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Fists of Justice
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter

 

 

The war is over. But the scars remain.

Emily's New Learning has been good for Beneficence. A true golden age appears to be on hand. But all is not well. The city's largest businessman may be on the verge of collapse and there are rumors that one of the Great Gods has returned. The streets are on edge.

And, as Emily returns to Beneficence, she finds herself dealing with the darker consequences of her innovations ...

... And a deadly plot from the dark past that may lead the Nameless World to utter ruin.    Book 12 in the Schooled in Magic series.

 

 

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Fists of Justice

fantasy

Christopher G. Nuttall

 

 

Prologue

As soon as she was sure her mother was asleep, Alba pulled her wand out of her sleeve and tapped it against the anchorstone embedded within her bedroom window. There was a flicker of magic - strong enough for her to feel, but too weak to trigger the house's wards - and the protections unlocked. Opening the window, Alba clambered out and scrambled down the uneven wall until her feet touched the ground.

She glanced up and down the alleyway, then waved her wand again. The window slid closed, stopping a second before the lock could snap shut. Alba allowed herself a moment of relief as she carefully recharged the wand, channeling magic and spells into the wood. She thought she'd worked out the spells properly, but accidentally locking herself out of the house would be embarrassing. Her mother would be furious if she caught her daughter outside after nightfall. Alba would be lucky if she wasn't grounded for the next thousand years.

A shape appeared at the far end of the alley. "Alba?"

"Quiet," Alba hissed, as she slipped the wand into her belt. "Mum's wards might notice you!"

She smiled as her boyfriend came into view. They were very different; she was short, with red hair cropped close to her scalp, while Antony was tall, his pale skin contrasting oddly with his dark hair and darker almond eyes. Like many others from the merchant class, his father had been born in Beneficence, but his mother's family hailed from somewhere on the other side of the known world. She didn't hold that against him. Beneficence lived by trade. Family connections to distant lands could only come in handy. Besides, he was one of the few boys brave enough to court the daughter of a sorceress. Most young men didn't have the nerve.

"We're going to be late," he muttered, as he took her hand and hurried her down the alleyway. "How far do the wards stretch?"

"I'm not sure," Alba confessed, sourly. She touched her wand, feeling a flicker of the old regret. She'd been born with magic, but not enough to justify her parents paying for a proper magical education. The spells her mother had taught her - and the spells she'd sneaked out of her mother's spellbooks - were all she'd ever had. "I think we'll be safe once we're out of the alley."

"I hope you're right," Antony said. He glanced at his watch. "Vesperian always throws the best parties."

Alba had to smile. "Did your father get the contract?"

"And several hundred notes," Antony added. "We should be sitting pretty for the next few years, at least until Vesperian's Track is completed."

"Good," Alba said. Antony would be first in line to take over his father's business. It would give him a secure base to support a wife, if they got married. Alba's family was wealthy - she could support herself, if necessary - but they'd expect Antony to pay for everything. And they should have no grounds to object. Antony might not be a magician, but he could definitely lift Alba up the social scale. "And how much of the negotiation did you do?"

"Just a little," Antony said. One of the reasons Alba liked him was that he wasn't as boastful as some of the other young men. "I purchased a few dozen notes for myself, though, at very good rates. They should pay off in a couple of years."

The streets grew more crowded as they made their way towards Starry Light, the wealthiest part of the city. Beneficence never slept, not even late at night. Her heart pounded with excitement. It wasn't something she saw often, considering her mother was a little overprotective. She smiled as she saw a line of dancers making their way down the street, clapping and cheering as they extolled the praises of someone she'd never heard of for guildmaster. Antony pulled her through the crowds, then stopped. There were so many people!

"We'd better go this way," he said, pulling her into another alley. "We don't want to be too late."

Alba smiled. There were alleys down in the Lower Depths, her mother had warned her, where anyone foolish enough to enter would never emerge again. She'd never been allowed to visit the area, so she didn't know if it was true. But here, with the City Guard patrolling regularly, the alleys were clear. Drunks, beggars and muggers knew better than to tangle with the Guard. The alleyway even smelled better than the street near her house.

Her smile grew wider as they came out of the maze and walked towards the mansion. No one really knew how rich Vesperian actually was, but anyone who owned a giant mansion in Beneficence - where space was at a premium - had to be immensely rich. To Alba, the line of young men and women entering the mansion, some of the women wearing dresses that revealed far too much, was just icing on the cake. She recognized a number of people who were either wealthy and powerful in their own right, or heirs to great wealth and power. A handful surrounded them as they made their way through the gates, her skin crawling as she sensed a powerful ward protecting the mansion. Antony waved them away, promising to speak to them later.

"Thank you," Alba whispered. Antony had promised her a night of dancing, not a night of secret negotiations. Besides, how secret could anything be at this party? "Shall we dance?"

"Of course," Antony whispered back. "They'll be waiting for me after I see you home."

He led her into the mansion and onto the dance floor. Alba shook her head in disbelief at the sheer luxury, ranging from colossal tables groaning under the weight of food to golden statues and expensive paintings that dominated the room. A couple were explicit enough to make her blush. She had no idea how the artist had managed to convince anyone to do that long enough for him to make the preliminary sketches. Antony paid no attention to them, much to her relief. Hopefully, they wouldn't give him any ideas. She liked him more than she cared to admit, but she wasn't ready to do more than kissing yet.

Besides, there were other complications.

"We're just here to dance," Antony said, when a pair of middle-aged men tried to call him over. Alba was relieved. They'd been on the dance floor for nearly an hour, but neither of them wanted to leave just yet. "I'll be back in the office tomorrow."

Alba smiled at him. "What do they want to talk about?"

"Business." Antony beamed. "We're hot at the moment, you know."

"I know," Alba said.

She leaned in and kissed him, then jerked her head towards the door. Many of the younger boys and girls were heading home, clearly hoping to get back before curfew. She wasn't the only one who'd sneaked out, she was sure. Being caught at the dance, particularly as the night wore on, would ruin a young person's social life. Everyone knew what happened in the wee hours of the morning, even if no one could put it into words.

Antony grinned back at her as he led her through the doors and out onto the streets. The air felt colder now, a faint.edge.flickering at the periphery of her awareness, but she barely noticed. Antony led her back into the maze of alleyways, picking his way through the darkened streets with easy assurance. And yet.Alba found herself glancing from side to side as she realized what was missing. The alley was completely empty. It shouldn't have been, even at such a late hour. Beneficence was the city that never slept.

"We're nearly home," Antony said. He turned to face her. "Did you have a good time?"

"I did." Alba's heart was suddenly pounding in her chest. "I."

She leaned forward, lifting her head so he could kiss her. His lips felt soft and warm against hers, just for a second. And then he tensed.

"I don't want to end up like Ridley," he said. "Is it safe.?"

Alba felt another flicker of irritation. Jaya, Alba's elder sister, had dated Ridley until he'd put his hand under her shirt and discovered, the hard way, that their mother had layered protective spells on her daughters. Alba had been too young to be interested in men at the time, but she still recalled the shouting match. Ridley hadn't even known she'd been protected until it was too late. Jaya had left the city afterwards and never been seen again.

"It should be," she said. She lifted her lips for another kiss. "As long as we don't go too far."

He kissed her again. The world seemed to darken, just enough for Alba to notice. An electric shock ran through the air. For a horrified moment, she thought she was wrong, that Antony's kisses had triggered a protective hex. And then her boyfriend looked up, his eyes looking past her. His mouth dropped open.

They were no longer alone.

Alba turned, one hand snatching her wand from her belt. She might not be a powerful magician, but she could make any unwary footpads regret they ever saw her. And then she froze as she saw the.entity.standing behind them. For a long moment, her eyes seemed to blur as her mind struggled to make sense of what she was seeing. The entity was no taller than Antony, yet he seemed infinitely tall; he was human, but somehow far more real than any mere human. His face and beard seemed carved from granite. His dark eyes were deep pools of shadow. She couldn't even look at him.

"Justice," Antony breathed.

Alba started. It was a trick. It had to be a trick. Some sorcerer's idea of a joke, perhaps. Or maybe her mother had decided to scare them both.she lifted her wand, casting a cancellation charm.

The entity didn't vanish. Instead, its presence seemed to grow stronger and stronger until it overpowered her. It was so big.

She heard her wand clatter to the ground. A moment later, she fell to her knees. She couldn't help herself. Her body felt utterly drained.

The entity strode forward, its footsteps shaking the cobbles below her knees. It was all Alba could do to keep watching as it came to a halt in front of Antony. Her boyfriend had fallen to his knees too. She saw him trembling as the entity stared down at him. Her mouth was dry, with fear and.and something she didn't care to identify. It couldn't be a real god, could it?

"Antony, Son of Emil," the entity said. It spoke in a quiet voice that boomed in Alba's ears, each word precisely enunciated. "You and yours have led this city to ruin."

Impossible, Alba thought. She could barely think clearly. He's so young!

"Mercy," Antony gasped.

"There is no mercy," the entity said. There was a power in its voice, a sheer conviction that every word it spoke was the unquestionable truth. "There is only Justice."

Antony's body blazed with light. Alba screamed, feeling as if daggers were being driven into her very soul. She squeezed her eyes closed, desperately trying to block out the pain. And then the light faded. She fell backwards, bumping her shoulder on the cobblestones. The pain made her jerk her eyes open.

.She was alone.

Her fingers touched her wand. The tingle, the sensation she felt whenever she touched a charged wand, was gone. She couldn't muster the energy to prepare a spell, let alone power it. The darkness seemed stronger, somehow, as if the moon and stars had been blotted from the skies. And yet.

She stumbled to her feet. Antony still knelt on the ground, utterly unmoving. She reached for his arm and touched cold stone. He'd been turned to stone.no, if he'd been petrified, she would have felt a tingle.wouldn't she?

The moon came out again, shining into the alleyway. And she screamed, again, as she caught a glimpse of his face.

It was twisted in horrific agony.

 

Chapter One

The air.stank.

Emily was dimly aware, at the back of her mind, that someone was knocking on a wooden door. And yet, it didn't seem important. She wasn't even entirely sure where she was. The ground was shifting beneath her, sending up alarm bells she couldn't quite hear. And yet.

"Emily," a voice called. A male voice. "Wake up!"

Emily jerked awake. She was on a ship, she recalled; a merchant ship that did double duty as a warship, when the seafaring states went to war. And she was heading to Beneficence. And Casper was dead.

"I'm awake," she managed. She opened her eyes. Her stomach muttered rebelliously. "I'll be along in a moment."

"Good," General Pollack said. His voice was so close that she looked around in alarm before realizing he was on the far side of a wooden door. "Come meet me on the quarterdeck when you're ready."

Emily nodded as she heard the sound of his footsteps striding away. She was, as far as she knew, the only woman on the ship, although General Pollack had told her stories of young girls who'd run away to sea and somehow managed to conceal their gender for decades. Emily wasn't sure how that was possible - she'd seen the crew quarters and their complete lack of privacy - but she was prepared to take his word for it. She might have tried to run away too, if she'd thought it possible. And, perhaps, if she'd had any stomach for seafaring. She'd been on the boat for five days and she still felt seasick.

We should have teleported, she thought. They had teleported to the nearest port, then called a ship to pick them up. But the general said it was tradition.

She sat upright, glancing around the cabin. It belonged to the captain, who'd flatly refused to let anyone else give up their sleeping space to the young sorceress, noblewoman and war heroine. Emily would have been more impressed if she hadn't known that the captain had moved into his first mate's cabin, who in turn had displaced the officer directly below him.she shook her head, telling herself that she should be grateful. The cabin was cramped and smelly, despite the gilded wooden bulkheads, but it was private. She'd seen the way some of the sailors - and officers - gawked at her when they thought she wasn't looking.

Swinging her legs over the side, she stood, careful not to bang her head on the low ceiling as she slipped on her shoes. Sleeping in her clothes made her feel icky, but there was no way she'd wear a nightgown, let alone sleep naked, on the ship. She took some water from her canteen and splashed it on her face, then examined her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was a mess - she hadn't had a chance to take a hair-growth potion back in Farrakhan - and her face was pale, dark circles clearly visible around her eyes. She looked distressingly like a raccoon - or, perhaps, someone who'd come off worst in a fight. Her shirt and trousers looked unclean, as if they hadn't been washed for a few days. Magic wasn't good enough to clean them. The only real consolation was that most of the crew looked worse.

We should definitely have teleported, she thought, as she felt the deck shifting beneath her feet. Her legs wobbled, just for a second. I could have teleported us both back to Cockatrice and we could have crossed the bridge there.

She took a sip of seasickness potion - it wasn't strong enough to provide more than minimal relief, but anything stronger would have impaired her mind - and headed for the door. General Pollack had insisted on taking his son's remains home via ship, despite her objections. In hindsight, Emily told herself, she should have asked to remain at Farrakhan with Sergeant Miles or even asked the sergeant to prolong her apprenticeship for an additional couple of weeks. But she hadn't.

The smell - too many humans in too close proximity, mingled with salt water - grew stronger as she pushed her way into the corridor. She could hear chatter coming from nearby, but she couldn't see anyone. A metal grate, set within the wooden deck, led down to the lower decks. The sailors would be down there, she knew; the night crew would be trying to rest, even as the day crew went to work. She wondered, absently, why some of the crew were talking. They'd be keeping their comrades awake.

Or maybe not, she thought, as she walked into the next compartment. They'll be so tired they can sleep through anything.

She drew in her breath as she saw the coffin, mounted neatly on a wooden block. It was a simple design, with a name and a handful of runes carved into the wood. And yet, it was empty. Casper's body had been blasted into dust, the remains drifting down towards the nexus point and vanishing. No spell she knew could salvage anything that was indisputably Casper. But General Pollack had insisted on taking a coffin home anyway. Emily didn't think that was healthy, yet she knew everyone grieved in their own way.

You'd think differently if you lost a child, she told herself. You'd want to believe that some of him had been laid to rest too.

A small book lay atop the coffin, protected by a simple wardspell. Emily felt a twinge of pain, remembering how many magicians and officers had written a brief farewell into its pages. Casper had deserved better than an early death, even if he had died a hero. Far too many others had already been forgotten, after dying in defense of the Allied Lands. No one, as far as she knew, had any idea how many soldiers and civilians had died. Most would only be mourned by their families.

She shook her head, then turned and headed for the outer door. A gust of cold air struck her as she pushed it open and stepped out onto the deck. Willow was rolling, gently, as she made her way along the green coastline, her deck shivering as she plowed her way through the uneven waves. Emily felt her stomach twist and swallowed hard, silently promising herself not to throw up in front of the sailors. Her legs felt unsteady as she forced herself to walk towards the quarterdeck. Every movement felt, to her, as though the ship was on the verge of capsizing. She told herself, firmly, that her mind was playing tricks on her, but it didn't feel convincing. She'd never managed to get her sea legs.

Willow felt small to her, even though she'd been in more confined spaces. Emily couldn't help thinking that she was tiny, compared to a ship on Earth. Ninety crew and ten guests, all crammed into her hull.she turned as she heard a shout, just in time to see a young boy scrambling up the mainmast and into the crow's nest. The boy couldn't be anything like old enough to shave, let alone go to Whitehall. It still surprised her, even now, to see children performing adult tasks. The four sailors who scrambled up to the forward sails dwarfed the cabin boy.

"My Lady," Captain Rackham said, once she reached the table on the quarterdeck. "Thank you for sharing my table."

Emily - reluctantly - held out her hand for him to kiss, then withdrew it as soon as she decently could. Captain Rackham looked like a pirate, right down to the black waistcoat and the cutlass on his belt. He probably was a pirate from time to time, she knew; Willow was fast enough to catch and overwhelm anything smaller than a full-fledged warship, if there were no witnesses. No one would ask too many questions, either. The Empire had worked hard to keep the seas clear of pirates, but it had been a long time since anyone had been in a position to patrol the waves.

"Please, be seated," Captain Rackham added. "My table is your table."

"Thank you," Emily said.

She sat next to General Pollack, silently welcoming the older man's presence as she nibbled a piece of bread and salt beef. A steward - probably under contract to the captain - passed Emily a glass of lime juice, his eyes flickering over her face as if he were trying to memorize every detail. Emily braced herself before emptying the glass at one swallow. It was so sour that she hadn't been surprised when the captain told her that some of the sailors refused to drink it, even though it was the only thing protecting them from scurvy. He'd made it clear that he expected everyone on his ship to drink their juice, even if they weren't part of his crew. It kept them safe.

And they didn't have time to restock when they picked us up, she thought, as she chewed her beef. They're running short of supplies.

The other passengers made small talk, making no effort to include her. Emily was silently grateful, even though she knew they probably considered it standoffishness. Her stomach left her in no state for idle chatter. She listened, saying nothing, as the passengers chatted about the war, bouncing question after question off General Pollack. Thankfully, none of them knew who she was. They'd be much more insistent on trying to open lines of communication if they'd known the truth. She might be in exile - technically - but she was still Baroness Cockatrice. Her word was gold.

King Randor probably feels otherwise, she thought, ruefully.

General Pollack elbowed her, gently. "Eat more," he warned. "We'll be heading into land soon."

Emily made a face as the midshipman placed a small bowl of stew in front of her, but tried to eat it anyway. It tasted faintly unpleasant, as if the meat had been cooked in vinegar. And yet, she knew she was eating better than any of the sailors. They were lucky if they got hardtack and salted fish. She'd seen a number of crewmen fishing during the voyage, trying to catch something to supplement their rations. Apparently, anyone who caught a fish was allowed to keep half of it for himself.

She glanced from face to face, reminding herself - again - that the Nameless World was strikingly diverse. Four merchants, one of them accompanied by his eldest son; three noblemen, who could presumably have used a portal; and a lone man who said nothing, his eyes flickering everywhere. The merchants were chatting loudly about steam engines and what they'd do to shipping, once the first steamboats set out on the open sea. Emily couldn't help noticing that the captain seemed vaguely affronted by the suggestion. Willow wouldn't be able to compete if - when - the steamboats lived up to their promise.

As long as they have wood or coal to burn, she reminded herself. All this ship needs is a strong wind.

"Come," General Pollack said. Emily looked down at her bowl and discovered, to her surprise, that she'd finished it. "We're just rounding the headland now."

Emily followed him, all too aware of eyes watching her as they climbed down the ladder and headed to the prow. The sailors might enjoy looking at a young woman, but the passengers were more interested in marriage alliances. General Pollack had had to explain that his charge was already engaged, much to Captain Rackham's amusement. He was the only one who knew the truth. Emily would have found it amusing if it hadn't been so annoying. Had they really expected that General Pollack would give them her hand in marriage?

They think you're his niece, she reminded herself. And your uncle would have considerable power over your marriage.

She pushed the thought aside as she joined General Pollack at the prow. A young lad sat at the front of the ship, mounted on the bowsprit above the wooden mermaid figurehead. Emily couldn't help thinking that he looked awfully unbalanced as he carried out his duties, but the cabin boy seemed to take it in his stride. He practically had the sea in his blood. Chances were, Emily recalled, he was a sailor's son, born and raised by the docks. Going to sea would have seemed natural.

"The captain is altering course," General Pollack commented. He pointed a finger towards the shoreline. "What do you make of that?"

Emily frowned, holding up her hand to block the sunlight as she peered into the haze. She saw a faint smudge of utter darkness.a black cloud, hanging in the air over a distant bay. It was raining.wasn't it? Underneath, there were jagged rocks and the remains of a building. A castle, perhaps, or a lighthouse. It stood on its own, completely isolated. There were no other signs of habitation. And yet, the cloud seemed to pulse, as if it had a malignant mind of its own.

A hand fell on her shoulder. She jumped.

"Careful," General Pollack said. "People have been known to be.to be touched, even at this distance."

Emily gave him a sharp look. "What is it?"

"It used to be called Roderick's Bay," General Pollack said. "Now, everyone calls it Bad Luck Bay."

He lifted his hand, making an odd gesture towards the cloud. "Roderick was a sorcerer, perhaps one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world," he added. "He was the lord and master of a small community on the edge of the Barony of Swanhaven. Thirty or so years ago, he vanished into his tower and started work on a new spell. A year after that, the tower collapsed into rubble and that thing" - he nodded at the cloud - "appeared over the remains. Since then, anyone foolish enough to go too close has suffered terrible bad luck. The community he ruled broke up shortly afterwards, most of its inhabitants heading south into Swanhaven. It was quite a scandal at the time."

Emily frowned. "What was he doing?"

"No one knows," General Pollack said. "But no one will risk going into the bay. Ships have been known to run aground on rocks that weren't there before the.well, whatever he did."

"And no one saw anything of him," Emily guessed.

"No one," General Pollack agreed.

The mist hanging over the coastline grew thicker as Willow advanced steadily westwards, the captain and first mate barking incomprehensible orders that rang in Emily's ears. Seagulls appeared out of nowhere, cawing to one another as they landed on the sails. The sailors cheered as the first bird touched down, then returned to their work. It was proof, Emily supposed, they were nearly home, even though they'd been close to land for most of the voyage. No one in their right mind would want to set sail on the Great Sea, let alone the Roaring Depths. Few ships that headed away from the mainland were ever seen again.

But there is a third continent, Emily recalled. She'd seen the map, carved into the stone deep below Whitehall. What's waiting for us there?

She smiled, despite herself, as she saw a pod of dolphins jumping through the waves, showing themselves briefly before disappearing back under the water. They didn't show any fear of the boat, even though fishermen sometimes hunted dolphins. Perhaps they were trained.or, perhaps, they realized the large ship wasn't a fishing boat, let alone a giant whaler. The sailors had told dozens of stories about men who'd set off to hunt the whales, only to discover that the whales could fight back. Without harpoon guns, hunting whales was a dangerous endeavor.

And that might change, she thought. What happens when someone invents a harpoon gun?

"Watch," General Pollack said. The mist was growing stronger, gusts of wind blowing water into her face. "You'll never forget this."

Emily took hold of the rail and held on, tightly, as Willow started to roll alarmingly. She saw - she thought she saw - glimpses of rocks, just below the surface, visible for bare seconds before vanishing under the waves. They weren't about to run aground, were they? She hoped - prayed - that the captain knew what he was doing. If worse came to worst, she told herself firmly, she could teleport off a sinking ship.

.If, of course, she had time to cast the spell.

The mist parted, suddenly. Emily sucked in her breath, honestly awed, as Beneficence came into view. She'd seen the city before, from the shore, but this was different. Beneficence was perched on a towering rock, a strange mixture of buildings mounted on buildings that reached towards the sky. Hundreds of people were clearly visible, climbing up and down ladders that went all the way down to the waterline, where they met tiny boats tied up by the cliff face. The sight took her breath away.

Willow rounded the edge of the rock, then spun in place before lunging into a giant bay. The Caldron was immense, crammed with ships of all shapes and sizes; behind them, Emily could see ladders and steps that led up to the city above. It felt almost claustrophobic to her, as if it were both large and terrifyingly small; the water heaved and boiled, threatening to push the ship in all directions. The tiny beach on one edge of the Caldron seemed almost an afterthought. There were so many children playing in the sand that there didn't seem to be enough room. Their older siblings scrambled over the rocks, scooping up crabs and dropping them into buckets. They'd make good eating, if cooked properly.

"We'll be the first off the ship, once we're tied up," General Pollack said. "Your bag will be delivered directly to the house."

Emily nodded. She hadn't brought much, beyond a change of clothes. Her staff and some of her other tools had been left with Sergeant Miles, who'd promised to take them back to Whitehall for her. There was nothing dangerous in her rucksack, certainly nothing of use to anyone else.

"Ah," General Pollack said. He pointed towards the docks. "The welcoming committee."

Emily smiled, despite herself. Caleb stood there, wearing a long, dark cloak. Beside him.

"Frieda?"

"Lady Barb suggested that your friend be invited too." General Pollack looked oddly amused. "I trust she will be a suitable chaperone?"

"I think so," Emily said. It was a shame to need one. "She can handle it."

"Very good," General Pollack said. Willow bumped against the dock, a trio of sailors scrambling down to secure the lines. "Welcome to Beneficence!"

 

Chapter Two

"Emily," Caleb called.

Emily's legs still felt wobbly, but she managed to make it down the gangplank and into his arms before she collapsed. She was glad, so glad, just to hear his voice again. Caleb wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly, just long enough for his father to clear his throat. Emily blushed as Caleb kissed her gently on the forehead, then let her go. Frieda coughed a moment later, warningly. She was clearly taking her chaperonage duties seriously.

"It's good to see you again," Emily said. She held Caleb's hand, reluctant to let it go. "And you, Frieda."

"And you." Frieda smiled as Emily glanced at her. "What did you do to your hair?"

"I had a little accident," Emily said. She didn't think she was allowed to talk about Wildfire, at least not in public. Master Grey had made it clear that the mere existence of the potion was a state secret. "I'll have it regrown in the city."

She stepped back and looked at Caleb. He wore a long, dark robe - a mourning habit, she realized suddenly. He was as tall and lanky as ever, but his eyes were shadowed and he held himself in a manner that suggested he was worried. His brown hair even seemed to have greyed, marginally. She might be imagining it, but he looked older. Beside him, Frieda was wearing a brown dress that made her look like a merchant's daughter. She'd tied her dark hair into two long pigtails that hung down to touch the top of her breasts. She looked paler too.

"You could always have it cut short," Frieda suggested. "Or just let it regrow naturally."

"It looks better long," Caleb objected. Emily had no trouble realizing, for once, that he wanted to talk to her privately. Frieda might not be an ultra-strict chaperone, but there were things neither of them wanted Frieda to hear. "Father."

"Take Emily back to the house," General Pollack ordered. "I'll be along once I've made arrangements for the coffin."

A pained expression crossed Caleb's face. Emily had always had the impression Caleb didn't like Casper very much, but they'd still been brothers. Losing Casper had to hurt, even if they'd all known the dangers. Emily had no blood siblings. She had no real conception of what it was like to have brothers or sisters. Frieda was the closest thing she had to a sister, and they'd only known each other three years.

"Yes, Father," Caleb said.

He bowed his head, then turned and led Emily along the docks. Emily resisted the urge to walk closer to him, even though it had been a long time since they'd been together. It had only been a month, the rational part of her mind insisted, yet it felt as though it had been years, as though they'd both changed. She told herself, firmly, not to worry about it. They would have plenty of time together, once they got back to Whitehall.

Assuming I don't have to spend evenings and weekends trying to catch up with my work, she thought, wryly. Grandmaster Gordian won't go easy on me just because I killed a third necromancer.

The cawing of seagulls grew louder as they walked along the dockside. Emily glanced from side to side, drinking in the scene. Dozens - perhaps hundreds - of fishing boats were heading out through the gap in the cliff walls and onto the open sea, followed by a pair of midsized ships practically identical to Willow. Merchants and hawkers prowled the docks, making deals and selling their wares. A passing salesman held out a tray of salt fish, inviting them to buy a snack. Caleb shook his head, dismissing the man. Emily understood precisely how he felt. The food on the docks wasn't always safe to eat.

"This is a very odd place," Frieda muttered. Her eyes flickered from side to side as if she expected to be attacked at any moment. "I don't like it."

"It's home," Caleb said, bluntly. "And it's where the four corners of the world meet."

Emily nodded in agreement as a line of sailors hurried past them, heading to one of the larger ships. They were a diverse crowd, men as pale as herself mingling with the darkest men she'd ever seen.and others who were clearly the product of mixed marriages. A handful of women followed them at a more sedate pace, their dresses clearly marking them as whores. The guild sashes they wore made Emily smile, even though she knew it wasn't really funny. Whores might have their own guild in Beneficence, but they were still practically at the bottom of the social scale. Only slaves were lower.

"A couple of my friends had parents who were born on the other side of the world," Caleb added. "And others went to live there."

Frieda didn't look impressed. Emily didn't blame her. She'd gone from a mountain village to Mountaintop, then to Whitehall and Zangaria. Beneficence had to look chaotic to her, a melange of people jammed together on a small island. The city was roughly the same size as Manhattan Island, Emily thought, with far too many people crammed into its towering buildings. Indeed, some buildings along the edge of the cliff face had clearly been built on top of other, older buildings. The line of runes carved into the stone probably helped keep them upright. Emily hoped, for the sake of the inhabitants, that the magic never failed. The entire structure might collapse under its own weight.

You can build a house out of clouds, with enough magic, she thought. Beneficence didn't seem to have made that mistake, thankfully. The spells were common knowledge - and almost never used. And if the magic fails, you'll plummet to your death.

She listened, absently, as Caleb talked about the virtues of a cosmopolitan city. Beneficence drew on ideas from all over the world, ranging from complex spells to new building techniques.even their cooking drew on ideas from far and wide. In addition, Beneficence had become a center of the New Learning, spreading ideas across the world. Emily wondered, as they passed a pair of sailors who eyed Frieda and her with interest, what they'd say if they knew she'd founded the New Learning. Would they believe it was her?

"You'll like this," Caleb said, as they reached the edge of the docks. "You probably designed its grandfather."

Emily's eyes went wide as she saw the funicular. A small car - practically a tiny railway carriage - sat at the bottom of the track, its twin perched at the top. A steam engine puffed to life as the carriages began to move, one heading up the track while the other slid down. She couldn't help smiling as she realized what a particularly ingenious engineer had built. A funicular might normally be powered by humans - there were plenty of slaves in the city - but this one drew on steam. It was probably nowhere near as efficient as an electric motor, yet it advertised the potentials of steam technology to the entire world.

Caleb led them to the ticket booth and handed over a couple of coins. Emily followed him into the car, looking around with interest. Someone had pulled out all the stops, furnishing the interior with luxury seats and even a small bar.she shook her head with wry amusement at the sight. The trip would only take five minutes. They wouldn't be in the car long enough to have a drink. She turned her head to peer up the track and saw a stylized golden 'V' carved into the metal framework. Another was clearly displayed on the upper station. Anyone coming into the Caldron could probably see it, if they bothered to look.

"That's Vesperian's symbol," Caleb said. He stepped up beside her, wrapping his arm around her waist. "He's one of the richest men in the city, Emily, and he owes it all to you."

"Watch your hand," Frieda called. "And behave."

Emily felt her cheeks heat as Caleb pulled back. "You don't need to be that careful," she said, embarrassed. "We'll behave."

Frieda smirked. "Lady Barb made me promise to protect you," she said, sticking out her tongue. "And I don't want to disappoint her."

"No one wants to disappoint her," Emily said.

She felt a pang of sadness. She'd hoped that Lady Barb would accompany her to Beneficence, but Lady Barb had stayed with Sergeant Miles instead. Now that the necromancer was dead, the vast army that had assembled to defend Tarsier was breaking up and making its way home. Emily wasn't sure why Sergeant Miles had needed to stay in Farrakhan to assist Lord Alcott in disbanding the host, but he apparently hadn't had a choice. Half the other combat sorcerers had already returned to the White City, where Master Bone was facing an inquest. He might not have known that Gaius was a spy and a traitor, but he still had some pretty sharp questions to answer.

A low rattle echoed through the car, followed by a series of jerks. She and Caleb sat down hastily as the car started to move, inching its way up the track. Frieda giggled as she looked up, watching the other car heading down towards them. Emily knew - she hoped she knew - that it was perfectly safe, but it still looked ominous as the other car flashed past and headed to the bottom. Their car rattled into the upper station a moment later, the conductor unlatching the doors. Outside, the giant 'V' was everywhere.

"Welcome back." Caleb's voice turned regretful. "I wish you'd come under happier circumstances."

"So do I," Emily said. She'd found Beneficence to be a fascinating city, the last time she'd visited. "Caleb."

Caleb squeezed her hand. "We'll talk about it later," he said, softly. "I."

The streets were crowded, Emily realized, as they came out of the station. Thousands of people were hurrying from place to place as though their lives depended on them being on time. A long line of sailors headed down the ladders to the docks, choosing not to ride the funicular. It was probably too expensive for them, she reasoned. Indeed, she couldn't help wondering if it made enough to offset the original investment and running costs. There didn't seem to be any shortage of coolies carrying goods up the ladders and taking them into the city.

She took a breath and regretted it, instantly. The omnipresent stench of fish mingled with the scent of a primitive city: shit and piss, sweat and horse dung. Beneficence had slaves who were employed merely to clear the streets - as well as a reasonably modern plumbing system - but it still stank. She hated to think of how many diseases might be breeding in the streets. London had had a nasty outbreak of cholera that had been traced back to a single water pump.

Caleb pushed his way onwards, into the crowd. Emily gritted her teeth as she followed him, clutching to his hand as through it were a life preserver. She'd never liked crowds. Frieda stayed next to Emily, one hand raised in a casting pose. She probably didn't like crowds either. It was a relief when the crowds started to thin out.

"You came in with the morning tide," Caleb said, once they had some room to themselves. "I think everyone in the city is either going to the docks or leaving them."

Emily nodded, feeling sweat trickle down her back. Two-thirds of the city's economy depended on fishing or trade. No wonder so many people wanted to get down the ladders and onto the docks. And yet.she hoped General Pollack didn't have any trouble getting the coffin up to the house. She didn't pretend to understand why the general wanted to take an empty coffin home, but she respected his choice. It meant something to him.

The streets still thrummed with life. A handful of broadsheet singers shouted at the top of their lungs, inviting potential customers to buy a broadsheet and read the latest set of exclusives. Emily smiled as she saw the broadsheets, spotting a couple of titles she recognized from Cockatrice. The original broadsheet boom had slowed as the market grew saturated - too many printers had tried to go into the newspaper business - but the survivors were turning into reputable establishments. Their reputation for telling the truth was far stronger than any herald's.

That will change, she thought, cynically. But people here worship the written word.

"I picked up a copy," Frieda said, nodding towards one of the sellers. "There were only a couple of lines about the war."

"Too far away for most people to be interested," Emily pointed out. Beneficence was one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the Nameless World, but Tarsier and Farrakhan were still thousands of miles away. Farrakhan wasn't even on any of the major trade routes. "They wouldn't notice the war unless it impinged on them."

She frowned as they turned into a street lined with temples. Incense hung in the air, a cloyingly sweet smell that made her head swim. Large crowds were gathered outside the larger buildings, either waiting to join the service or chatting as they hurried down the street; street preachers stood on the pavement, calling to passersby. People glanced nervously at a set of statues, positioned outside one of the largest temples. Emily shuddered as she followed their gaze. The statues were.grotesque. They looked as though they were screaming in agony. The Nameless World worshipped some pretty odd things - there were cults everywhere - but the statues' aura chilled her to the bone.

"Caleb," she said. "What are they?"

Caleb frowned. "It depends on who you believe," he said, as he tugged her on. "I've been told they were Judged."

"Judged?"

"By Justice," Caleb said. "The witnesses claim that they saw the god petrify them."

Frieda looked up at him, disturbed. "Those are people?"

"A number of sorcerers claim they're just statues." Caleb's face darkened. "But if they are statues.what happened to the missing people?"

Emily shuddered. The Gorgon had petrified her, once. It had been an accident, but Emily knew she'd come far too close to losing herself. If her mind had faded away completely, she would have died. And the only thing left would have been a perfect stone statue. If the victims had been petrified, their souls destroyed.

"Surely the sorcerers could have done something," she said.

"If they were transfigured, the sorcerers should have been able to transfigure them back," Caleb said. "But they insist that the statues are just.statues."

Frieda had a more practical question. "How many?"

"There are five known statues," Caleb said. "Rumor says that there are more, many more."

Emily glanced around. She wasn't the most sensitive of people, but even she could sense an.edge in the air. The crowd was nervous. Fear clung to them warning her to be careful. The people on the street knew something was badly wrong. Even the chanting from some of the temples seemed curiously muted.

A trio of red-robed men appeared from one of the temples and headed down the street. The crowd parted to allow them to pass, their expressions fearful. Emily's eyes narrowed, remembering the last time she'd seen the men. The Hands of Justice, if she recalled correctly. They were the closest thing she'd seen to religious policemen.

Caleb hurried her through a maze of streets, coming out near a row of banks. Lines of people waited outside, their faces torn between enthusiasm and a kind of nameless dread they didn't seem to want to acknowledge. A mid-sized line of people outside the Bank of Silence quietly waited for.something. She promised herself, silently, that she would see Markus as soon as possible. The line of armed guards - and enhanced protective spells - surrounding the banks didn't reassure her.

"We'll have to go to the temple tomorrow," Caleb said. "And then."

He glanced at Emily, then Frieda. "What would you want to do?"

"I don't know yet," Emily said, as they rounded the corner and walked into the magical district. "It depends."

She braced herself as she sensed the magic in the air, tingling against her wards. A pair of street magicians were playing with fire, young children clapping and cheering as they swallowed hot coals and breathed out gouts of flame. No one above the age of seven looked interested, she noted. Anyone raised among magicians would know that such tricks were simplicity itself, the spells so basic that anyone with a gram of talent could cast them. Behind them, a suspiciously intelligent horse was showing off its math skills. She studied the creature for a long moment, then rolled her eyes as she realized that the horse was actually a transfigured human. The watching crowd didn't seem to care.

"By tradition, there will be five days until the funeral," Caleb said. His words jerked her awareness back to him. "We'll have time to explore the city."

"I need to visit the bank," Emily said. "After that."

"I'd better come with you," Frieda said. "Who knows what you'd get up to in the bank?"

Caleb looked annoyed. Emily didn't blame him.

"Mother wants to have a word with you, after dinner," Caleb said, making a deliberate effort to change the subject. "I suspect it has something to do with the courtship."

Emily resisted the urge to groan. "I look forward to it," she lied. She didn't think Caleb was fooled. "Caleb."

"I understand," Caleb said. "But it has to be done."

True, Emily thought. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

 

Chapter Three

Caleb's house looked small, on the outside. It was a granite building, its dark stone exterior lined with protective runes. It did not appear large enough for a big family. And yet, merely owning the house proved that Caleb and his family were wealthy. Land was hideously expensive in Beneficence. There was a good chance that Caleb and his siblings would never be able to purchase their own homes. They'd have to go elsewhere if they wanted to own their own land.

She felt her heart start to pound as Caleb let go of her hand and tapped on the door, pressing his palm against a concealed anchorstone. The wards grew stronger, reaching out to brush against Emily's magic and confirm her identity. She hadn't expected to be keyed into the wards, but it was still a surprise when they took nearly five minutes to scrutinize her before the door clicked open. Caleb's mother stood in the opening, her dark eyes peering narrowly at Emily.

Emily nerved herself to look back as evenly as she could. Mediator Sienna of House Waterfall was a tall woman, a head taller than Emily, her hair a shade or two darker than Emily's own. She looked, in many ways, like an older version of Caleb.older, perhaps, than she'd been a year ago. It felt longer, far longer, since Emily had last seen her. Emily could barely believe that it had been only nine months since she'd visited Beneficence.

"Emily," Sienna said. Her voice was flat, emotionless. "I bid you welcome to my house."

"I thank you," Emily managed. She forced herself to fumble through the ritual. "I pledge to hold my hand in your house."

Sienna studied her for a long moment, then turned and led the way into the hall. Emily followed, looking around with interest. Someone had hung a surprisingly accurate portrait of Casper on the near wall, surrounded by black ribbon. Casper looked grimly resolute as he faced down a shadowy form. There was no sign of Emily or anyone else. Even the necromancer was just a dark shape. But she had to admit that the portrait conveyed the right message: Casper had laid down his life in defense of the Allied Lands.

"Remove your cloaks and make your devotions, then join us in the parlor," Sienna ordered, curtly. "My husband will meet you there."

Emily undid her cloak and hung it on the stand, then glanced at the household god. It was a tiny statue, carved to resemble a stern-faced man.probably one of the founders of House Waterfall. A single candle burned in front of the statuette, flickering randomly in all directions. It looked as though the wind was trying to blow it out, but there was no wind. A chill ran down her spine as she bowed to the statue, feeling faintly ridiculous. It was probably just magic. She'd seen no real evidence that the gods truly existed.

But you have met beings of immense power, she reminded herself, as Frieda knelt in front of the statue. Does that not imply the gods might be real too?

Caleb reached out and took her hand. "Mother hasn't taken Casper's death well," he whispered.

Emily nodded. She'd lost Grandmaster Hasdrubal, but he'd been over a hundred years old when he'd died. Sienna was mourning a son who should have outlived her by decades.who would have outlived her, if he hadn't gone to war. And with all the rumors swirling around, Sienna had to wonder just what had really happened at Heart's Eye. Emily, Lady Barb and Void were the only ones who knew the full story.

She looked up at Caleb. She'd planned to tell him about Heart's Eye, when they had some privacy. Frieda might as well hear about the former school at the same time. The idea of using the building - her building - to create a university was appealing. They'd planned to do it even before the war. Now.now they could make their dream real.

Caleb bowed to the god, then turned to lead them through the door. Emily followed him into a comfortable sitting room. Another painting hung over the far wall, showing a young child sitting on a stool. It took her a moment to realize that it was a seven-year-old Casper. The artist had been good, good enough to capture the essence of Casper's personality. She couldn't help wondering just how Casper had been bribed to remain still long enough for the artist to complete the preliminary sketches. Emily had been forced to sit for two portraits and she'd hated every second of it.

The sooner we invent cameras, the better, she thought.

"Karan, Marian," Caleb said. "Bid welcome to our guest."

Emily forced herself to smile as Karan and Marian rose to their feet. Karan looked very much like her mother, with a face full of character rather than conventionally pretty. Marian was blonde, but the bubbly young girl Emily remembered was gone, replaced by a somber teenager who eyed her through bright blue eyes. Magic flickered and flared around her.she'd be fourteen now, Emily thought. She'd clearly come into her magic earlier than usual. It was rare for anyone to enter Whitehall below fifteen, but Emily suspected an exception would be made for Sienna's daughter.

Someone's clearly been teaching her, Emily thought, as the younger girls embraced her. She might never need to go to school.

"You are welcome in this house." Sienna sat in a comfortable armchair, her back ramrod straight. "Please, be seated. Karan will fetch the drinks."

Emily sat on the sofa, feeling out of place. Caleb moved to sit next to her, but a sharp look from his mother sent him hurrying to a small armchair. Emily felt her cheeks heat - again - as Frieda sat down, her face expressionless. Emily knew her well enough to realize she was nervous. She was even more out of place in the house than Emily herself.

She took a glass from Karan - a fruit juice, she thought - and waited. No one seemed inclined to start the conversation, not even Marian. She'd definitely changed. Had Casper's death affected her that badly? Perhaps it had.Casper had been a bit of a bully to Caleb, but he might have treated his younger sisters better.

"I hear the railway line is being extended again," Caleb said, into the silence. "Is it now going all the way to Thornwood?"

"That's the plan," Karan said. "My friends and I rode the railway all the way to Cockatrice." She looked at Emily. "They named a locomotive after you."

"Emily the Tank Engine." Emily smiled, even though she knew no one else would get the joke. "I haven't seen the station for nearly a year."

"They've expanded it," Karan said. She gave Emily a guileless smile. "We had a few hours in Cockatrice before we rode back to the city. Your castle is very impressive."

"I believe we will be discussing your formal position later." Sienna's voice was cool. "Until then."

Marian leaned forward. "Jan was saying that he got a five for ten deal on notes," she said, quickly. "I was thinking."

Her mother skewered her with a glance. "No."

"Mother, it will pay off," Marian insisted. "Everyone says."

"And if everyone were to jump off a cliff," Sienna asked sharply, "would you jump too?"

Emily glanced at Caleb, silently asking him what was going on. Caleb shrugged. Whatever it was, it was clear that Sienna objected to it. And that she would not be moved. Marian's pleas and protests fell on deaf ears. Emily was mildly surprised that Marian hadn't been sent to her room for cheek. Her pleas grew more and more frantic.

She looked up as the door opened, breathing a sigh of relief as General Pollack entered. He was followed by a young man who looked very much like Casper, save for his obvious youth and unscarred face. Croce, Emily guessed. Caleb's younger brother. Caleb, Karan and Marian rose to greet their father; Emily rose a second later, remembering the etiquette lessons that had been drilled into her at school. General Pollack was, at least in theory, the master of his household. Emily rather doubted that his wife paid much attention to conventional wisdom. She was a power in her own right.

"Welcome home," Sienna said. Her voice was very formal. She hadn't moved from the armchair. "I greet you, husband."

"I greet you, wife," General Pollack returned. His voice was equally formal, but there was a warmth in it that made Emily smile. They loved each other. "We have much to discuss."

"Indeed we do." Sienna rose. "Shall we eat?"

Emily felt her stomach rumble as Sienna led the way into the dining room. It was larger than she'd expected, large enough to make her wonder if someone had been experimenting with expansion charms. There were ways to make one's house bigger on the inside, but without the vast power of a nexus point they tended not to last long. Emily wouldn't have cared to trust her safety to a pocket dimension that didn't have an inexhaustible source of power.

"Take a seat." Sienna's lips crinkled into a humorless smile. "I think we can forget about the formalities, can't we?"

"Of course, my dear," General Pollack said. "Emily, please take a seat."

Emily sat and watched as the two girls hurried into the kitchen to fetch dinner. Had they cooked it? A wealthy family like Caleb's would probably be expected to hire servants, but the house was small and sorcerers liked their privacy. And yet.she found the idea of Sienna - or her young daughters - doing all the cooking and cleaning to be a little unbelievable. Perhaps the servants were merely expected to remain out of sight at all times.

A tasty smell wafted up from the tureen as Marian put it down in front of her father and removed the lid. It was a fish stew, the fish heads clearly visible within the white sauce. Emily was surprised to see the bowl of cooked rice that accompanied it, although rice was fairly common at Whitehall. It might not grow anywhere near the city, but the combination of shipping lanes and preservation spells would allow merchants to bring it from the other side of the continent. The meal might look simple, yet it was - in many ways - an understated display of wealth. Only the richest citizens would be able to afford rice.

General Pollack served Emily and Frieda first, then his wife and children. Emily reached for her spoon, then stopped herself, remembering that etiquette forbade her from eating until everyone was served. Caleb, sitting opposite her, gave her a reassuring smile. Emily smiled back, wishing they were alone. They'd taken picnics into the mountains at Whitehall, back before the war, back before everything had changed.

"Please, tuck in," General Pollack said. He picked up the tureen and moved it to the center of the table. "Take more if you wish."

"Thank you, Father," Caleb said.

Emily picked up her spoon and took a sip of stew. It tasted strong, stronger than she'd expected. And yet, the more she ate, the more she grew to like it. The blandness of the rice and boiled vegetables complimented the fish nicely. It was definitely better than most of the food she'd eaten during the war.

"So," Sienna said, holding up her spoon as though it was a knife. "What happened?"

Emily glanced at General Pollack, who shrugged. "My wife can hear everything," he said, dryly. "You can speak freely."

In front of two impressionable kids, Emily thought.

Sienna snorted. "Emily," she said. "What happened to my son?"

Emily forced herself to look back at her. "The necromancer killed him," she said. "He.he was blown to dust."

"I see," Sienna said. "Details?"

"We were out on patrol," Emily said. She had no wish to recite the entire story, but.Sienna had a right to know. Besides, she'd probably get the rest of the tale from her husband. "We didn't know Gaius was a traitor. He sent Casper away, then attacked me. I beat him, only to discover we were cut off from the city. Armies were already on the march. There was no way we could get back before it was too late."

Sienna nodded, inviting Emily to continue.

"We decided we could strike directly at the necromancer himself," Emily said. "He was at Heart's Eye, so we went there. We battered our way into the school and challenged the necromancer. And then we fought."

She sucked in her breath. There was so much she wanted to forget. Dua Kepala's incredible success - and the secret of his sanity. The moment when she'd watched in horror, helpless, as Casper died. And the sheer power of the revitalized nexus point, reaching out through her to tear the necromancer apart. She didn't dare tell Sienna everything.

"We had a plan," Emily said. "Casper died making it work."

It wasn't the complete truth, she knew. But it was true enough. Casper had died a hero, and that was all that mattered.

Sienna studied her for a long, cold moment. Emily looked back at her, hoping - praying - that Sienna didn't ask too many questions. There were secrets that couldn't be shared. And yet, didn't Sienna have a right to know? Her son had died in the war.

"You could have saved him," Marian said. "Couldn't you?"

"No," Emily said. She'd been drained after the first battle. Even if she'd known what was about to happen, she doubted she could have done anything about it. "He was dead before I could do anything."

"Emily would have saved him if she could," Frieda said, sharply. She shot Marian a challenging look. "She's good at saving people."

"So I have heard." Sienna's eyes had never left Emily's face. "And he was a dueling champion, was he not?"

"He took the title from me," Emily confirmed. It wasn't entirely true, but Casper had been impressive. She'd given him a tiny window of opportunity and he'd used it perfectly, winning the duel in a single moment. "He was the champion when he died."

"It wouldn't have brought him happiness." Sienna sounded tired, tired and sad. "It would only have gotten him killed."

Emily bit down, hard, on the comment that came to mind. Casper had worked hard to live up to his famous parents, the great military commander and the powerful sorceress. And he'd never felt as though he had managed to move out of their shadow. He'd been on the verge of trying to commit drunken suicide when she'd accepted his challenge. She knew he'd been a prideful ass - he'd been one of the luckiest people in the world - but she also understood precisely how he felt. He'd still been an apprentice when his friends were completing their own masteries.

"He died a champion," Caleb said. "It was what he wanted."

"He was young," Sienna snapped. For a moment, her mask slipped. Emily saw grief and sorrow before it became hidden again beneath her expressionless face. "He didn't know what he wanted."

"He died a hero," General Pollack said. "And I will always be proud of him."

There was a long silence. Emily felt awkward, as if she were intruding on a family's private grief. They'd invited her to stay with them, to attend the funeral, but.part of her was tempted to leave. She could take Frieda and find lodgings somewhere nearby, easily enough. It wasn't as though she was short of money. Coming to think of it, she could ask Markus if they could stay with him.

"There was another sighting of Justice," Marian said. Emily could have hugged the younger girl for trying to change the subject. "Four workers claimed they saw him standing near the docks, watching the boats."

General Pollack made a rude noise. "And how much had they had to drink at the time?"

"Antony, Son of Emil, was replaced by a stone statue," Sienna said. "And while Alba was in shock, I don't think she was lying."

"Antony was turned to stone," Karan said.

Emily blinked. "Antony and Alba?"

"Alba is a friend of mine," Karan said. "Antony was her very brave boyfriend who was turned to stone."

"That's what it says in the books," Marian said. "Those who transgress against the god will be turned to stone!"

"Magic can turn someone into stone," Sienna said, curtly. "You know how to stop someone in their tracks, if necessary. There's no reason to believe the rumors. It would hardly be the first time someone claimed to have seen a god."

Emily leaned forward, interested. "What do the stories say?"

"That Justice will return to pass Judgement on us all," Marian said. "And those who defy his law will be turned to stone."

"Except there's still no reason to believe the stories," Sienna said. "The victims - all of them - might easily have been targeted by their enemies. All someone would need to commit the murders would be a warped petrifaction spell."

She shrugged. "And Speaker Janus, no doubt, has taken advantage of the rumors," she added. "Attendance at his services is up."

Emily glanced at Caleb. "Janus?"

"The High Priest of Justice," Marian said, before Caleb could answer. "He's a very powerful man."

"And this is not a suitable conversation for the dinner table," Sienna said. She gave her daughter a sharp look. "We'll discuss other matters later."

"Yes, Mother," Marian said in a sweet voice. "And what should we talk about?"

"Your schooling, perhaps," Sienna said. "You'll be off to school in a year." She looked at Emily. "You can give her some advice, perhaps," she added. "You've seen two of the magic schools."

Emily nodded, shortly.

"Later, perhaps," Caleb said. "We have much to do tomorrow."

"Indeed you do," Sienna said. "And we shall discuss it tonight."

 

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Author Bio

Christopher G. Nuttall is thirty-two years old and has been reading science fiction since he was five, when someone introduced him to children's SF. Born in Scotland, Chris attended schools in Edinburgh, Fife and University in Manchester ... before moving to Malaysia to live with his wife Aisha.

Chris has been involved in the online Alternate History community since 1998; in particular, he was the original founder of Changing The Times, an online alternate history website that brought in submissions from all over the community. Later, Chris took up writing and eventually became a full-time writer.

Chris has produced The Empire's Corps series, the Outside Context Problem series and many others. He is also responsible for two fan-made Posleen novels, both set in John Ringo's famous Posleen universe. They can both be downloaded from his site.

Website: http://www.chrishanger.net/
Blog: http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall
Discussion Forum http://thewritersclub.prophpbb.com/

TTB titles:

Schooled in Magic fantasy series
  Schooled in Magic  book 1
  Lessons in Etiquette  book 2
  Study in Slaughter  book 3
  Work Experience  book 4
  The School of Hard Knocks  book 5
  Love's Labor's Won  book 6
  Trial By Fire  book 7
  Wedding Hells  book 8
  Infinite Regress  book 9
  Past Tense  book 10
  The Sergeant's Apprentice  book 11
  Fists of Justice  book 12
  The Gordian Knot  book 13

The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire military SF series
  Barbarians at the Gates  book 1
  The Shadow of Cincinnatus  book 2
  The Barbarian Bride  book 3

Author web site.

 

###

 

Fists of Justice Copyright 2017. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
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List Price: $6.50 USD

 

  Author News

  Articles

Christopher has a number of interesting articles up at his blog, The Chrishanger.

"The Stronghold Academy of Martial Arts"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/the-stronghold-academy-of-martial-arts/

"Emily's Finances"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/emilys-finances/

"Religion in the Nameless World
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/religion-in-the-nameless-world/

"The Military in the Nameless World - A Very Brief Overview"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-military-in-the-nameless-world-a-very-brief-overview/

"Wedding Hells: Randor and Alicia"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/wedding-hells-randor-and-alicia/

"Past Tense: Freedom and (Women's) Rights"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/past-tense-freedom-and-womens-rights/

"Wedding Hells Appendix (II) - History Exam"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/wedding-hells-appendix-ii-history-exam/

"Idle Musings (SIM 10)"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/idle-musings-sim-10/

"Whitehall's Liability Insurance"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/whitehalls-liability-insurance/

"Emily and the Barony of Cockatrice"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/emily-and-the-barony-of-cockatrice/

"Bonus Material: Whitehall History Essay Question"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/bonus-material-whitehall-history-essay-question/

"Schooled in Magic: Jade, Emily and Alassa" [Warning: spoilers]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/schooled-in-magic-jade-emily-and-alassa/

"Deconstructing Emily" [...There are a handful of spoilers for Books 1-6, so read carefully.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/deconstructing-emily/

"Love's Labor's Won: Playing the Blame Game [Warning; spoilers!]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/loves-labours-won-playing-the-blame-game/

"Christmas Post: Five Things that Could Have Happened to Emily"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/christmas-post-five-things-that-could-have-happened-to-emily/

"The Tragedy of Marius Drake [Warning: massive spoilers in this post.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/the-tragedy-of-marius-drake/

"Meet My Character Blog Hop" [Master Tor]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/meet-my-character-blog-hop/

"Draft Afterword (I)" [Cincinnatus]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/draft-afterword-i/

"But What Do We Do on Our Hols? An Introduction to Lessons in Etiquette"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/but-what-do-we-do-on-our-hols-an-introduction-to-lessons-in-etiquette/

"The Free City of Beneficence" [A new setting for Schooled in Magic.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/the-free-city-of-beneficence/

"An Introduction to Schooled in Magic"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/an-introduction-to-schooled-in-magic/

 

Interviews

"When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?"
Author interview on Blogcritics

"When did you decide you wanted to become an author?"
Author interview on Blogger News

Character interview with Princess Alassa on Beyond the Books

"Deconstructing Emily" blog post

"Schooled in Magic is a fantasy book, but it draws extensively from real history."
Guest post on As the Page Turns

"The Inspiration behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on Review From Here

"The Story behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on The Story Behind the Book

"I was asked, at Ravencon, just what makes an indie writer successful.
I think they were hoping I'd know some great secret to success that I could tell them."
Guest post on The Writer's Life eMagazine

"No matter how well you write, you will get bad reviews."
Author Christopher G. Nuttall discusses The Decline & Fall
of the Galactic Empire novels in an interview with Edinburgh49

Trial By Fire chapter reveal on Plug Your Book

 

  Reviews
 



 

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