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Mirror Image
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter

 

 

Years ago, Heartís Eye was captured by a necromancer. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to found a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all. But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school and Emily finds herself facing a shadow that has walked beside her from the day she came to the Nameless World. It might bring about the end of everything.

In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect?

 

 

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Mirror Image

fantasy

Christopher Nuttall

 

 

 

Prologue


And now that we have exhausted all the trivial matters we wished to discuss,” the Chairman said, “we should turn our attention to the news from Heart’s Eye.”

Grandmaster Gordian of Whitehall let out a sigh as the table came to attention, attendees straightening up as it dawned on them the committee was finally going to move on to something important. The Educational Committee rarely did anything useful, beyond reaffirming the status quo. The really important decisions were discussed in the back chambers, compromises hashed out and deals struck before the final decision was presented to the White Council as a fait accompli. Gordian himself had been tempted to decline the invitation to the council, even though he had a permanent seat at the table. It was ironic that the person who had finally given the council something useful to do was the same girl who had been the bane of his existence during his first two years as Grandmaster.

Not a girl, not any longer, he reminded himself. She’s a young woman.

Ten years ago, Heart’s Eye was invaded by Dua Kepala, a necromancer,” the Chairman said, as if no one in the room was familiar with the story. “He held Heart’s Eye as his own personal fortress until Lady Emily killed him and reignited the nexus point, claiming Heart’s Eye for herself. By both law and custom, we could not take the building from her. Attempts were made to convince her to gift the school to its former owners, but they were unsuccessful.”

Naturally,” Professor Hector muttered, brushing his brown hair out of his face. He was a dumpy man who wanted to be more than he was, but never would be. Everyone knew he’d be a disaster if he were trusted with any position of responsibly. “Who would surrender something so valuable?”

Gordian nodded, tightly. Heart’s Eye was literally priceless. The school alone was worth more than anyone, even the White Council, could reasonably pay and the nexus point... no one in their right mind would give it up, not for anything. A source of near-infinite power was beyond price, even if the owner could barely tap into its limitless potential. And, given what Gordian knew of Emily’s activities, it was quite likely that she could tap into its potential. Why would she give it up? He found it hard to imagine anyone wanting to give it up.

It has since become clear that Lady Emily and her supporters intend to open a university”—the Chairman stumbled over the unfamiliar word—“which will encourage the study of both magic and something she calls science, the source of the New Learning. Heart’s Eye will become the home of this... establishment. The Old Boys League has apparently accepted her decision and has offered her their assistance, in exchange for a presence at the school...”

Professor Hector held up a hand. “They’ve conceded defeat?”

They’ve conceded that a presence at the school is better than nothing,” Gordian put in. “And who can blame them?”

Hector’s eyes narrowed. It was against tradition, but... what choice did they have? Heart’s Eye had been ruined, the surrounding region devastated. Even if the Old Boys League had been gifted the school without any quibbling over the price, they might have found it impossible to restore the school to its former glory.

I can.” Hector glared around the table. “I read the statement, the call to pens and parchment. They’re flying in the face of tradition by denying apprenticeships, and...”

Gordian kept his face impassive as an argument broke out. Hector had a point. Traditionally, students who wanted to gain their masteries apprenticed themselves to masters, serving them in exchange for a formal education. It made a great deal of sense, particularly in the more dangerous fields of magic. An apprentice could be given the kind of one-on-one education that was simply impossible in a school, where each teacher might be responsible for multiple students. It also made it easier to screen out students who couldn’t be trusted with such magics, although Gordian knew it was far from infallible. Despite everything, too many secrets were outside the White Council’s control.

And yet, it also limits the number of trained masters, he reminded himself. There might be something to be said for expanding the apprenticeship program...

He dragged his attention back to the table as the Chairman banged for order. “She is young,” the Chairman said. “But she is in possession of the school.”

And possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Gordian reminded them. “She has a nexus point. She cannot be dislodged by force.”

That didn’t go down well. Another argument broke out. Gordian sat back and waited, trying to determine where everyone stood. It was difficult to be sure. Gordian had no doubt the White Council would rule against Emily, if pushed. He also had no doubt that the council would find it impossible to enforce any ruling. Emily had a nexus point and enough knowledge to use it. His brow furrowed as a thought struck him. He, perhaps, was the only councilor who knew just how formidable Emily could be with a nexus point under her control. Everyone else would assume—and they’d be quite right, bearing in mind what they knew—that it would take her time to master the power. But they would be wrong. Devastatingly wrong.

And the law is clear, he thought, grimly. Anything taken in honest combat becomes the property of the victor.

His frown deepened as the argument raged on. Lady Emily might not realize it, but she had more allies than she knew—and people who would back her because an attempt to seize the school would also fly in the face of tradition. The Gods alone knew how many fortunes had been built on something taken in combat. They would all be at risk if the White Council set a terrifying precedent by seizing Heart’s Eye.

The dispute grew darker. Magic flickered through the air. Gordian braced himself, wondering who would cast the first hex. Too many councilors had too much wrapped up in the affair for it to end lightly, from the councilor who’d studied at Heart’s Eye to the councilor whose distant grandfather had won his fortune in a series of carefully-planned duels. Power started to build, a couple of magicians muttering spells to carve protective wards. Things were slipping out of control...

I think we have to admit something, right from the start,” he said, as if he were addressing a bunch of rowdy students. He rather felt that his students would be better behaved. “Lady Emily has possession of the school. And there is no way to take it from her, not legally.”

Not legally,” Professor Hector repeated.

And if we try and fail to take the school illegally,” Gordian asked, “where does that leave us?”

She’s lost her powers,” Professor Hector snapped. “She may not even be able to get into the school.”

Rumor claimed she lost her powers,” the Chairman said. “However, there are over a hundred eyewitness accounts of her defending herself against an assassination attempt at the Faire. I doubt she could have fooled everyone into believing she still had her powers, if she’d really lost them. The reports made it clear that she used a whole string of spells...”

They could have been faked,” Professor Hector insisted.

Gordian snorted. He’d read the reports very carefully, from the first suggestions that Emily might have lost her powers to the final eyewitness accounts. The former were vague, crammed with innuendo and loaded with wishful thinking; the latter were cold, precise, and attested by some of the most respected magicians in the community. Gordian doubted they could all be fooled—and there was no way they could be fooled without magic. Emily might as well pretend to be alive.

And the only way to fake such spells would require the magic to cast such spells,” he said, dryly. “It seems a little pointless, doesn’t it? Why would she bother?”

He went on before Professor Hector could think of another objection.

Furthermore, we have what seems like a workable compromise. Emily will build her university. It will, inevitably, take on the characteristics of a school. She will discover, as many have before her, that it will be difficult to train masters without one-to-one tuition. She may lay the groundwork for their education, but she will be unable to complete it. Her students will seek out masters so they can finish their training. And, in the meantime, the New Learning will continue to spread.”

Professor Hector huffed. “Is that a good thing?”

Yes.” Gordian disliked Emily—he admitted as much, privately—but he had to admit she’d done a lot of good. Who would have thought that something as simple as phonic writing could change the world beyond recognition? The Old Guard might sniff at any change, but Gordian was prepared to embrace anything that would make his life easier. “The New Learning has already done wonders for us.”

Professor Yael—a tall woman with more interest in theory than actual magic—leaned forward. “We still don’t know what actually happened at Heart’s Eye when the school was invaded. Do we?”

No,” Gordian said. Heart’s Eye should have been able to hold out forever, even against a necromancer. That it had fallen suggested... what? Treachery? Or... or what? There had always been strange rumors about Heart’s Eye, rumors suggesting that Schoolmaster Edmund and his staff had spent half their time researching magics rather than teaching, but none of the stories had been proven. If the Old Boys League knew something about what had actually happened, they’d kept it to themselves. “We may never know.”

Or Emily may be in for a surprise when she reopens the school. Gordian couldn’t imagine something that could collapse the wards from the inside, not without direct access to the nexus point, but... he admitted, freely, that imagination wasn’t one of his strong points. He’d never had the mindset for theoretical magic. Who knows what she may find in there?

He shook his head. Emily had walked into Heart’s Eye when it had been controlled by a necromancer. If she could handle that—if she had survived something that would have daunted an older and wiser magician—he was sure she could handle whatever surprises might have been left behind by the Schoolmaster. And besides, Dua Kepala himself had lived in the school for nine years. He’d had ample opportunity to remove any booby traps... if, of course, he’d bothered. Dua Kepala had been surprisingly sane, for a necromancer, but by any reasonable standards he’d still been dangerously irrational. He might simply have sealed up a number of sections and left them alone.

We may have to rely on Lady Emily to tell us,” the Chairman said. “If she ever finds out...”

We may never know,” Gordian repeated. He’d want to know if there were something that could take down a set of invulnerable wards. Whitehall’s wards weren’t that much stronger. “But it’s also beside the point.”

He cleared his throat for attention. “I think we have no choice but to wait and see what happens. Emily will find it harder than she thinks to run a school, let alone a university. It’s possible that someone will find a way to ease her out of her position, or even convince her that she doesn’t want it. And who knows? She may even do a lot of good.”

Hah,” Professor Hector muttered. “She’s your student.”

She was my student,” Gordian confirmed. “And that has given me some... insight... into her personality.”

He kept his face impassive with an effort. There were a great many things around Emily that simply didn’t make sense. She was... odd, by any reasonable standard. She’d turned the world upside down, time and time again. She was a genius... and yet, there was something weird about the countless innovations she’d introduced. Gordian couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was there. It didn’t make sense. Emily herself simply didn’t make sense. She wasn’t what he would have expected from the daughter of a Lone Power.

We wait and see what happens,” he said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”

True,” the Chairman agreed. “And, if she does run into trouble, we can offer her our support.”

And she will,” Professor Hector predicted. “It... demeans us to play court to a slip of a girl.”

We have no choice,” Gordian said. “And if she learns a few hard lessons through trying to do everything herself, so much the better.”


Chapter One


There was magic in the air. Too much magic.

Emily took a long breath as Frieda led her through the city gates and into Celeste. Her senses were overwhelmed, almost blinded by the constant surges of magic all around her. Street performers roared and chanted, putting on performances for the city’s children and their families; shopkeepers warded their shops against intrusion while, sneakily, casting spells to entice the curious to inspect their wares. Hundreds of people, almost all magicians or bonded servants, thronged the streets, wearing everything from wizard robes to flimsy outfits that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Arabian Nights. And yet, the city was oddly muted. Nearly everyone used some privacy spells to keep their conversations to themselves. Emily found it a little disorienting.

She gritted her teeth as the sense of pressure grew stronger, even though it wasn’t aimed at her. Her senses had sharpened in the last few days, as her body and mind struggled to embrace her magic again. She’d lost her magic for a handful of months, barely long enough to come to terms with the prospect of being powerless for the rest of her life, but it almost felt as if she’d never had magic. She remembered learning how to use her magic, of course, but then she’d been at Whitehall. She’d been allowed to grow into her powers at her own pace. Now...

I’m the deaf woman who suddenly discovered she could hear at a rock concert, Emily thought, wryly. And the noise is deafening even if it’s great that I can hear.

She smiled as they walked past a series of stalls, each selling the same potions ingredients. The owners waved at her, trying to convince her to stop and buy something—anything—from their wares. Emily had worried, the first time, they’d recognized her personally, before realizing they were doing it to everyone. She didn’t stand out in a crowd, not in Celeste. As far as the shopkeepers were concerned, she was just another customer.

A trio of bondservants walked past her, wearing collars to indicate their servile status. Emily shivered, despite herself. She’d been told that most bondservants sold themselves into slavery, putting themselves in bondage to ensure their families would have a decent life, but she’d never believed it. The collars held more than just obedience spells. It would be very hard for someone to take the collar off, even if they were a trained and experienced magician. She doubted a mundane could do it at all. Someone could be forced to don the collar and then... she shuddered. They’d be enslaved for the rest of their life.

And no one would give a damn if their master broke whatever agreement he’d made, she thought, sourly. Who cares about a slave anyway?

She glanced up, sharply, as a street performer stepped into their path. “Hey, pretty ladies,” he said, with a smile that sent a shiver down her spine. “Come and see what I can do for you?”

He cast a spell into the air. An image of Emily appeared in front of him. Emily studied it for a moment, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. He was trying to impress her, but honestly... she’d mastered such spells in her very first year. It wasn’t that hard to find out what she looked like from the rear. Alassa had taught her the spells when it became clear, to her, that Emily didn’t have the slightest idea how to take care of her appearance. It was something she’d never dared do before coming to the Nameless World.

Her image winked at her, then started to change. Brown hair became blonde, then red; her blue dress became green, then thinned out and started to drop until she could see the tops of her breasts. Emily flushed, angrily, as the performer adjusted the size of her breasts until they became truly absurd. A handful of people laughed. They were drawing attention... unwanted attention. Her magic crackled under her skin...

Look what I can do,” the performer said. He waved a hand at the image, which now resembled a bad parody of femininity. “A simple handful of spells and you’ll be a beauty to rival Lucinda herself...”

Emily flared her magic. The performer gaped, then stumbled back in shock. He’d taken her for... she wasn’t sure what he had taken her for, but it clearly wasn’t a powerful magician. The image shimmered and vanished. Emily allowed her gaze to harden, drawing on lessons she’d learnt from Lady Barb. The performer bowed a hasty apology and looked away. The crowd found something more important to do and started to disperse, leaving before the fireworks started. Emily didn’t blame them. There were too many horror stories of what happened to people who angered powerful magicians. Being turned into small, hopping things was the least of them.

She nodded at Frieda, who led her further down the street. Emily gritted her teeth, cursing the performer under her breath. He’d put her in a bad humor, all the more so because she dreaded to think of what would happen to someone without her power. He could do a great deal of damage to a powerless girl. Even if his spells worked correctly—and there was no way to be sure—his victims would have a lot of trouble afterwards. No normal girl could possibly have had a comfortable life if she looked like a Barbie doll.

The stalls faded away as they made their way into the residential area. There were fewer spells, but those she could detect were powerful. Very powerful. Magicians liked their privacy, even when they congregated in their communities. She felt a handful of wards pry at her, testing her magic although she hadn’t stepped across the wardlines. The residents had enemies. Some might try to attack in broad daylight. It wasn’t as if the city guard would intervene.

There’s no law here, not really, Emily reminded herself. Celeste was an armed society, to all intents and purposes. The people who weren’t armed—who had no magic—didn’t count. They couldn’t defend themselves. It’s a miracle the entire city didn’t tear itself apart a long time ago.

Here,” Frieda said. She indicated a little detached house, practically indistinguishable from the rest of the street. A simple number—no name—hung on the wooden door. “Should I wait outside?”

Emily shook her head. “You’d better come in with me.”

She took a breath as she walked up the tiny lane, feeling the wards poke and pry. There was no point in trying the door, or even knocking. It would have opened if she was on the approved list. Instead, she clasped her hands behind her back and waited. The wards wouldn’t have let her get so close if the occupant hadn’t been home. And if she did anything they took to be unfriendly, she might not survive long enough to explain herself.

The door opened, slowly. Mistress Irene stood there, gazing at them. Emily swallowed hard, feeling the years drain away to leave her as an innocent schoolgirl once again, trying to explain to her stern form mistress that she really did have a good excuse for late homework, poor performance or simple tardiness. Mistress Irene had always been intimidating, even though she’d never been anything other than helpful. She’d certainly been a great deal more educational than some of the teachers Emily remembered from Earth. It probably helped that she had both the power and inclination to punish misbehaving students.

Emily.” Mistress Irene sounded mildly surprised. “And Frieda. What can I do for you?”

Emily took a moment to gather herself. She wasn’t a schoolgirl any longer, although—technically—she hadn’t taken her final exams. She didn’t have to. She already had an offer of apprenticeship from Void himself. And she certainly didn’t have to answer to Mistress Irene any longer.

I have a proposition I would like to put to you,” she said, carefully. “Please, can we come in?”

Mistress Irene stepped to one side, an invitation that wasn’t—precisely—an invitation. A supernatural creature that required a direct invitation to actually enter a dwelling would have been unable to step inside. Emily was surprised to see it from an experienced and powerful magician, but perhaps she should have expected it. Supernatural vermin would be drawn to the city like moths to the flame. She stepped over the threshold and into the building. Frieda followed her a second later. Mistress Irene nodded and closed the door.

This way,” she said, once they had exchanged formal pleasantries.

Emily looked around, interested, as she followed Mistress Irene down a short corridor and into a sitting room. It was surprisingly elegant, so neat and tidy she knew it wasn’t where Mistress Irene spent most of her time. Emily had been in Mistress Irene’s office often enough, but she’d never been invited to her teacher’s private rooms. No student had ever managed to crack those wards. A great many had got in trouble for trying.

Please, take a seat.” Mistress Irene sat herself, on an armchair that looked too big. “What do you have in mind?”

Emily sat, never taking her eyes off her former teacher. Mistress Irene looked to be in her sixties, although she knew that could be an illusion. She’d met magicians who looked young, even though they were in their second century, and mundanes who looked two or three decades older than they were. Mistress Irene still looked every inch the prim schoolteacher, although she’d left Whitehall two years ago. Emily wasn’t sure if she’d left of her own free will, or if Gordian had pushed her out, but it hardly mattered now. The point was she was unattached.

Two years ago, I came into possession of Heart’s Eye,” Emily began. “I killed...”

I am aware of the story,” Mistress Irene said. Her tone gave nothing away. “What is the point?”

Emily took a breath. “I—I and a few of my friends—intend to turn Heart’s Eye into a university. Ah... a very different center of learning, concentrating on science as well as magic. It’s going to be a research institute”—an unfamiliar concept on the Nameless World—“rather than just a school. The people who attend will be trying to find new ways to do things, rather than merely studying magic.”

There is nothing mere about studying magic,” Mistress Irene said, tonelessly.

No.” Emily had to fight the urge to apologize. “But we will be studying more than just magic.”

You are repeating yourself,” Mistress Irene said. It was impossible to tell if she was trying to offer constructive criticism or being sarcastic. “And I think you will find running a... research institute to be quite difficult.”

Yes.” Emily recalled her disastrous tenure as Head Girl with a shudder. “I intended to start earlier, but... things... got in the way.”

They have a tendency to challenge the less-ordered mind,” Mistress Irene commented. “I heard a rumor you were... ill.”

Rumors of my powerlessness were greatly exaggerated,” Emily said. She didn’t dare lie outright. Everyone said that Mistress Irene could smell lies. A student who tried to claim the dog ate his homework—or his homework ate the dog, which wasn’t impossible—would regret it shortly afterwards. “As you can see”—she cast a light spell—“I have recovered.”

Quite.” Mistress Irene studied her for a long, chilling moment. “Let us get to the point. What does this have to do with me?”

Heart’s Eye needs a... a manager,” Emily said. The formal title was Schoolmaster, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep it. It had obvious connotations. “The staff and students will need someone to keep them in order. I was wondering if you would like the job.”

Mistress Irene let out a long breath. It was the first hint of actual emotion Emily had seen out of her. “Do you know what you’re asking? Or what you’re offering?”

Yes.” Emily met her eyes. “I know.”

Really.” Mistress Irene didn’t sound convinced. “If you did, you might want to keep it.”

Emily frowned. The Nameless World wasn’t Earth. Here, teachers were important. She knew, all too well, that headmasters were respected as well as powerful. Gordian wouldn’t have worked so hard to succeed Hasdrubal if he hadn’t been sure the position was worth the effort. And it was. The mere fact he ruled a school made him one of the most powerful people in the world. She was offering Mistress Irene a pearl beyond price.

I don’t like dealing with people,” Emily admitted. There was no point in trying to hide it, not from someone who’d shepherded her through four years of magical education. “And a lot of older magicians don’t take me seriously, despite everything.”

Which they should,” Frieda put in.

Indeed.” Mistress Irene’s face was emotionless, again. “And you think they’ll take me seriously?”

You spent decades in Whitehall.” Emily took a breath. “Let me tell you what I have in mind.”

She launched into her prepared speech, explaining—as much as she dared—the concept behind the university. It was more than just a college of magic; it was something new, something more for adults than immature teenagers. Her students would—hopefully—already be experienced in using magic, having grown out of the urge to sneak up behind an unsuspecting victim and turn him into a frog. The teachers would be researchers as well as teachers... in many ways, they would be students themselves. And mundane craftsmen and magicians would work together as equals.

That might be a hard sell,” Mistress Irene pointed out. “They’re not equals.”

Emily couldn’t hide her irritation. Magicians tended to look down on mundanes, insisting that magic—the gift of the gods—made them superior. There were few magicians who sneered at newborn magicians, magicians born to non-magical families, but there were far too many who wanted to take them from their parents and have them brought up in proper magical families. She’d never shared the disdain—there was no way she could have shared it—yet... she winced, inwardly. It had been hard to develop her powers the first few months after she’d gone to Whitehall. How much harder would it be to be powerless at a magic school, to be the butt of everyone’s puerile sense of humor? She didn’t think she would have survived.

Mundanes are not stupid,” she said, firmly. “And I expect them to learn to... tolerate each other, if they are unable to be friends.”

That should be interesting,” Mistress Irene said. “What sort of authority do you propose to give me?”

Enough.” Emily had given the matter some thought, then discussed it with Caleb before putting pen to paper. “You won’t have absolute authority—and the board will be able to overrule you, if necessary—but you should have enough.”

I see.” Mistress Irene didn’t sound happy. “You do realize that anyone I expel for bad behavior will complain to the board?”

I’ll be on the board,” Emily said. “You can hardly be blamed for expelling someone who breaks the rules.”

Mistress Irene laughed, suddenly. “You little... innocent.”

Emily felt her cheeks redden. “I don’t promise it will be easy. It won’t be easy. You’ll be setting a lot of precedents, although I intend to make sure that each case is judged on its merits, rather than what has gone before. There will be a lot of room for controversy. But... it’s also a chance to get in on the ground floor of something completely new.”

People my age don’t like controversy,” Mistress Irene said. Her lips curved into a smile. “But you’re right. It should be interesting.”

She met Emily’s eyes. “When do you want my answer?”

As soon as possible,” Emily told her. “I’m due to meet Caleb and the others at Farrakhan later this evening. We were planning to cross the desert in a day or so, depending on the weather, and set up base at Heart’s Ease before heading to Heart’s Eye the following morning. Ideally, I’d want to know in a couple of days.”

Or now, you mean.” Mistress Irene nodded, slowly. “It isn’t as if I have much else to do with my time, so yes. I will come with you.”

Thank you,” Emily said, relieved.

Mistress Irene held up a hand. “That said, I have some... matters … to finish first. I won’t be able to join you for at least two weeks, more likely a month. Is that going to be a problem?”

We’re not planning to open for students for a while,” Emily said. She would have preferred Mistress Irene to come at once, but that was unfair. The older woman could hardly drop everything on a moment’s notice and move to Heart’s Eye. “As long as you’re established before I have to start my apprenticeship, we should be fine.”

Then I accept your offer,” Mistress Irene said. She held out her hand. Emily shook it. “Thank you.”

Emily opened her pouch and removed the paperwork. “There’s an outline of what we have in mind here, along with a draft of the contract. Let us know what you think.”

Naturally,” Mistress Irene said. “I’ll be reading them very thoroughly before I sign.”

Of course.” Emily stood. Frieda followed. “And thank you for your hospitality.”

It was scant enough,” Mistress Irene said. She escorted them to the door, then waved goodbye. “Good luck.”

That went better than expected,” Frieda said. “Now what? Dinner?”

Emily felt her stomach rumble. “Why not? And then, we go to Farrakhan. Again.”


Chapter Two


The heat struck her as soon as the teleport field snapped out of existence.

Emily steadied herself, taking a breath as sweat rolled down her back. Farrakhan had always been hot—the city sat on the very edge of the Desert of Death—but it was high summer now, so hot that most of the population was probably taking an afternoon nap before the city came alive again at sunset. She cast a handful of cooling and skin protection charms as she turned towards the city gates, even though she knew they wouldn’t be that effective. The sun was just too hot. She could practically feel her skin starting to burn. She’d be tanned before the end of the week.

Frieda stepped up beside her. “I think we should have worn something else.”

True.” Emily nodded, tightly. The blue dress she wore wasn’t suited to the desert. But there was nothing she could do about that, not until she reached the warehouse. She didn’t want to risk transfiguring the garment in broad daylight. “Let’s go.”

She felt the day grow hotter—as impossible as it seemed—as they made their way towards the gates. The guards eyed them warily, although they made no demands for papers nor attempts to block their way. It had only been a year since the war, since the city had been attacked... it would be a long time before the city relaxed, if it ever did. The guardsmen were reassuringly professional, though Emily knew they wouldn’t stand a chance if another necromancer walked out of the desert and attacked the city. They would merely be the first to die.

Her dress clung to her, uncomfortably, as they walked through the city. They were nearly empty, save for a handful of shops and watering holes kept open by optimistic merchants and innkeepers. Even the beggars rested, sleeping in alleyways; they, too, would resume their trade at sunset. Emily felt a stab of pity as she saw a small family sleeping under a bridge, deprived of everything but the rags on their backs. She’d long since come to realize she couldn’t help everyone—all the money in her purse wouldn’t keep the beggars alive for long—but it still bothered her. She hoped—she prayed—it would be a long time before it stopped bothering her. The aristocrats of Farrakhan—and the Nameless World in general—normally didn’t care about beggars. They were just part of the scenery.

You’d never know there was a war here,” Frieda said. “Where’s all the damage?”

It was mostly on the northern side of town,” Emily told her. “But they’ve done a good job of repairing it.”

She winced inwardly, remembering when the city had been under siege. They’d been luckier than they deserved. The city fathers had made almost no preparations for a siege. Worse, they’d fed themselves and left most of the population to starve. She was surprised the city fathers hadn’t been overthrown after the war. But then, perhaps she shouldn’t have been. The allied forces had kept order long enough for the city fathers to resume control, then crush opposition with maximum force. Any rebellious factions were probably keeping their heads down and waiting for better weather.

They’ll be waiting a long time, Emily thought, as they passed a broadsheet stall. The weather here rarely changes.

She allowed herself a sigh of relief as the warehouse came into view. To the naked eye, it was no different to any of the other warehouses in the city, but to her there was no mistaking it. The wards surrounding the building were tinged with Caleb’s magic. She felt her heart skip a beat—the last time she’d felt his magic so strongly, they’d been lovers—before she caught herself. She and Caleb were better off as friends. Besides, it hadn’t been that long since she’d been with someone.

The thought cost her another pang. She’d heard nothing from Cat, not since he’d departed on his private quest to bring Jacqui to justice. Or kill her. Emily wasn’t sure what he had in mind. She wasn’t sure he knew himself. They’d been lovers, but... he’d been unable to cope with her loss of power. Or perhaps it had been her, fearful of exposing herself without protection, that had driven him away. She told herself, firmly, that she was being silly. Cat had made it clear, more than once, that he didn’t want a relationship. He couldn’t have a relationship. She’d had no reason to expect him to stay forever...

Frieda poked her. “You’re thinking about Cat again. I can tell.”

Emily shot her a sharp look. “Have you found a way to read minds?”

Your face always goes maudlin when you’re thinking about him.” Frieda squeezed Emily’s hand, affectionately. “Do I look as silly when I think about Hoban?”

Of course not,” Emily teased. “You look worse.”

She smiled, rather wanly, as she pushed against the wards. They parted at once, allowing her to reach the door. It was unlocked. Anyone who could get through the wards wouldn’t be deterred by a simple lock. Emily opened the door and stepped inside, shivering as a sudden wave of cold air struck her. Caleb hadn’t tried to get accustomed to the heat. He’d simply cast cooling spells everywhere until they’d become embedded in the walls. Sergeant Miles would have had a lot of nasty things to say about it, Emily was sure, but she didn’t blame Caleb in the slightest. The heat was wearying even indoors.

Emily.” Caleb was standing in the small office, studying a clipboard. He looked taller than Emily remembered, his lanky body finally suiting him... as if, somewhere over the past year, he’d finally come into his own. “Welcome to Farrakhan!”

Thank you.” Emily tried not to feel sad. Caleb’s brother Casper had died in the war. Caleb had to have mixed feelings about the city Casper had given his life to defend. And, perhaps, about Heart’s Eye itself. “Mistress Irene said she’d join us, somewhere between two weeks to a month.”

And then we’ll all be properly whipped into shape.” Caleb seemed amused. “You do realize she won’t be universally popular?”

I do.” Emily shrugged as she put down her bag and reached for the water jug. “But she’s also the kind of person we need.”

Caleb nodded. “You want to inspect the goods?”

Give me a moment to rest,” Emily said. She poured herself a glass of water, then a second one for Frieda. It was easy to get dehydrated in the heat. “Were there any problems?”

Not really.” Caleb ran his hand through his brown hair. “Master Highland and his people insisted on meeting us at Heart’s Ease, but other than that... no real problems. I don’t think the city fathers know what to make of us.”

Emily sipped her water. “Did they try to impede you?”

No.” Caleb shook his head. “The local merchants were quite happy to trade with us. I think the city fathers would have been lynched if they tried to stop them, particularly as the king himself hasn’t issued any statement. Unless you’ve heard something...?”

Nothing.” Emily took a moment to gather herself. “I don’t have any ties to royalty here.”

Probably for the best,” Caleb said. “Heart’s Eye was never part of the kingdom, even before it fell. The entire area was completely autonomous. That’s probably going to cause us problems later on. No one really knows who owns Heart’s Ease.”

I suppose,” Emily said. She finished her water and put the glass to one side. “Heart’s Ease is a wreck. There’s little there for anyone.”

Some of the merchants were talking about moving out there,” Caleb said. “They remember the days when Heart’s Ease thrummed with life.”

A problem for another day.” Emily rubbed her forehead. “Did you manage to get everything?”

More or less.” Caleb smiled, wryly. “We’ll be ready to leave in the morning, as planned. We’ve lost a couple of people to the local pleasure dens, I'm afraid, but... hopefully, they’ll be back tonight. I warned them that anyone who wasn’t back might be left behind.”

Emily winced. “They’ll have to make the crossing on foot, alone.”

Poor bastards.” Caleb shrugged. “Things will get easier when we set up a portal.”

Probably.” Emily stood, brushing down her dress. It felt sodden. She wanted a shower, but she knew she wouldn’t get one. The warehouse and the attached living quarters were primitive. She’d be lucky if there was enough water for a sponge-bath. “How are you? I mean...”

Caleb looked at his scarred hands. They weren’t twitching any longer.

I’ve been better,” Caleb said. He let out a faint laugh. “I’ll be happier when we’re on the way, I think. Mother... wasn’t too pleased that I was accompanying you, instead of seeking my mastery. She’s not your biggest fan.”

I know.” Emily tried not to take it personally. “I don’t blame her.”

And yourself?” Caleb met her eyes. “You weren’t in a good state last time we met...?”

I’m better,” Emily said, flatly. Caleb had helped her, when he could easily have turned his back. She loved him for it. “And I think the entire world knows it.”

Caleb nodded, then stood and led her through a side door. Frieda followed as they passed through two sets of wards and into a huge warehouse. Emily sucked in her breath as she saw the collection of primitive wagons, just waiting for camels and oxen to pull them, all crammed with gear and supplies. She couldn’t help thinking of the Wild West, of settlers heading into the distance in hopes of finding a good place to homestead. The Desert of Death, thankfully, had no hostile natives. Or, at least, no intelligent hostile natives. The desert itself was a pretty hostile place. She’d been told the desert was receding, since the nexus point had been reignited, but she’d seen no evidence of it.

We have twenty carts and seventy people,” Caleb said. “Magicians, craftsmen... everything we need to start building a community. We’ll need more, of course, but...”

He shrugged. Emily understood. Heart’s Eye was in terrible shape after ten years of neglect and decay. The necromancer hadn’t destroyed the school, but... she shook her head. They’d have to clear out the debris and repair the damage before they could actually shape the university. In hindsight, they probably didn’t need Mistress Irene just yet. There was a lot of work to be done before the university took shape.

And we’ll be building from scratch, Emily mused, as a tall figure detached herself from the carts and walked over. No one here has any real idea of what a university means.

Caleb cleared his throat as a woman approached. “Lady Emily,” he said, formally. “Please meet Senior Craftswoman Yvonne of Cockatrice.”

Emily smiled. She might have met Senior Craftswoman Yvonne at some point—she’d made a habit of visiting the ever-growing factories in Cockatrice—but she didn’t remember. Yvonne’s name had been put forward by her superiors, when Emily had asked them for someone who might like to move to Heart’s Eye and set up shop. It was mildly surprising to encounter a craftswoman, let alone one in such a high position. Outside the magical community, it was still very much a man’s world.

She studied Yvonne for a long moment as the older woman dropped a mock curtsey. Yvonne wore long overalls... trousers, rather than a dress. That would scandalize people, Emily was sure. A woman wearing male clothing, one who looked faintly absurd trying to bob in trousers... Emily snorted at the thought. Anyone who tried to work in a crafts shop, let alone a factory, in a dress would probably get it caught in the machinery. And Yvonne looked formidable enough to deal with anyone who made a fuss. Her arms, bare to the shoulder, were muscular; her tanned skin, marked and pitted with the remnants of industrial accidents, was a clear sign that she’d earned her position the hard way. No craftsman—or woman—could ever reach high position without proper experience. The guild had seen to it long ago. Emily liked Yvonne on sight.

Lady Emily.” Yvonne’s accent was very definitely common, without even a hint of aristocracy... or an attempt to mimic her social superiors. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last.”

Likewise,” Emily said. She held out her hand. Yvonne shook it, firmly. “I hope you’ll enjoy working at Heart’s Eye.”

I was told it would be a challenge,” Yvonne said. “But I was promised my own factory if I took it on.”

I certainly hope so.” Emily looked past her, at the carts. “What did you bring?”

Most of the supplies we’ll need to get started,” Yvonne said. “And a couple of dozen apprentices, each with at least six months of experience. I didn’t want to bring anyone completely new, at least until we were up and running. There’s a few craftsmen back home who will probably never forgive me for stealing their apprentices.”

Emily frowned. “Are they likely to cause trouble?”

I doubt it.” Yvonne shrugged. “It’s a petty nuisance, rather than a real problem. A lot of precedents were set over the past few years. Oh, the apprentices will be in trouble if they decide they want to go back, but it won’t cause us any problems.”

No master wants an apprentice who flakes out,” Caleb commented. His voice lightened. “And someone else joined us, a surprise...”

Emily looked up... and smiled. The Gorgon was standing by one of the carts, wearing a short leather jacket and skirt. She looked horrendously out of place—Emily could see two of the apprentices eyeing her warily—but somehow right... Emily felt her smile grow wider as she hurried over to her friend. The Gorgon had been born and raised in the desert. She probably felt as if she’d come home.

It’s good to see you again,” she said, as she gave the Gorgon a hug. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

Caleb wanted it to be a surprise.” The Gorgon hugged her back. As always, her skin felt... odd, neither wholly scaly nor human. “He said you’d be pleased.”

I am,” Emily said. She promised herself that she’d talk to Caleb about it later. It would have been nice to have some warning. “You know what we’re doing here?”

The Gorgon looked pained. “I couldn’t get an apprenticeship.”

Emily winced. The Gorgon was far from stupid—no one reached sixth year, let alone passed the exams, without being bright—but... she was a gorgon. There were few masters who would consider taking her as a student, not when there was so much fear and prejudice against her kind. Emily had hoped the Gorgon’s obvious skill—and talent—would make up for her limited humanity. Clearly, prospective masters had disagreed.

We’ll try to make sure you get something better here,” Emily promised. “And you are more than welcome to stay.”

Thanks.” The Gorgon smiled, wanly. “And I hope you succeed. I mean...”

I understand,” Emily said. What had the Gorgon been doing since Emily had left Whitehall? “We’ll have to have a longer chat soon, just to catch up.”

We will,” the Gorgon agreed. “Cirroc is coming too, by the way. Master Highland took him as an apprentice.”

That’s good.” Emily nodded, although she wasn’t sure it was a good thing. Cirroc was a fine person—she had no doubt of it—but, as an apprentice, he would be expected to defer to his master until he gained his own mastery. “Will he be meeting us tomorrow?”

Yeah.” Caleb sounded conflicted. “Hopefully, we won’t have to share rooms again.”

Emily had to smile. “Was he that bad?”

He wasn’t the worst, I suppose.” Caleb grinned. “But he always brought someone back to the room and I had to find something else to do with my time.”

How terrible,” Emily said, dryly.

It was,” Caleb agreed. “Anyway, do you feel up to eating? It’s early afternoon here.”

Emily glanced at her watch, then reminded herself about teleport lag. Her body thought it was early evening. “I think so, then Frieda and I had better get an early night. We have to be up early tomorrow.”

I’m afraid so.” Caleb looked as if he wanted to say something else, then stopped himself. “We set up a pair of rooms for you and”—he blinked—“where did she go?”

Emily glanced back. Frieda was gone. A moment later, Emily spotted her talking to Hoban, their bodies just a little too close. Jayson stood next to him, pretending to ignore the couple. Emily felt her heart twist, again. Jayson had tried to kiss her a few short weeks ago... no, he had kissed her. But she hadn’t been in the mood.

Let her have her fun,” Emily said, feeling old. “We did that too, didn’t we?”

Yeah.” Caleb hesitated, again. “We did.”

He shrugged. “I’ll show you to your room. The Gorgon is right next to you. Most of the other women are bunking in the nearby warehouse, but I thought you’d want a room to yourself...”

Thank you.” Emily knew it was probably a bad precedent—Sergeant Miles had taught her that it could be dangerous if one person had special privileges—but she was too tired to care. Much. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

You will,” Caleb promised. “Everyone is looking forward to the move.”

Me too,” Emily said. She looked down at her hands. “I want to get started.”


 

 

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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
  Graduation Day  book 14
  Alassa's Tale  book 14.5
  The Princess in the Tower  book 15
  The Broken Throne  book 16
  Cursed  book 17
  Mirror Image  book 18

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.

 

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Mirror Image Copyright © 2019. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; Kindle; Kobo Books
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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