Author: Michael McDuffee
Series: Magi Stone Series (Book 1)
Genre: Industrial-era Fantasy
Publisher: Self Published
Release Date: July 25 2014
Edition/Formats Available In: Kindle
At the heart of Astosen, the city of Dein Astos stands as a bulwark for the free world, always on alert to battle Valania’s attempts to bring the republic under continental dominance. Sophisticated and diverse, driven by magic, money, and information, this city of magi teems with tea houses, government agencies, exclusive clubs and risky districts.
Alexander Locke, a great Magi Knight and the hero of the republic, lies dead. His daughter, Zia Locke, reluctantly rises to power, unaware that her father may not have died of natural causes, as everyone believes.
That is, until she is artfully maneuvered into meeting the mysterious and abundantly self-assured Grayson Kearney. A keen judge of character and cunning magus, Grayson rocks Zia's world in more ways than one as he helps tear away the veil of ignorance from her eyes. From lifelong friends to sworn enemies, the new leader of the House of Locke is discovering that anyone could be the next to betray her. What Zia needs is a good intelligence officer at her side. But when everyone has a hidden agenda, can she truly place her trust in Grayson?
“Is the Councilor in his conference room?” Keegan asked.
“No,” the woman said. “But you can wait for him there. Do you need me to show you the way?”
“Of course not,” Zia said. The woman gave a shallow bow and stepped out of their way as they followed Zia through the greeting room and down a hallway adorned with priceless paintings of mountains, ships, and rivers. There were no people in any of the paintings.
“Shouldn’t we have turned—” Keegan started to ask.
“If Kelley isn’t in the conference room, then he’s in the kitchen,” she said as she took them around a corner to a grand, slate-floored kitchen.
At the second stove knelt one Jeremy Kelley, gray, thinning hair just visible over an island as he reached into the stove.
She rapped her knuckles against the wall. “Councilor Kelley,” she said.
“One second, Zia. Or Lady Locke, I suppose, since you’re here on business,” Kelley said. He grunted as he stretched his arm further back into the oven, nudging a small brown blob over by a fraction of an inch. “I’ve tried five times in the last week to get these damn spice biscuits to come out right and I’m not going to screw the pooch this time by having the dough spaced wrong.”
They waited as he nudged and tugged on two dozen little brown blobs of dough before gritting his teeth and pushing himself to his feet. He flicked the oven door closed with his foot and stretched his back.
“Perfecting a new recipe?” Zia asked.
Kelley grimaced. “Maudine said the other week that the new chef’s biscuits were better than I ever made. It’s one of those things that gets under my skin. I can never paint a proper landscape, but I always feel closest to being an actual artist when I’m in the kitchen.”
“Is Maudine in? I haven’t seen her in a while,” Zia said.
“No. She’s out at the spa. I’m not going to let her catch me cooking until I get it right.”
Kelley untied an apron, breaking the odd mixture of personalities reflected in his garb. His arms were still muscled like they had been back when he patrolled the streets, but they connected to a body that had grown a paunch and was starting to show its age. He wore a fine, blue, buttoned shirt, with a striped tie. Patches of flour on his sleeves broke the severity of his outfit, though. His wrinkled face gave way to a misshapen nose, broken one too many times in battle or training. There was a reason Kelley was Zia’s favorite politician, and it was written all over his gruff appearance.
“Nice to see you again, Lieutenant Thynne,” Kelley said.
Keegan gave a short bow. “Likewise, Councilor. Though it’s Captain now.”
Kelley nodded in return. “My apologies Captain.” He studied Zia’s other two companions and stuck his chin out at Xavier. “You must be a Shore. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look a lot like your sister.”
“You’ve met Arden?” Xavier asked. “I inspected her unit out in the Border Defense Force a few years ago. She stood out during combat demonstrations. Took down a guy his size,” he hooked a thumb at Keegan. “Haven’t seen a takedown like the one she did since. Do the two of you ever spar?”
“Often,” Xavier said.
“Well?” Kelley asked.
“I can assure you she never gets a takedown on me. Spends too much time practicing magic to keep up with me in the ring. I’m not burdened by a need to bother with figures and spells.”
Kelley chuckled. “Neither am I. Glad to meet someone else who knows how to make an advantage out of it. Bunch of guys at Talon Hall never thought I could make Commissioner without being a magus. None of them retired as Citizens.” He fixed a keen eye on Grayson. “That makes you the spy.”
“On my better days,” Grayson said. He extended a hand to Kelley, which the older Councilor shook firmly. “Grayson Kearney.”
“I understand we have you to thank for intercepting those explosives.”
“You have me to thank for knowing where they would be. There were many more involved in the interception, at least one of whom lost far more than did I,” Grayson said.
Zia noticed Keegan grimace at Grayson’s words.
“Were there many casualties then?” Kelley asked.
“Just the one,” Grayson said.
Kelley nodded. “Then give thanks for no more, but blessings on his—”
“Her,” Grayson corrected him.
“—her soul. In Their holy names, blessings upon her.” Kelley bowed his head and swept a circle in the air with his left hand, his right holding solemnly close to his chest.
Zia repeated the gesture, a common blessing for the dead. An uneasy moment of silence descended upon the group before Kelley spoke up.
“Enough about the past. We have matters of the future to speak of. Let’s head to the conference room. You know the way, Zia.”
They made their way out of the grand kitchen and down the hall. Kelley fell in beside Grayson.
“You must have a keen eye for people, Mr. Kearney. Tell me, what did you think of Amelie?”
“Do you mean the maid? Medium height, black hair, light tan Samolian skin?”
“Yes, that’s the one. She let you in, didn’t she?”
“The young painter on your porch, Darius, met us at the door. We only saw Amelie for a second. Why do you ask?”
“We only just hired her last week. I’m always nervous about getting the right people. She seems good enough, though I find it odd to be switching shifts in her second week on the job,” Kelly said. “I’d love to have the opinion of someone who makes a livi—”
“She switched shifts?” Grayson asked. “To this morning? When?”
The hair on the back of Zia’s neck stood on end at Grayson’s sudden shift in tone. She stopped on the threshold of the conference room door.
“When? I’m not sure I recall. Why would that—” Kelly started.
“Zia don’t move!” Grayson shouted.
Her stomach clenched when she saw his face, staring wide-eyed at her leg. He knelt slowly by her calf and took a deep breath. “Councilor Kelley, please tell me you have security beams.”
“Magi stones set in the doors to record who goes in and out of certain rooms. They send a simple, harmless beam from one to another until something living crosses their path,” Grayson explained.
“I don’t have any beams. What’s going on?” Kelley said.
Grayson pointed to a gleaming speck on the door frame by Zia’s ankle, then a matching speck on the opposite side.
“You’ve got one now.”
“What is it?” Kelley asked.
“It’s a beam trigger. Most people use them for alarm systems, but you could trigger whatever you want with the beam. Like a bomb.”
Michael McDuffee is a science fiction and fantasy author from Raleigh, North Carolina. He moved around the United States long after his formative years and spent time in Philadelphia, Seattle, and DC, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. His first series, Those Who Die Young, was designed and conceived to be published exclusively in online platforms, utilizing the freedom of the new distribution network to explore a story that would never have been possible before, the long-form serial.
His first feature novel, City of Magi, is a fantasy adventure set in a magically-powered industrial society. Get it exclusively on Kindle now!