Title: City of Magi
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?
Grayson hesitated on the threshold of the Burrow Street entrance to the Magi Knights headquarters. In a few seconds, he would do something he hadn’t done in nearly ten years. He was going to walk into a building and tell the receptionist his real name. He wasn’t wearing a disguise. He wasn’t even going to use a fake accent. His hand clenched around the heart-cut raw stone in his pocket. If he muttered the right words after talking to the girl at the front desk, she would never remember him. It was tempting.
Feeling nervous and quite naked, Grayson stepped through the open door and walked over to the receptionist, a seventeen-year-old girl with a jaunty chin, an olive complexion, and bright red hair. Grayson knew her name: Ellen Mewes. She was an intern at MKHQ in her final year at Soame, hoping to go on to a military career. He also knew that under the desk, within easy reach of each of Ellen’s hands, there were two cast stones. One of the stones would sound the alarm, and no doubt bring a horde of soldiers, and maybe even a few knights, from a waiting guard room. The other stone, which she would activate second, would immobilize everybody in the room for twenty minutes. It comforted Grayson a little to think that he knew more about this girl than she would know about him.
She was reading the morning Ledger, barely paying attention to the entrance. Stifling a grimace, Grayson coughed to draw attention to himself.
Ellen finished her paragraph and looked up. “You’re not a knight,” she said.
“No, I’m not.”
“You don’t usually come in here.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I know everybody that works for the knights. At least, she knows,” Ellen said, gesturing to a rotating stone on the counter behind her. “And she doesn’t know you. For whom are you looking?”
“I have an appointment to see Lady Zia Locke,” Grayson said.
“That’s not what…” Ellen began. Her eyes widened and she began shuffling through the newspaper. She threw the local, rural, military, foreign, and sports sections on the floor before finding a piece of pink sticky paper. “What’s your name?” she asked, holding the paper close to her chest.
Grayson sighed, then pulled his actual passport from his pocket, turned to the page with his picture, and handed it to the girl.
“Say your name two more times, please.”
This would set his name and face perfectly into the public register for as long as he lived. Everyone with an identification system in place would be able to recognize his face. He was officially killing his anonymity in government buildings, at least when he wasn’t disguised on many levels. His stomach lurched.
“Grayson Kearney. Grayson Kearney.” It was done.
“Around the hall on your left, take the lift up to the fifth floor. Her office is on the left when you get out.”
“Thank you,” Grayson said and started off down the hall.
“Welcome to MKHQ, Mr. Kearney,” she shouted after him.
After he was hired, he could have snuck in to the office on days when he needed to be here. Nobody on Zia’s team would have been wise to it. They were expecting him to come. So why bother? Was it really worth it so that they could follow him one day, as he knew Zia would send someone to do? If they found out, he could explain that it was easier for him to work this way. They wouldn’t have been able to pay him if he wasn’t registered, but he didn’t really need the money. What he’d be making here was a pittance compared to what his operations across the continent brought in.
When it came down to it, Grayson had given up his name because he needed something less quantifiable. He was in Zia’s employ, and to an extent she wanted things done by the book. He would get his leeway, he knew, but if he wanted Zia to ever trust him, there were some lines he simply could not cross. Small as it may seem, registering at the front desk was most likely one of them.
Just before the fifth bell, Grayson felt the lift slowing and focused his attention on the situation at hand, rather than decisions made in the past. The doors opened and revealed a grey tiled floor and boring white walls with blue patterns, scarcely more artistic than lines twisting about each other in a short, pathetic dance every couple of feet. The upper stories had wood-paneling and great works of art hung so close together it was nearly wallpaper, but new knights had to rough it out for a while before they earned the luxuries associated with seniority.
The working life. It wasn’t anything Grayson had ever experienced as himself. There had been many times where it was necessary to work his way into an organization, but even then he wouldn’t go all the time. Cella, Madi, and he would switch off the disguises so they would all be able to see every part of the operation, no matter which was actually their own. That could be arranged now, but with so many powerful magi about, someone might notice if Cella or Madi came in disguised as Grayson. He could never ask them to register and give up their identities as he had done. They’d have to work from the outside, this time.
Grayson paused, just down the hall from the open door to Zia Locke’s office suite. The knot in his stomach would be comical if it didn’t make him so nauseous. From the minute he walked through that door, he would no longer be in complete control of everything that occurred. Grayson had been careful in choosing Zia, but the fact was that he needed her help as much as she needed his. Her actions would be crucial in what was to come.
~ * ~
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!