tasks.  Perhaps being here wouldn’t be so bad after all.  And yet …

“Don’t go out of the clearing after dark,” Jasmine advised, after dinner.  The food had been surprisingly tasty, following by singing and a dance.  I’d sat and watched.  “You don’t know what might be out there.”

“No,” I agreed.  “I … where do I sleep?”

Jasmine pointed me to the space beside the caravan and tossed me a blanket.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

I lay back on the ground and stared into the dark sky.  It wasn’t the first time I’d slept out of doors, but … this time, the constellations were different.  I swallowed, hard.  Wherever I was, it wasn’t Earth.  I was a very long way from home.  I was never going to see Cleo and the boys again.  Cleo I could do without, after everything, but the boys … I tried not to sob openly as I realised they were gone forever.  They might be as well be dead.

It was a very long time before I fell asleep.

SIM: The Kingdom of Tarzana

25 Oct

Another bit of background.

The Kingdom of Tarzana

Tarzana sits at the eastern reaches of the Allied Lands, separated from the remainder of the former Empire by a combination of mountains and arid deserts.  It is not as isolated as many of its aristocrats might prefer – there are roads through the mountains and the kingdom has a number of ports that link it to the Southern Continent – but it does maintain its distance from the White Council.  Tarzana has not sent any troops to join the common defence against the necromancers and has only reluctantly paid its dues to the White Council. 

The kingdom is best described as a mixture of arid countryside, dominated by hot and humid summers, and cold to mild winters.  The fertile regions of the country are bracketed by farms that barely produce enough to keep their workers alive and deserts that are effectively impossible to farm.  Rainfall and thunderstorms are not uncommon, but completely unpredictable.  The farmers have made some attempts to irrigate their fields, using aspects of the New Learning, but such efforts have floundered against aristocratic resistance.  It is perhaps unsurprising that a sizable percentage of the country’s population is desperately poor.

On paper, Tarzana is a kingdom roughly akin to Zangaria.  In practice, this isn’t true.  The country’s aristocracy had deep roots within the local government and, when the king started trying to increase his power, revolted against him.  The king lost his life and his son, the current King Jacob, was put on the throne.  As he was barely an infant at the time, he was unable to exercise governance and the aristocracy were able to effectively strip the monarchy of most of its power.  The country is effectively divided into aristocratic estates and city-states that maintain a precarious independence.  The Warlords – a title they stripped from the King and distributed to themselves to symbolise his powerlessness – hold most of the power, as long as they act in unison.  Each of the warlords, however, has dreams of taking the king’s daughter – Princess Helen – for his bride and becoming a true king.  This would, naturally, come at the expense of the other warlords and they can be relied upon to unite against anyone who tried.   

The five major warlords, with many aristocrats bound to them through oaths of blood, are Aldred, Cuthbert, Eldred, Hlaford and Renweard.

King Jacob and his daughter would love to regain effective power – or, at the very least, break the power of the warlords – but they face a number of serious challenges.  The crown is banned from deploying more than a few hundred soldiers, nowhere near enough to challenge even one of the warlords, while the tax base is very small.  The warlords have exempted themselves and their supporters from most taxes, while the city-states, temples and nearly everyone else pays as little as possible.  (The crown doesn’t have the manpower to collect taxes, even ones that are still legal.)  The main tax burden falls on the peasants, who are unable to pay even if they wanted to.  Practically, the king rules Roxanna, the capital, and very little else.

The city-states maintain an uneasy balancing act between their ancient rights – they claim their rights pre-date both the monarchy and the empire – and the simple fact that their neighbouring warlords are powerful enough to storm the cities or simply blockade them into submission.  This is bitterly resented in the cities, leading to a steady stream of anti-noble riots that rarely get anywhere.  The cities have a range of different governments, from a limited form of democracy (men with property alone, naturally) to semi-aristocratic or mercantile systems.  It is generally believed that uniting the cities would give them a chance to shake themselves free of the warlords, but the city governments refuse to back any such attempt.  They believe it would result in certain destruction.

Merchants and trades – and the travelling folk – are normally allowed to move freely within the country.  However, they can be harassed by local authorities – some of the nastier warlords see traders as agents of change (and thus enemies) – and sometimes beaten or robbed by bandits.  They’re also banned from recruiting outside the cities or providing transport to the peasantry without a permit.  The only real exception to this are magical traders and talent scouts, the former being regarded as too dangerous to challenge and the latter providing a useful service.

The peasantry, as a class, is ground under by the problem of raising crops in the arid environment and the constant demands from the warlords (and their subordinates).  The warlords consider the peasants to be property, one step above slaves, and take most of the produce for themselves without so much as investing in the land (such as irrigation).  It is unsurprising, therefore, that famines are frequent; peasants often take to the hills and become bandits, or flee to the cities, in hopes of making a living there.  This is, naturally, forbidden and the warlords will often threaten war to force the cities to return them, even though this is pointless spite.  Violent resistance is not uncommon and the peasants tell of a legendary warrior who will return to save them, but – so far – most peasant revolts have been brutally squashed. 

The New Learning spread into Tarzana largely by accident, brought by merchants who intended to use the innovations – reading and writing, as well as primitive gunpowder weapons – for their own advantage.  The warlords didn’t see the possibilities – or the dangers-  until it was too late, although they were quick to ban the peasants from learning to read (on the ground it would only give them ideas).  The city-states have embraced the New Learning, although it will probably be years before they manage to develop any further.  However, it is quite likely that the new concepts will bring change in their wake.

OUT NOW – FANTASTIC SCHOOLS V.2, FEATURING A NEW SCHOOLED IN MAGIC NOVELLA!

15 Oct

Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to … Fantastic Schools.

Follow a mundane teacher striding into a world of magic, a spy on a mission, a guided tour of a magical school, a school dance for monsters, a dangerous reunion … and many more.

Follow us into worlds different, magical …

… And very human.

Featuring a new Schooled in Magic novella – Nanette’s Tale – and stories by J.F. Posthumus, Christine Amsden, James Pyles, Becky R. Jones, Morgon Newquist, Tom Anderson, Lauser, James Odell, Misha Burnett, Audrey Andrews, Paul A. Piatt, L. Jagi Lamplighter and David Breitenbeck

Download from Amazon US, UK, CAN, AU

OUT NOW – The Halls of Montezuma (The Empire’s Corps XVIII) + FREE BOOK!

4 Oct

An all-new story of The Empire’s Corps!

Earth has fallen.  The Core Worlds have collapsed into chaos.  War is breaking out everywhere as planetary governments declare independence, entire sectors slip out of contact and warlords battle for power.  The remnants of the once-great Empire are tearing themselves apart.  And, in the shadows, the Terran Marine Corps works to save what little they can to preserve civilisation and build a better tomorrow.  But now they might have met their match.

The marines have beaten off a desperate attempt by the corporate worlds to recover Hameau, but the war is very far from over.  The corprats remain powerful, gathering their strength to resume the offensive, locate the marines and impose their society on the ruins of empire.  To stop them, the marines will have to stake everything on a desperate gamble to tear out the heart of the enemy empire and slay the fascist beast in its lair.

But the enemy are equally desperate to win …

Read a FREE SAMPLE, then download from Amazon (USUKCANAUS) or Draft2Digital.  And read the Afterword HERE.

In addition, The Empire’s Corps, the first book in this long-running bestselling series, will be available free through Kindle Unlimited between 5th October to 9th October.  If you haven’t picked it up, why not click here to download a free sample, and then buy it from Amazon here!

OUT NOW – The Halls of Montezuma (The Empire’s Corps XVIII)

3 Oct

An all-new story of The Empire’s Corps!

Earth has fallen.  The Core Worlds have collapsed into chaos.  War is breaking out everywhere as planetary governments declare independence, entire sectors slip out of contact and warlords battle for power.  The remnants of the once-great Empire are tearing themselves apart.  And, in the shadows, the Terran Marine Corps works to save what little they can to preserve civilisation and build a better tomorrow.  But now they might have met their match.

The marines have beaten off a desperate attempt by the corporate worlds to recover Hameau, but the war is very far from over.  The corprats remain powerful, gathering their strength to resume the offensive, locate the marines and impose their society on the ruins of empire.  To stop them, the marines will have to stake everything on a desperate gamble to tear out the heart of the enemy empire and slay the fascist beast in its lair.

But the enemy are equally desperate to win …

Read a FREE SAMPLE, then download from Amazon (USUKCANAUS) or Draft2Digital.  And read the Afterword HERE.