Read Work Experience (Schooled in Magic Book 4) Online
Authors: Christopher Nuttall
Tags: #magicians, #magic, #alternate world, #fantasy, #Young Adult, #sorcerers
(Schooled in Magic IV)
Christopher G. Nuttall
Twilight Times Books
This is a work of fiction. All concepts, characters and events portrayed in this book are used fictitiously and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Christopher G. Nuttall
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Twilight Times Books
P O Box 3340
Kingsport TN 37664
First Edition, October 2014
Cover art by Brad Fraunfelter
Published in the United States of America.
HE FIRST THING OLD MOTHER HOLLY
knew, when she snapped awake, was that she was no longer alone.
The second thing she knew was that the intruder had cast a complex spell on her. She couldn’t move a muscle, apart from her mouth. Even her eyes refused to open.
But she refused to panic. At fifty years of age, most of them spent living in her shack, Holly had little fear of death. It was just a part of life. Besides, the intruder had to be a powerful magician – he’d walked through her wards and protections without triggering any alarms – but it was unlikely that he meant her any real harm. If he had, he could have cut her throat before she ever woke up.
“Good morning,” a cultured voice said. It was male, but otherwise unfamiliar. A spell was probably being used to disguise the speaker. “I apologize for casting a spell on you, but I would prefer to remain unknown.”
“I am sure of it,” Holly said, dryly. “And why, exactly, have you invaded my home?”
“I came to make you an offer,” the voice said. There was a
as something was dumped onto the rickety table. “An offer of power.”
Holly snorted. She’d heard such offers before. Hedge Witches lived closer to the untamed wild magic than any of the snooty graduates of Whitehall, Mountaintop or the other magical academies. She’d seen her first demon before she even had her first blood.
And she knew what
wanted. “And all you want in exchange is my soul?”
“Not at all,” the voice assured her. “I merely wish you to use what I bring you.”
Holly didn’t believe him. In her experience, nothing was ever given for nothing. There was always something desired in exchange, no matter how many pretty words might be used to hide it. And power always came with a price.
The voice became seductive. “Have you never wished for more power?”
Holly would have nodded, if she had been able to move. She’d been born to a poor family in a poor village. Only a talent for magic had saved her from being sold or married off as soon as she first passed blood. But she had never been powerful enough to go to one of the academies. Instead, she had learned from the local Hedge Witch and, when the elderly woman had died, Holly had taken her place.
But it was a frustrating job. People relied on her and were terrified of her in equal measure. They begged for her help and whispered about her behind her back. And no matter what she did, she knew she couldn’t help all of them. She had dedicated her life to the folk of the mountains, yet it was never enough. And the demons knew how she felt. It was why they kept coming to her, tempting her with dreams of power.
“Yes,” she said aloud.
“These are the tools of a magician who garnered power,” the voice said. He tapped something that sounded like wood. “A skull of memories. A book of spells. And a knife of power.”
“I can’t read,” Holly confessed.
There was a chuckle from the darkness. “The New Learning hasn’t spread this far yet, has it?”
He cleared his throat, then pressed on before Holly could ask him what he meant. “Don’t worry,” he assured her. There was an easy confidence in his voice that both puzzled and alarmed her. How long had he been spying on her to have such an accurate idea of her capabilities? “The skull will provide all the guidance you need. All I ask in return is that you help the folk of the mountains.”
Holly clenched her teeth, pressing against the spell. It refused to break. “Why...why are you doing this?”
“Because someone has to,” the voice said. It was a delightfully uninformative answer. “And because the people need help. You know how powerless they are.”
He was right, Holly knew. The mountainfolk scrabbled to make a living from the soil. What little they had was taxed, often heavily, by the lords of the high castles. Their sons were pressed into armies, their daughters often forced into effective prostitution; entire families had been broken up because their masters decided that it was necessary. Hedge witch or no, Holly had never been in a position to stop the aristocrats from bullying the common folk. If she’d tried, she knew the aristocrats would have called for a magician from the academies to deal with her. All she could do was watch.
But if she were offered the power to change it, would she?
She had to admit that she probably
. The only reason the aristocrats held power was that they were powerful, not because they had any intrinsic right to rule. If she had more power, she could make them bend to her will. And then she could ensure that the mountainfolk had a chance to live free.
“Good luck,” the voice said.
The spell unraveled moments later. Holly’s eyes jerked open, but all she saw was the cramped interior of her shack. Her tutor had told her that a hedge witch shouldn’t crave luxury; the shack was barren, apart from a pile of blankets, a table, a handful of shelves and a small fireplace. The shelves were crammed with potion ingredients Holly had collected herself. She stumbled to her feet and looked around, sharply. Her vast family of cats seemed to have vanished.
Carefully, she tested the wards. As far as she could tell, they were intact. But the intruder had walked right through them.
She looked down at the table and scowled. As the voice had promised, there was a skull, a book...and a knife. The skull glittered with magic of a kind Holly had never seen before – she resolved to be careful when trying to use it – and the book seemed impenetrable. But it was the knife that caught her attention. It was a long dagger, with odd runes carved into the blade...
...And it was made of stone.
HE ROOM LOOKED PERFECTLY SAFE. EMILY
was suspicious at once.
She stepped into the room, hand raised in a defensive posture. Magic crackled over her fingertips as she glanced around, looking for unexpected surprises. Blackhall was
with traps, some magical, some mundane; the merest touch could trigger something that would explode in her face. And, with Emily the only student in the building, the traps could be keyed to her personally.
The room was empty, save for a slender tree that grew out of a pot and climbed up through a hole in the ceiling. Emily eyed it doubtfully, then cast a series of magic-detection spells. The tree was completely out of place, so out of place that she suspected that it was part of a trap. And yet it just seemed to be a perfectly normal tree...
Puzzled, she inched over towards the door on the far side of the room and cast another detection spell. The door itself seemed safe, but there was a powerful spell on the doorknob, one keyed to touch. The moment she touched it, she would unleash...what? So far, Blackhall’s defenses had included everything from stunning spells to immediate eviction from the building. Emily couldn’t count the number of times she’d touched the wrong thing and triggered something.
She glanced behind her and swore under her breath. The door through which she had entered was gone. The only way out was through the sealed door. Absently, she tested the walls – she’d escaped once by blasting through the walls – and discovered that they were held firmly in place by magic. Clearly, Sergeant Miles wasn’t about to allow her to use the same trick twice.
There was no time for further reflection. Kneeling down beside the door, she started to work on the spell guarding the doorknob. She expected it to be tricky – the sergeants were brilliant at inventing complex puzzles – but the spell unraveled almost as soon as she touched it with her magic. Emily blinked in surprise; that had really been
easy. And then she sensed the second spell coming to life. A second spell had been hidden behind the first, waiting for the first spell to be removed. Emily threw up her hands as a wave of magic surged out at her. But it was too late.
She felt the spell strike her, warping her body. The experience wasn’t painful, but it was thoroughly uncomfortable – and interfered with her own magic. She saw hairs sprouting on her bare arms a moment before her head started to swim, her perspective changing rapidly. Her vision faded, then recovered. The room suddenly seemed a
, she thought, as she looked down at herself.
I’m a cat
Feline instincts crashed into her mind a moment later. Prank spells provided their victim with protections against losing their minds, but the sergeants had obviously gone for something nastier. Emily found herself leaping across the room before her mind quite caught up with what she was doing. The tree she’d dismissed as unimportant suddenly looked great fun to climb. She looked up, remembering that the tree led out of the room. If Sergeant Miles hadn’t come to get her, she might not have failed...yet.
She climbed up the tree, marveling inwardly at how nimble the cat-form was, then slipped into the crack in the roof. Inside, there was a long low passageway, smelling of something that alarmed her feline side. Emily concentrated – it would be far too easy to lose herself inside the cat’s mind – and forced her way onwards, hoping and praying that the spell wouldn’t wear off while she was in the passageway. If she was lucky, she would end up trapped; if she was unlucky, her human body wouldn’t be able to fit into the passageway...
There was a faint hissing sound – her fur stood on end – and then the snake came into view, sliding towards her with deadly intent. She was probably imagining it, she told herself, but the snake seemed to look
. Beady eyes fixed on her as it advanced. Her cat-form shuddered, then went still. Emily remembered
The Jungle Book
and felt a flash of alarm, realizing just how the snake had caught its dinner. It had hypnotized the animals into walking right into its open mouth. Despite her human mind, she too had almost been hypnotized into waiting patiently to be devoured.
She braced herself – and jumped as soon as the snake lunged at her. There was a dull thud as its head struck the stone floor, followed by an angry hiss. Emily felt the feline side of her mind panic as she ran forward, past the writhing tail and out through another crack. The snake’s hisses seemed to grow louder, but it didn’t follow her out into the room. Emily wondered, absently, if the snake was actually part of the tests, before deciding that it probably was. The wards would have kept it out if the sergeants hadn’t wanted it there.