Authors: Christopher Nuttall
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy
A head full of secrets, an unknowing destiny
Elaine is an orphan girl who has grown up in a world where magical ability brings power. Her limited talent was enough to ensure a magical training but she’s very inexperienced and was lucky to get a position working in the Great Library. Now, the Grand Sorcerer – the most powerful magician of them all – is dying, although initially that doesn’t make much difference to Elaine; she certainly doesn’t have the power to compete for higher status in the Golden City. But all that changes when she triggers a magical trap and ends up with all the knowledge from the Great Library – including forbidden magic that no one is supposed to know – stuffed inside her head. This unwanted gift doesn’t give her greater power, but it does give her a better understanding of magic, allowing her to accomplish far more than ever before.
It’s also terribly dangerous. If the senior wizards find out what has happened to her, they will almost certainly have her killed. The knowledge locked away in the Great Library was meant to remain permanently sealed and letting it out could mean a repeat of the catastrophic Necromantic Wars of five hundred years earlier. Elaine is forced to struggle with the terrors and temptations represented by her newfound knowledge, all the while trying to stay out of sight of those she fears, embodied by the sinister Inquisitor Dread.
But a darkly powerful figure has been drawing up a plan to take the power of the Grand Sorcerer for himself; and Elaine, unknowingly, is vital to his scheme. Unless she can unlock the mysteries behind her new knowledge, divine the unfolding plan, and discover the truth about her own origins, there is no hope for those she loves, the Golden City or her entire world.
ALSO BY CHRISTOPHER NUTTALL
The Royal Sorceress
First published in Great Britain by Elsewhen Press, 2013
An imprint of Alnpete Limited
Copyright © Christopher Nuttall, 2013.
All rights reserved
The right of Christopher Nuttall to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, telepathic, magical, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. The font Yataghan was designed by Daniel Midgley.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978-1-908168-22-1 Print edition
ISBN 978-1-908168-32-0 eBook edition
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This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
Elsewhen Press & Planet-Clock Design are trademarks of Alnpete Limited
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, libraries, and events are either a product of the author’s fertile imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, repositories, places or people (living, dead or undead) is purely coincidental.
Converted to eBook format by Elsewhen Press
To my wife Aisha, in love and gratitude
Alone in the darkness, he waited.
He had long since become accustomed to the gloom, even though he cursed it with every breath he took through his ravaged throat. The power that had once raised him high – which had made him among the strongest of sorcerers, the masters of the world – was all that kept him alive. It was a bitter irony that all of his power, all of the secrets he had won through dangerous research into the limits of magic, could no longer be used for anything else. The final curse from his enemy or an unexpected gift from his own patrons, there was no way to know. All that mattered was that he could not die.
Time moved quickly in the unchanging darkness. It had been years as mortals reckoned time since his final, catastrophic defeat, yet he could not help playing and replaying the struggle for power over and over again in his mind. If he’d done this, if he’d done that...but the one thought he never allowed himself to have was what would have happened if he’d chosen to avoid the temptations magic promised. To be someone happy, but small; never to have involved himself with the destiny of the entire world...it was a fate worse than death, worse than facing the ten million devils baying for his soul. He could not have avoided his reach for power, even knowing his possible fate. Power was all that had driven him for a very long time.
It had driven him to ruin. He had long since overcome the pangs of hunger or thirst; his magic kept him alive, against all reason. His soul remained chained in a body permanently on the verge of death. Madness had threatened more than once, assailing his mind and offering permanent release from torment, yet he refused to take the final step and plunge into the abyss. He didn’t want to die, or to lose himself. It was all that kept him together.
And there was the plan.
It had started life as a fantasy, one of many of the dreams of revenge that tormented him as he lay still and unmoving in the dark hall. He had returned to it again and again, until it had finally penetrated his mind that the plan was no fantasy. His power to influence the outside world was limited, subtle rather than the vast magical acts he had performed before his fall from grace, but it existed. Slowly, wary of signs that his enemies were waiting for him to reveal himself before destroying him, he reached out with his mind. Putting the pieces into play had required great care and the plan had come close to disaster more than once, but he was patient. His immortality, once a curse, allowed him to work slowly where mortal minds would have demanded speed.
A seed, planted in fertile soil. Promises made to those unable to see the long game. The slow corruption of those who believed themselves immune to vice. A hint of power here, an offer of wealth there...piece by piece, the tools came together. His influence reached back towards the home of his enemies and slowly intruded into their sphere. No one saw his hand behind a series of coincidences. They would never have believed in his existence without conclusive proof, and no one had laid eyes on him for hundreds of years.
And slowly, but surely, the endgame came into view.
It was time to knock over the first domino...
And then a mighty empire would come tumbling down.
The sun rose above the Watchtower, scattering rays of light down towards the Golden City below. As the light glittered off the shining temples, the voices of the priests rose in greeting to the morning light. The bells, each one a representation of a different god, rang out, sending a glistening crescendo across the city. It seemed to hang in the air, echoing off the five mountains that surrounded the metropolis, before slowly fading away into a deafening silence. In its wake, the sound of the city coming to life seemed dull and faded. Nothing could compete with the morning chorus.
Elaine No-Kin cursed the morning as she tried to close her eyes and go back to sleep. The tiny apartment seemed too warm, even in the mornings, but it was all that they were able to afford. She tossed and turned as she pulled the blanket back over her head, knowing that it was futile. It was already too late to go back to sleep. The sound of Daria getting up and coming into Elaine’s room only reminded her that she had to get up herself.
“Get up, you lazy thing,” Daria called, as she tugged at Elaine’s blanket. “I don’t think you dare be late again, do you?”
“No,” Elaine said. She’d been reprimanded twice for being late, even though it hadn’t really been her fault. But no one was interested in excuses, not in the Golden City. There was no shortage of trained, but untalented magicians to do the work their betters chose to ignore. “I don’t want to be late at all.”
Daria snorted as Elaine released the blankets. She was already standing in front of the mirror, studying her reflection as she donned her enchanted earrings and necklace. Elaine felt a hot flash of envy – her friend’s redheaded looks brought no shortage of admirers – before swinging her legs off the bed and standing up. There was no time to waste admiring Daria, or cursing her own mundane appearance. She walked out of the bedroom and into the bathroom, splashing cold water on her face to wash away the last traces of drowsiness. There were spells to wake oneself up, without ill effects, but she’d never been able to master them.
, the voice of one of her tutors whispered in her ear,
magic has a price
Elaine shrugged off the memory as she walked back and stood in front of the mirror, glaring at herself. She saw a mousy girl with light brown hair, dark eyes and a slightly oversized nose, one large enough to suggest that one of her parents – whoever they’d been – had been an aristocrat. It had certainly been suggested by the other children at the orphanage, and later by her classmates at the Peerless School. They’d taunted her for being motherless since the day they’d realised that no one was interested in adopting her. In truth, Elaine wasn’t entirely sure why she’d been accepted into the Peerless School. Her magical talent was very limited, barely more than any hedge witch. A hedge witch would probably be more useful than her to anyone who needed genuine magic.
She pulled off her nightdress and reached for her tunic and shirt. As a graduate of the Peerless School, she was entitled to wear black, but she’d never felt the urge to show off her very limited talent. Instead, she wore subdued brown that matched her hair. It was strictly functional. She didn’t have the money to waste on adorning herself.
“I may be home late tonight,” Daria said. “Jade was talking about going to the Arena, and then to one of his favourite eateries. And after that...who knows?”
Elaine felt herself flush. An upbringing in the orphanage hadn’t prepared her for the life of a free woman in the Golden City, although she didn’t really want to go out dancing and enjoying herself with young men. Or so she told herself; in truth, part of her would have loved to go out and just lose all of her inhibitions. She looked over at Daria, who was donning a red dress that showed off enough of her legs and chest to make Elaine blush. Her friend seemed to have a knack for meeting people and making friends that Elaine lacked.
“Have fun,” she said, automatically. Daria didn’t notice, but then she never did. She was a good friend, perhaps the best friend Elaine had, yet she never seemed to notice when anything was wrong. “Try not to catch anything you don’t want to catch.”
Daria chuckled as she headed into the small kitchen. “I’ll keep myself safe,” she promised. “And you’d better be off. Miss Prim will have you transfigured into something more useful if you’re late again.”
Elaine nodded, picking up her wand and placing it into the small holster hidden within her sleeve. Most magicians hid their wands in dimensional pockets, where they could be retrieved at a moment’s notice, but Elaine had never had the skill or patience for such complex spells. Besides, it sometimes came in handy not to have to cast a spell to recover her wand. Without it, she was barely capable of any magic at all.
“Have fun,” she said, again. Daria
her friend, after all. “I’ll try not to wait up for you.”
The hex on the door hissed at her as she placed her hand on the knob, reluctantly recognising her signature and allowing her to exit. Even combining their resources, they hadn’t been able to afford an apartment in the better parts of the city, not when the entire population of the Empire seemed determined to move to the Golden City. The landlord charged incredibly high rates, too high for her to afford if she were to lose her job. She silently cursed him as she walked down the stairs and out onto the streets. Whatever he did with the money he collected from his tenants, it didn’t include renovating the apartments. There was no security hex on the outer door.
As always, the streets were crowded with people trying to get to their workplaces or merely wandering the city, enjoying their chance to see the Empire’s capital. Elaine had to smile at the expressions on some of their faces as they gawked around, looking up at the Watchtower or down towards the Imperial Palace. History had been made in the Golden City, from the First Necromantic War to the disappearance of the Lost Prince. On every corner, a statue of some nobleman from the wars or particularly legendary wizard seemed to gaze down disapprovingly at the tourists infesting the streets. In their days, Elaine was certain, the Golden City had been truly golden.