The Master of Magic (Paperback)
The Master of Magic (Paperback)
Book 4 in The Portal Wars Saga
After a long and brutal conflict, the war is over. Otto controls all the portals on the continent and Garenland has made vassals of the other kingdoms.
But some people can’t accept defeat.
While Otto hunts King Villares in Rolan, Axel chases Prince Uther across Straken. With Markane scheming to help their enemies, the future of the New Garen Empire is far from certain.
Even worse, the Wizards Guild is challenging Otto for leadership of the empire’s wizards and they’ll use any means necessary to win.
The war may be over, but the battles are far from won.
Summer had finally arrived in the new empire and Otto was thoroughly enjoying the warm weather. Nearly freezing to death in Straken had given him a greater appreciation for heat. And speaking of heat, Villares had been turning it up on the southern border.
The former king of Rolan was now a bandit lord. His forces had struck half a dozen times across the border, hitting small villages and a caravan that decided to try and trade with Rolan despite repeated warnings and the unsettled climate. Happily, that had been a caravan run by a Franken competitor, so Otto’s family suffered no loss. Not that Otto could simply let matters stand. An attack on any Garenland merchant was an insult that couldn’t be allowed to go unanswered.
Which was why he found himself once again riding south on a hard wagon seat beside Hans. At least the wagon didn’t bounce much with the heavy armor in the bed. The rest of the squad was behind them in their own wagons. Otto didn’t know how much use the magical suits of armor would be in a fight on the open plains, but he felt better having them along. The guys were all back in their official uniforms and mail armor. There was no point in pretending to be mercenaries now.
The small group was joined by Oskar, the Rolan infiltrator; Corina, the skinny girl that appeared stuck to him; and ten Rolan wizards eager to repay Villares for his treatment of their families. Five thousand spearmen taken from the Southern Army, along with all their supplies and followers, were somewhere behind the main group. Otto didn’t expect to encounter a large force until they crossed the border. When that happened, the group would be forced to travel at the pace of the infantry.
“There it is, my lord.” Hans pointed at a small town on the horizon.
Otto grimaced. Grunewald, once Garenland’s southernmost village and now the invaders’ base. Since the raids had resumed, Otto felt no guilt in slaughtering every Rolan soldier in the place. Well, maybe not all of them, he’d need a few to question. The trick was going to be doing it without killing their own citizens. Today, burning the whole village to the ground wasn’t an option. Pity really, fire could only improve the miserable place.
“Don’t get too close,” Otto said. “I want to have a look around before we go in.”
Hans pulled into a clearing just off the road. There was barely enough room for all five wagons. As soon as they stopped, Otto extended his sight towards the village. He’d scarcely reached the edge of town when Corina asked, “What are you doing? I can see a long line of ether stretching from your eyes.”
“Forgive me, Lord Shenk,” Oskar said. “She came over before I could stop her.”
“It’s fine,” Otto said. He found he liked the girl’s curiosity. It reminded him of himself when he began his journey as a wizard. “I’ve extended my sight through the ether so I can see what’s happening in the village. Be quiet for a moment while I look around.”
The girl obliged, allowing him to spy in peace. She was a clever girl, always eager to learn. She also knew enough to obey his orders. He didn’t mind giving her pointers, but there was a time and place for instruction and this wasn’t it.
Focusing on his task, Otto looked around the village. Nothing much had changed since his last visit. The buildings were still run down, the people outside still sullen and scowling. More Rolan soldiers clustered on street corners and now they wore their brown uniforms. Seeing as how everyone knew they ruled the village, there probably wasn’t much point pretending.
Otto went straight for the stone building Captain Mendelson called his headquarters. Slipping through the stone walls, Otto found the man himself and half a dozen officers gathered around a map of Rolan and Garenland. There were some marks he didn’t recognize, but given the position of the ones in Garenland, he assumed they were indicating where recent battles had taken place. If there was more intelligence to be gathered, Otto wanted it all.
And the only way he was going to get it was to sneak in and take Mendelson by surprise.
Otto blinked and returned his sight to his body. “We’ll go in tonight. Let’s find somewhere to hide the wagons.”
On the plains, their options were limited. The best they could do was a swale a quarter mile off the road. Combined with the wizards creating an illusion to hide their tracks, it should suffice until sunset.
A camp chair gave Otto a modicum of comfort as he settled in to wait. He’d barely sat when Corina came over and joined him. “How about another lesson?”
“Didn’t one of the Rolan wizards offer to teach you the basics?”
“Yes, but I don’t like the way he looks at me. I’ve caught him staring at my chest twice when he thought I wasn’t paying attention.” She shuddered.
Otto couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to stare at her flat chest, but whatever. He didn’t have anything better to do until the sun set. “Have you managed a solid thread yet?”
She held out her hand and a wavering, indistinct thread of ether formed above her palm. Corina’s thin face scrunched up in concentration as she made it thicker and more solid.
At last she blew out a long breath and the thread vanished. “That’s the best I can do.”
Otto shook his head. “Still too thin. You need to make it about twice as thick if you want to accomplish anything. Just keep practicing, you’ll get there.”
She glowered at him. “I’ve been practicing for months and I can’t even manage a single spell. How am I supposed to fight like this?”
“I trained for two years under a dedicated master, six days a week, before I could conjure a usable thread. Now I’ll grant you that my master was deliberately trying to hold me back and I was only eight years old at the time, but even so, mastering magic is a time-intensive thing. At the beginning, even the simplest task will exhaust you in seconds. It’s no different from learning any new skill. You wouldn’t expect to fight a duel after only a few months of sword training, would you?”
“Of course not, it’s just frustrating. I want to help hunt down King Villares and if I can’t use magic, what use am I?”
Otto didn’t have a good answer for her. If he was being honest, he would have gladly left her behind with Master Enoch to teach her. She had come with Oskar to the capital so he could make a report before they began the invasion. When she found out a mission to hunt down Villares was setting out, she’d shown up and joined them at the portal. He understood how she was feeling and didn’t send her away. Perhaps seeing Villares lose his head would help her accept the death of her parents.
As for her being useful in the hunt, there were plenty of things people wanted to do that they weren’t capable of doing. Despite his best efforts, Otto had reached a ceiling in his own training. He kept pushing, but much like when he reached his personal limit, he was having trouble breaking through.
That wouldn’t stop him from continuing to train, but it was frustrating.
“You just have to do your best, the same as the rest of us.”