Read the beginning of Blade of Tyshalle, the second instalment in New York Times bestselling author Matthew Stover's action fantasy series like no other.
The only way I can explain why you’ll never see me again is to tell you about Hari.
This is how I visualize the conversation that ended up pushing me into Hari Michaelson’s life. I wasn’t there—I don’t know the details—but the images in my head are vivid as a slap on the mouth; to be a good thaumaturge, your imagination must be powerful and detailed—and I’m the best the Conservatory has ever produced.
This is how I see it:
“It’s all here in the telemetry,” says Administrator Wilson Chandra, Chairman of the Studio Conservatory. He wipes the sweat from his palms on the hem of his Costanti chlamys and blinks through a stinging cloud of cigar smoke. He licks his lips—they’re thick, and always dry—as he looks down at the rows of trainee magicians who meditate with furious concentration below. I’m not in that class, by the way; these are beginners.
Chandra goes on: “He’s doing very well on the academics, you know, he has a fine grasp of Westerling and is coming along very well in First Continent cultural mores, but as you can see, he can barely maintain alpha, let alone moving to the beta consciousness required for effective spellcasting, and we, we’re working only with Distraction Level Two, approximately what he will find in, say, a private room in a metropolitan inn, and under these circumstances I simply don’t believe—”
“Shut up, will you?” says the other man on the techdeck. “Christ, you make me tired.”
“I, ahm . . .” Administrator Chandra runs a hand through his thinning hair, sweat-slick despite the climate control. “Yes, Businessman.”
Businessman Marc Vilo, the Patron of the student in question, rolls the thick stinking cigar around his mouth as he stumps forward to get a better view through the glass panel.
Businessman Vilo is a short, skinny, bowlegged man with the manners of a dockhand and the jittery energy of a fighting cock. I’ve seen him in the netfeatures plenty of times; he’s an unimpressive figure in his conservative jumpsuit and cloak, until you remember that he’d been born into a Tradesman family; he’d taken over the family business, a three-truck transport firm, and had built it into the Business powerhouse Vilo Intercontinental. Still only in his mid-forties, he had purchased his family’s contract from their Business Patron, bought his way into the Business caste, and was now one of the wealthiest men—outside the Leisure Families—in the Western Hemisphere. Netfeatures call him the Happy Billionaire.
This is why Administrator Chandra is here right now; normally the Administrator has much more important duties than entertaining visiting Patrons. But Vilo’s protégé—the very first he has ever sponsored into the Conservatory—is failing miserably and is about to wash out, and the Administrator wants to soothe the sting, and perhaps retain a certain degree of goodwill, in hopes that Vilo will sponsor further students in the future. This is a business he’s running here, after all. Sponsoring an Actor can be extremely lucrative, if the Actor becomes successful—just ask my father. The Administrator wants to make Vilo see that this is only a single failed investment, and is no reason to believe that further investments of this nature will also fail. “There is also, ehm, a, well, a certain history of disciplinary problems—”
“Thought I told you to shut up.” Vilo continues to stare down at his protégé, a slightly built boy named Hari Michaelson, nineteen years old, a Laborer from San Francisco.
The boy kneels on his meter-square mat of scuffed plastic, hands curled in Three Finger technique. Of the thirty students in the room, only he has his eyes closed. The monitors on his temples that feed data into the Conservatory computer tell the whole story: Despite the slow three-per-minute rhythm of his breath, his heart rate has surged over eighty, his adrenal production is 78 percent over optimal, and his EEG spikes like broken glass.
Vilo pulls the butt from his mouth. “Why in hell did you put him in the magick program anyway?”
“Businessman, we went over this when he was admitted. His memory and spatial-visualization test out in the low genius range. There is no question that he has the intellectual equipment to be a fine adept. However, he is emotionally unstable, prone to irrational rages, and is, ah, uncontrollably aggressive. There is a history of mental illness in his family, you know; his father was downcasted from Professional due to a succession of breakdowns.”
“Yeah?” Vilo said. “So what? I know this kid; he worked for me two years. Sure, he’s got a temper. Who doesn’t? He’s smart, and he’s tough as my goddamn boot heel.” He smiles, showing his teeth, predatory. “Kind of like me at his age.”
“You understand, Businessman, that we take these steps only to protect you from the expense of sponsoring a boy who will almost certainly perish on his first transfer.”
“So? That’s his problem, not mine. The money is—” He spits a shred of tobacco onto the carpet. “—not an issue.”
“He will simply never become an effective spellcaster. I’m sorry, but there are certain restrictions imposed by the Studio. The examinations administered by the Graduation Board are very stringent.”
Chandra makes a gesture as though to take the Businessman’s arm and lead him away. “Perhaps I can show you our newest pilot program, the priesthood school. This particular spellcasting variant has the advantage that the practitioner need enter the casting trance only under very controlled conditions—that is, under the guise of religious ritual—”
“Cut the crap.” Vilo stuffs his cigar back into his mouth. “I got a shitload of money in that kid out there. A shitload. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Studio’s restrictions, or the goddamn examinations. That kid is going to graduate from this toilet, and then he’s going to Overworld.”
“I’m afraid that’s simply impossible—”
“You gonna make a liar out of me?” Vilo’s eyes seem to retreat into his face, becoming small and dangerous. He hammers the next word. “Administrator?”
“Please, Businessman, you, you must understand, he’s been in the magick program fourteen months; we must either, either, ah, graduate him or wash him out in only ten more, and his, and his progress—”
Vilo goes back to the window; he’s more interested in the cherry on the end of his cigar than in Chandra’s stammer. “Your parents live in, what, Chicago, right? That nice old frame house on Fullerton, west of Clark.”
Chandra stands very still. Ice water trickles down his spine. “Yes, Businessman . . .”
“You gotta understand that I don’t make bad investments. You follow? Hari gets his shot.”
“Businessman, I—” Chandra says desperately, then with a massive exercise of will steadies his voice. “There are other options that can be explored . . .”
“Please, Businessman, perhaps I was too hasty in suggesting that Michaelson cannot succeed. He is, after all, in Battle Magick, which is the most difficult school, but it is the one place where his, erm, aggressive nature may work to his advantage. My idea—with your permission—is to provide him with a tutor.”
“He doesn’t have tutors? What the hell am I paying for?”
“Tutors, yes, of course, staff tutors. Michaelson doesn’t respond well to directed instruction. He, ah—” Chandra decides not to tell him of the brutal beating Michaelson had inflicted on Instructor Pullman. I knew about it, so did most of the students at the Conservatory; it was the best gossip we’d had all year. Chandra believes that issue is settled; and, really, the man had gotten no worse than he deserved. In Chandra’s mind, to make advances on a boy with Michaelson’s psychosexual dysfunctions had been irresponsible to the point of criminality. Speaking for the students—well, Pullman’s a nasty little groper; a lot of us wished we’d done what Michaelson did.
“I’m thinking more in terms of another student, someone who’d have no authority over him, who could, well—he doesn’t respond well to authority figures, as you might know—someone who could, well, be his friend.”
“What, he doesn’t have friends enough already?”
“Businessman,” Chandra says with a nervous laugh, “he doesn’t have any friends at all.”
And that’s when he decided to send for me.