Read Study in Slaughter (Schooled in Magic) Online
Authors: Christopher Nuttall
Tags: #magicians, #Magic, #alternate world, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #sorcerers
Study in Slaughter
Christopher G. Nuttall
Twilight Times Books
Study in Slaughter
This is a work of fiction. All concepts, characters and events portrayed in this book are used fictitiously and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Christopher G. Nuttall
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Twilight Times Books
P O Box 3340
Kingsport TN 37664
First Edition, July 2014
Cover art by Brad Fraunfelter
Published in the United States of America.
Table of Contents
HE FLASH OF LIGHT WAS, FOR
a long moment, overpoweringly bright, a surge of magic as well as light. It faded quickly, revealing a tall woman with a harsh, angular face and a long braid of blonde hair that hung down to her waist. The Grandmaster bowed in welcome as she approached, his shorter form contrasting oddly with the newcomer’s. They made a study in contrasts.
He spoke. “Welcome back to Whitehall, Lady Barb.”
“Thank you, Grandmaster,” Lady Barb said. She bowed formally to him. “It’s good to be back.”
He didn’t say another word until they were in his office, surrounded by the most complex and powerful wards in the Allied Lands, and they both had a glass of wine in their hands.
“I understand that you had a chance to observe our Child of Destiny in Zangaria,” he said, bluntly. “What do you make of her?”
“A bundle of contradictions,” Lady Barb admitted, after a long moment. “She’s smart, but she seems to lack practical knowledge and awareness. She’s powerful, but she seems almost reluctant to use that power. She’s loyal to her friends, to the point where it gets her into very real trouble. Where does she come from?”
The Grandmaster leaned forwards, interested. “What makes you think she comes from anywhere special?”
“Her...attitudes, for want of a better word,” Lady Barb said. “I was given to understand that she was brought up in a sorcerer’s tower. She simply doesn’t
like any of the other children I’ve known who had sorcerers for fathers. At times, she can be more caring and sympathetic than anyone else, but at other times she simply doesn’t realize that there is a problem. She acts more like a foreigner than someone who belongs in Zangaria.”
“Where she was ennobled, after saving the lives of the Royal Family,” the Grandmaster said, dryly. “But you’re right. She doesn’t come from here at all.”
“Lady Emily was kidnapped out of her world by Shadye,” he admitted. “She’s from another
Lady Barb listened, feeling a growing sense of unreality, as the Grandmaster explained.
“Impossible,” Lady Barb said, when he had finished. “There are no such things as alternate universes.”
“It isn’t a very well studied branch of magic,” the Grandmaster said, shaking his head. “But yes, alternate worlds do exist—and Lady Emily was taken from one.”
“And saved by Void,” Lady Barb said, unable to hide the bitterness in her voice. “Do you trust him with a girl of unknown potential?”
“No,” the Grandmaster said. He looked down at his desk. “Why do you think I was so quick to agree to allow her to come to Whitehall?”
Lady Barb studied his face for a long moment. “Do you trust her?”
“I think that she is a decent human being,” the Grandmaster said. “On the other hand, some of her virtues are also weaknesses. Do you realize that her loyalty to her friends has often overridden her common sense?”
“You mean she might be loyal to
,” Lady Barb said, after a long moment. “Do you trust
“With great power comes great instability,” the Grandmaster said. “And a certain lack of concern for everyone else.”
“That isn’t an answer,” Lady Barb said.
“We know very little about Emily’s life before she was kidnapped,” the Grandmaster said, ignoring her. “I believe that it wasn’t a very happy one, as she has shown no particular interest in returning home. On the other hand, her life here hasn’t been very happy either.”
“She’s wealthy and famous,” Lady Barb pointed out.
“She was targeted by a necromancer for death—and then enslavement,” the Grandmaster countered. “One of her father figures is a rogue half-mad sorcerer. Another—Sergeant Harkin—died at her hands. She had no choice, but she still took it badly.”
“I’d only heard rumors,” Lady Barb said. “Is that true?”
“In a manner of speaking,” the Grandmaster said. “She really had no choice.”
He explained, briefly.
Lady Barb listened in disbelief. “She
how to perform a necromantic rite?”
“It isn’t difficult to master the theory,” the Grandmaster reminded her. “Do you like Lady Emily, personally?”
“I could,” Lady Barb admitted. “She’s a decent person—and I honestly don’t think that she intended to cause problems for the Allied Lands. But on the other hand...there’s a sense that she thinks she knows what is right, always. She has a touch of Void’s arrogance without the willingness to believe that the ends justify the means.”
She shrugged. “And when the time came, she slipped into the castle to save Princess Alassa—her friend—and the rest of the Royal Family,” she added. “Someone like that shouldn’t be dismissed easily.”
“True,” the Grandmaster agreed. “Will you watch her?”
“I only agreed to stay at Whitehall for a year,” Lady Barb said, in some irritation. “You
how I feel about Healing. But yes, I
“Good,” the Grandmaster said. “Because, just like her Guardian, she’s a rogue element. And rogue elements cause trouble.”
HE CASTLE WAS HERS.
Emily stood in the chamber underneath Cockatrice Castle and closed her eyes. She’d never had a real home before, not one where she’d felt safe and welcome. Even Whitehall wasn’t
, not in the sense that she could stay there permanently. Here, however, there was a home. It might be a cold castle, incredibly hard to heat save through magic, but it was
The hearthstone lay in front of her, glowing faintly as energy hummed through the wards protecting the castle from magical attack. Emily could sense, without even touching it, the power that was securely anchored in the stone—and the override King Randor had used to secure Cockatrice Castle. It no longer belonged to the treacherous baron who had plotted against the King—a man whose very name had been stricken from the books—but to Emily, who had saved the King and his family from assassination. And it would belong to her heirs in perpetuity.
She felt a curious mix of emotions as she stepped forward and held her hand over the stone. Part of her wondered what her mother the drunkard would have said, if she’d known what her daughter had become; part of her wondered if there were unexpected surprises waiting for the Baroness Cockatrice in the future. The castle wasn’t
; being a baroness, one of the highest-ranking nobles in the Kingdom of Zangaria, brought obligations of its own. King Randor had set out to reward her, but he had also had an agenda of his own. Emily had no doubt of it. The man who had set out to ride the whirlwind of political and social change Emily had started needed to think at least two steps ahead.
No time to worry about that now
, she thought, as she reached into her belt and produced the silver knife. Holding her hand over the stone, she cut her palm, allowing blood to drip down and merge with the wards. The pain vanished almost as soon as it appeared—the knife was charmed to heal its wounds—allowing her to focus on the wards. Magic billowed forward, waiting for her. Closing her eyes, Emily stretched out and put her hand on top of the hearthstone.
Her mind reached out, accessing the wards. It was a very different experience to touching the wards protecting Whitehall; here, the wards were crude, anchored within the hearthstone and in need of constant renewal. There was no sense that they were alive or adapting to new situations—or watching for young magicians pushing their luck too far. There was a long moment when she felt that the wards were about to reject her, before they recognized their new mistress and opened up for her. If she wanted, she could make them do anything. She was, to all intents and purposes, the administrator of the castle’s security network.
Someone did a very crude job
, she thought, as her mind flashed through the network. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Deprived of the raw power that allowed Whitehall’s wards to exist, the original creators had needed to limit the reach and power of their creations. There wasn’t even a ward intended to track magic used within the castle! Making a mental note to change that as quickly as possible, Emily found the administrative center and issued a handful of instructions, then pulled her mind out of the wards. There was, as always, a brief feeling of disorientation as her mind returned to her body. She didn’t want to
about what would happen if her body suffered an accident while her mind was drifting around in the wards.
She stepped back from the hearthstone, which was glowing with heavy satisfaction, and walked over to the door. Outside, Bryon, Son of Cheam was waiting for her, as per her instructions. The young man didn’t
that impressive—he was thin, with short brown hair and soft brown eyes—but he came highly recommended by Imaiqah, one of Emily’s best friends. Reading between the lines, Emily suspected that her friend was sweet on Bryon, even though romance would be difficult now that Imaiqah’s father had been raised to the peerage. Her friend’s marriage would be a political tool, rather than a romantic affair.
“My Lady,” Bryon said.
“Come in,” Emily said, impatiently. There were times when the formalities annoyed her, even though she understood that they were part and parcel of Zangaria’s society, the lubricant that kept it running smoothly. “The wards are waiting for you.”
There was no way that
could remain in Zangaria, even though she knew King Randor would be delighted if she did.
had to go back to Whitehall for her second year of study, leaving Cockatrice Castle and the surrounding lands under the control of a steward. Bryon was young and inexperienced, but he
understand what Emily wanted him to do, as much as anyone born in Zangaria could understand. She’d made a start by reforming the laws the previous baron had propagated—the man was a scumbag, even if he hadn’t tried to overthrow his King—but there was much else to do. Bryon would just have to make a start on her work.