This kind of hasn’t quite worked out the way I wanted to, but I promised, so here goes. In case you missed it on Monday, I promised a preview of my third novel as a tie in with Fantasy Review Barn’s Tough Traveling entry on Fairgrounds. Why? Because the protagonist of my third novel is an acrobat and juggler, and they tend to be fairly omnipresent in fairgrounds (fantasy ones at least). I have a little section where he practices his arts, and I was going to post it as a sneak preview.
I soon found a problem with that, which is that that particular section when taken out of context is actually pretty boring. Rather than boring my readers (which I probably did on Monday anyway) I have chosen a different section instead, but since this is a magical duel between both my protagonists it would have fitted far better with the Tough Traveling guide entry from two weeks ago: City of Wizards. Especially since this scene takes place at the Academy, which is my big School for Wizards. Except they’re sorcerers in my world.
But yeah, anyway, I fail at posting appropriate content. I hope you’ll like this sneak preview anyway, and please please bear in mind that this is from the first draft, so it’s unedited, unvetted, unbeta-readered, and generally un-everythinged.
The Coup – Excerpt from Chapter Six.
Dusk had fallen outside, and the first stars were just about visible. Aya strode over to a flat area often used as an impromptu duelling ground – but currently empty – and whirled around to face me. “Right. I don’t know what’s been bothering you, but I’ve had it up to here with it. Just have at me and get it out of your system.”
“Get… What? What do you mean? You want me to fight you?”
“We’ll have a magical duel. No holds barred. I’m sick and tired of you sniping at me, so just have it all out.” She planted her fists on her hips and lifted her chin at me, and irritation reared its head inside me.
“Have it all out, eh?” I snapped. “Because I have no right to be annoyed with you, is that it?”
“I don’t see why you should, no, but clearly that makes no difference to you. Come on, have at me. Just be warned that I’ll give it all I’ve got.”
“Right. And you think you can beat me with all you’ve got?”
“I don’t give a fuck, right now I just want to hurt you. Are you going to just stand there and argue with me? You’ve done nothing else for the past week and a half! Fucking fight me!”
Fury suffused me, for if anyone ought to feel hard done by it was me. She hadn’t had her comfortable life turned upside down; she hadn’t been seduced by a manipulative vixen; she wasn’t being primed for the Gods knew what villainy by a power-hungry sorceress. “You want a fight?” I growled. “Fine. Just don’t whine if I kick your irritating, duplicitous arse.”
Her mouth fell open. “Duplicitous?” she said, but I raised my hand and cast a push-ward at her. It caught her full in the chest and she fell back with an ‘oof’ of expelled breath, and while she scrabbled back up I cast a protective ward around me.
I was barely in time; she wasn’t even fully upright when she cast a fireball at me, and although I flinched, I suppressed the urge to try and duck away and let it wash over me instead.
The ward kept out most of its destructive power, but it was still uncomfortably hot, and I made a mental note to try and drain the heat next time she tried it. In one smooth motion I reinforced the depleted ward and thought-cast a heavy sleep spell at her.
She smiled grimly when it slid off her own protective ward, and cast two binding wards at me in quick succession. I managed to counter them both – she had aimed them at both my ankles – but tried not to give away that the second one had been a close call. I had not expected her to be a proficient ambidextrous caster.
Stupid, I chided myself. Kai will have taught her all sorts of dirty tricks. As if to prove that point she aimed a small but highly precise shove-ward at my crotch. I doubled over in agony, sinking to my knees, and barely had enough presence of mind to bring up a barrier ward in front of me.
“Oh dear, did that hurt? I’m so sorry,” Aya sneered, and I gritted my teeth and blinked the tears from my eyes.
“Barely felt it,” I managed to say as I planted one foot in front of me. As expected, Aya did not give me any quarter, trying to dispel the barrier I’d just raised, but she failed and I fought through the pain to hit her with two binding wards. One of them I used to yank at her ankles, while with the other I pulled at her shoulder to get her off-balance. She landed hard on her backside, and I took the opportunity to stand back up.
I eyed her warily, trying to decide on my next move, and was caught unawares when she launched herself bodily at me, ducking down at the last moment to headbutt me in the stomach. It left me breathless, but the manoeuvre distracted her enough that it gave me the chance to wrap her in full body bind.
She dropped to the ground again, completely motionless, though I could feel her trying to fight off the spell. “Had enough yet?” I asked. “Just say the word.”
Her eyes shot daggers at me, and if anything her mental struggle intensified. Then another fireball exploded around me, and I dropped the binding ward in surprise.
“Hey, wow, you did it!” I exclaimed, but then everything went black as she hit me full on with a sleep spell.
“One hit each,” she said when she woke me back up, before taking a few steps back and dropping into a defensive crouch.
I sighed. Clearly she wasn’t finished yet, so I threw all caution to the wind and hit her with a barrage of spells. Some I thought-cast and for some I used the appropriate focus, but I left not a breath of time between them, and Aya managed to only counter about half. I hit her with push-wards, binds, barriers and sleeps, and any time one of the latter ones landed I woke her again within a heartbeat, leaving her no time to regroup.
Despite that her face remained grimly determined, and she kept throwing out her own spells whenever she could find a gap in my defences. I sustained a few painful hits in my ribs – she really was a master at highly precise push-wards – but most of her magic slid off on my protective body-ward, even if I had to keep reinforcing it.
When another sleep spell landed I body-bound her again before I woke her up, and stood over her, panting. “Now have you had enough?”
“No!” she shouted. “I’m not leaving here until you’ve worked off that frustration and I know what the fuck your problem is!”
“Not! Going! To happen!” I shouted back. “Why shouldn’t I be frustrated? I’m being manipulated left, right and centre! I have a crazy sorceress trying to recruit me for her evil world-conquering, a spymistress wanting me to stop her from doing that, and all the while I have to pretend to be in love with someone whose every interaction with me has been fake right from the start! I don’t even fucking know the real you!”
Her eyes widened and her mouth rounded into a perfect ‘O’ of surprise, and in a fit of further frustration I dropped the ward and turned my back to her, raking my hand through my hair.
“I don’t know what you–” I began, but then another push-ward hit me in the back and I stumbled, barely keeping my balance.
“Fight me, you coward,” Aya hissed, aiming another binding ward at my ankles, and with a growl I launched into another barrage of spells. She did better this time, but I was beginning to tire, and knew I was on my last reserves. I breathed a sigh of relief when my next sleep spell knocked her out again, and crawled over to her to wake her back up.
“Come on, it’s enough now,” I said, but her eyes didn’t open.
Annnd, that’s it! Hopefully that makes you a little curious about what’s going on, and I have also given away the big thing that I was hoping to keep a secret, even though I kinda knew that it was impossible. (But if you don’t notice what it is then I’m not going to tell you!) Unfortunately you’ll have to wait a few more months to find out the full story, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think. =)