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Tropes n' things
- Fire magi
- Sweet romance
- Set in England
- academy fantasy
- action & adventure
- full length novel
What could be more serious than her supernatural power coming between her and the man she loves?
A power struggle between Arcturus Academy and Firethorne Collegiate.
The stakes? The entire Chaplin estate and all of its assets.
Does Saxony have what it takes to save the future of her school while her relationship is in turmoil?
Read Fire Games and watch the sparks fly!
Arcturus Academy is an action-adventure series of five books by a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author. Saxony is a strong female heroine swept into a world of dizzying plot twists, sweet romance and intriguing mythology, all woven against a backdrop of elemental magic. If you like magical power plays, page-turning action, and the high of first love, then you’ll adore A.L. Knorr’s explosive series.
Read an Excerpt
Read an Excerpt
The hardwood floor of the lecture hall creaked underfoot as Gage and I snuck in and took a couple of seats in front of the Audio-Visual booth at the back of the room. Basil looked over from where he was pouring himself a cup of coffee at a side-table. I held my breath, thinking he might kick us out. This meeting was important. The means by which the future headmaster of Arcturus would step into their post would be determined here by committee.
Basil only smiled. Well, his mouth flattened into a line and a dimple indented his right cheek—an attempt at a smile.
The lecture hall creaked with every movement. Everything was made of ages-old oak and smelled of wood-polish and chalk. It was part of what I loved about the villa, a mixing of old-school and cutting-edge technology. But, I resisted the tug on my memory to relive the events in the abandoned mine. For me, the smell of chalk had forever changed.
Semi-circular platforms equipped with desks and benches looked down upon a low stage and podium. Sliding chalk-boards and an old wooden desk that probably weighed a ton sat upon the dais. In the space between the dais and the front row, chairs had been arranged around a circular table, at which sat the committee.
Babs shifted in her chair, tucking the edges of her snug-fitting teal dress under her hips. I had begun to wonder if she even owned a pair of trousers. A matching fascinator was pinned at a jaunty angle on her head. She looked like she’s stepped straight out of a WWII epic love story. I could now see what I hadn’t been able to see initially: a likeness to Basil. They shared high cheekbones and square chin, but outside of that, they didn’t look much alike.
Mr. Bunting sat beside Babs, and Dr. Price sat across from her. On the other side of Mr. Bunting sat three men I’d never seen before. I leaned toward Gage. “Who are they?”
He shrugged and whispered back, “One of them has to be the executor, right?”
Basil returned to the table with his coffee and took the remaining empty seat, across the table from Babs. He nodded at the gentleman in the pale green tweed suit sitting directly in front of the dais. The table was round, but something about this man suggested that he was the one in charge.
“Right, let’s begin. Shall we?” He stretched an arm out and bent it again look at his wristwatch. “It’s ten o’clock on the morning of Thursday, May 31, 2018. We are present here at Arcturus Academy—”
“Chaplin Manor and Estate,” Babs interjected.
He went on as though she hadn’t spoken. “Seated in Lecture Hall C. I am the host, Mr. Pendleton, the executor and trustee of the late Viscount Chaplin’s will and estate. Please state your names and positions for the record.” He gestured to a small camera on top of a tripod pointing at the group.
Mr. Pendleton had gestured for Basil to introduce himself, but Babs spoke first.
“Viscountess Barbara Chaplin, Headmaster of Firethorne Collegiate located east of London.”
Her minion removed his trusty notebook from inside his jacket pocket and set it on the table before him. He also produced a small wooden pencil as he spoke. “Mr. Bunting, Secretary at Firethorne Collegiate.”
“Basil Chaplin.” Basil took a sip of his coffee and set it down. “Headmaster of Arcturus Academy.”
Beside the trustee sat a sharp-faced man with sparkling eyes. His movements were quick, his body narrow and whipcord lean. He spoke quickly as his gaze darted about the room, missing nothing, including Gage and me. He spoke with a soft accent I couldn’t place.
“Mr. Zafer Guzelköy. Hacker, Cryptographer, Cryptanalyst and Code-Breaker for Arcturus Agency. Co-owner of SG.”
What is SG? Obviously everyone else knew the initials.
My stomach did a tumble. Wasn’t it premature to have such a specialist here? I’d thought the rules of the wager was what they were here to discuss. I looked over at Gage. He sat with one ankle propped on his knee, his fingers tapping his lips. He shrugged when I looked at him with an arched brow.
Beside the last fellow we didn’t know yet sat Dr. Price. She introduced herself, looking like she wished she was anywhere else.
The last man was huge, his bulk threatening to break the chair he sat in. He had a short dark beard, and a long ponytail. In contradiction with his beard, his hair was dark blond and threaded with gray at the temples. His pyramid shaped eyebrows sheltered glittering black orbs. He sat back with his arms crossed, looking relaxed. A tattoo peeked out from beneath one rolled up shirt-sleeve.
“Demir Davazlar,” he said, “Co-owner of SG.”
SG again? G for games?
I thought Davazlar looked more like a wrestler or an assassin than a game-designer. There was something attractive and unusual about the contrast he presented; a quiet demeanor with an imposing physical presence.
“Thank you.” Mr. Pendleton shifted the legal pad closer and made a note. “The purpose of this meeting is to agree the terms of a recent wager—”
“Do you mind if we call it a tournament or games?” Basil asked. “I hate the word wager.”
“They’re not uncommon in your world,” Mr. Pendleton replied. “I see no reason not to call it what it is.” Something about the way the trustee spoke told me he didn’t approve of the whole affair but had resigned himself to it. Being executor for the late viscount, he must have known the history of the triplets. Maybe he too thought there was no better way to settle things.
“He’s never approved of gambling.” Babs cast a familiar, almost loving smile in Basil’s direction. It irked me, to see her looking at him that way, like she still had actual affection for him. If she really cared about him, she wouldn’t want to railroad the school he’d built.
The trustee glanced from Babs to Basil. “As you wish. Due to irreconcilable differences and your lack of legal freedom to change the terms of the will, now that the aforesaid documents have been signed, we are proceeding with a tournament to determine the future ownership of the Chaplin Estate. The schools will register a specified number of competitors to compete in games Zafer Guzelköy and Demir Davazlar shall design and referee. The winner takes ownership of the present building and grounds as well as the position of headmaster. I understand a consolation prize of £200,000 is to be set aside for the losing party. The parties concerned are Basil and Barbara Chaplin, the rules and outcome will be legally binding. Do I have the matter straight?”
Basil, Babs and Mr. Bunting nodded. Guzelköy tapped his fingers on the tabletop until a look from the trustee had him snatch his hand back. He looked nervous, but I had a feeling he was always high-strung.
“Messrs. Guzelköy and Davazlar will manage the games together.” He gestured toward the two men. “I’ll have documents drawn up for each of you to sign upon conclusion of this meeting. Have you settled on the nature of this competition?” Mr. Pendleton’s pen hovered over the yellow pad expectantly.
Babs and Basil shared a look and Babs gestured at Davazlar. “They’re the experts. Can’t they outline some options for us to decide on?”
Attention shifted to the two men.
Davazlar spoke without changing his arms-crossed posture. His voice rumbled like low thunder. “The options are endless. Team sport, round-robin, double and triple elimination tourneys. Card games, board games, debates, points based ranking—”
Guzelköy, far too excited, interrupted the big man, speaking so quickly he was hard to follow. “We could do a multi-stage tournament, a best of seven series, or—something that’s all the rage and very trendy right now—an apertura and clausura split-season format—”
It was Basil’s turn to interrupt. “We can’t have this thing drag on all summer, let alone across two seasons. It needs to be decided at a bare minimum of three weeks before the start of the next school year.”
Babs chimed in: “Yes, otherwise the new headmaster won’t have time to prepare her syllabus.”
Guzelköy didn’t miss a beat. “In that case, might I suggest a staged, single-elimination series where the loser of each match is knocked out of the tournament straight away?” He snapped his fingers with a loud, dry pop. “Sudden death.”
Quiet descended over the lecture hall like the settling of a shroud. Everyone was looking at Guzelköy.
Babs broke the silence, speaking in a rush. “A wonderful idea. But, if anyone dies in these games, the school who has sustained the loss is the immediate winner.”
All eyes swung to Babs, the tension in the room thickened to a near unbearable point as expressions took on a look of shock. Dr. Price had actually turned green. Gage put a hand on my thigh and squirmed at the level of tension in the room. I leaned into him. How had things escalated to the possibility of students dying?
Basil looked aghast at what her misunderstanding had revealed: just how serenely she took the potential of a student fatality. “No one is going to die, Babs.”
“Sudden death is a metaphor,” Guzelköy supplied gently, rubbing his slender fingers together over the table like he was eager to get to work. I wondered what those code-breaking hands were capable of, and the keen mind behind those bright eyes. He could have laughed at Babs but he’d taken her seriously, which—in my view— displayed a level of kindness Babs didn’t deserve.
Babs had the decency to blush but stuck to her guns. “Then you won’t mind having the rule in place.”
I wished I could see her face better, but she sat partially with her back to me. Gage’s hand tightened on my thigh until I took it, lacing my fingers through his and taking comfort in the heat swishing between us like liquid in a glass.
Mr. Pendleton looked pointedly at Basil.
The headmaster waved a hand, his expression making it clear how ridiculous he thought it was to add as a rule. But there was no down side to leaving it. “Fine, fine.”
The trustee made a note on his pad.
“I’d like to suggest that all alumni are eligible,” Basil began.
“Absolutely not,” Babs snapped.
Basil looked at his fellow triplet, wide-eyed. “Why ever not?”
“This isn’t about the glory days. Arcturus Academy has been graduating students since 1992, Firethorne Collegiate only since 2001. You have a larger pool of mages to invite, giving you an advantage. To keep things fair, only current students or students who graduated this year should be eligible to compete.”
“Seems reasonable,” added Mr. Bunting.
A look of incredulity passed between Gage and I as this new rule began to sink in.
“I have to admit, I agree,” Mr. Pendleton said, looking at the game-makers. “What say you?”
The game-makers nodded.
Basil tapped the end of one blunt finger on the wood, considering, then relented. He gave Mr. Pendleton a nod, who made the notation.
“How many students will each school supply?” Guzelköy asked. His hands had disappeared beneath the table again, but he must have been swinging a leg or something because his body bounced on his chair.
“I was thinking thirty?” Babs suggested.
Basil put up a hand. “No. We can’t allow this to get unwieldy. Let’s keep it to sixteen students. Eight from Arcturus, eight from Firethorne. Even sixteen students eliminated over four rounds will take time. How much would you need to prepare an inaugural round?” He looked at the game-makers.
They exchanged a pensive look.
Davazlar arched one of those pointed brows as he asked his game-making partner and fellow referee. “Two weeks?”
Guzelköy nodded, the gesture was so rapid it was like he was being electrocuted. “Two weeks should do it.”
Basil continued. “Two weeks to prepare and approximately two events per week”—he glanced at the game-makers, who nodded again—“would put us into July. My students need an actual summer break, otherwise they’ll begin their studies exhausted come September.” He turned to Babs. “So, sixteen competitors?”
She nodded. “Sixteen suits me.”
“Excellent.” Mr. Pendleton looked satisfied with the progress so far and lifted his legal pad to tap its bottom on the tabletop as he looked around. “I don’t need the details of the games, but settling on the broad strokes now would be advantageous. Don’t you agree?”
Guzelköy and Davazlar exchanged another look and I wondered if they’d already spent considerable time discussing the games. They looked like they knew what they wanted to do. Davazlar stroked his goatee and some inaudible communication seemed to pass between them.
Guzelköy addressed the trustee. “Basil tends to favor intellectual challenges, while Babs likes action and sport. We thought that since we’ll be hosting four rounds, we would design two of each.”
Babs straightened. “The last one will be hand-to-hand combat.”
“I have a new, state-of-the-art virtual reality system you’re welcome to use,” Basil said to the game-makers, sending a withering glance at his sister.
“The final simply has to be in the flesh.” Babs tapped a palm on the tabletop. “Think of it. It will be very exciting. The best of each school, facing off like the great warriors of old.”
Mr. Pendleton’s pen hovered over his legal pad as he looked at Basil. “Mr. Chaplin? Do you agree?”
Christy looked at Basil, her face pale. She shook her head but remained mute.
Basil addressed the gathering. “I don’t like the idea.”
“You get half the input,” Babs said. “You want puzzles or quest games, fine. Make three of them like that. All I’m asking is that the final round be real. I’m being more than generous.”
Basil looked into his lap and began to rub his temples as though fighting off a headache. His voice drifted out from between his elbows. “Fine.”
Babs leaned forward. “Can we discuss ticket sales?”
Basil’s head snapped up. “Absolutely not!”
Babs, Guzelköy, Davazlar and Mr. Bunting spoke over one another.
“But think of the revenue—”
“Games can be very lucrative—”
“This will put the winner on the map, will attract the best—”
“No.” Basil barked, emphasizing the negative with a slap on the desk. “I’m providing the venue for these games. I’ll not have our students paraded in front of the supernatural world to be gaped at like creatures at a circus. This will be a private and confidential event. The stakes are too high to allow the influence of crowds. Family and friends may attend, yes. Beyond that, the doors will be open to no one. Is that clear?”
One by one, the group gave their assent and Mr. Pendleton made notes.
“Right. Then. Shall we agree the starting date is in two weeks?”
The group agreed.
“Then use this coming week to recruit your contestants. I understand Dr. Price and Mr. Bunting will manage the registrations and verify eligibility?”
Mr. Bunting looked raring to go. I wondered if he planned on using his ridiculous little notebook in the registration process. Poor Dr. Price looked like she needed to lie down and put a damp cloth on her forehead, but she nodded her in agreement.
“One thing,” Christy said softly, lifting a finger.
It was the first time she’d spoken during the entire meeting so everyone listened.
“We’ve dismissed our cooking and cleaning staff for the summer, but we’ll soon have sixteen students and support staff moving back in. The contestants can keep their own rooms clean and do their own laundry, but Professor Palmer has gone to Malta for the summer and I know for a fact we won’t be able to lure her back. So who will prepare their food?”
Mr. Bunting waved a dismissive hand. “No problem. I’ll look into hiring temporary kitchen staff. I know a chef-in-training from Utrecht that we can get on the cheap, he’s already in London. Perhaps you won’t mind arranging for a small medical team to be on call during the tournament? I understand you’re an excellent doctor, but in the case of injury, you might want an assistant or two.”
Christy nodded her agreement.
Mr. Pendleton made another notation with a flourish. “If there is nothing else, I shall draft the agreements. I’ll have paperwork to you by the end of the week, which will need to be signed and notarized.”
People stood. Hands were shaken. Babs and Mr. Bunting began a quiet chat as they went to the side-table for coffee. Already, Davazlar and Guzelköy appeared to be deep in animated conversation, with Zafer doing most of the talking. Dr. Price and Basil exchanged looks as Mr. Pendleton shrugged into his coat.
“It’s happening,” Gage whispered, squeezing my hand. “I can hardly believe it.” He looked at me in the gloom of the outer circle of the lecture desks. “Are you ready?”
“What do you mean?”
He lowered his voice and leaned closer. “Alumni aren’t allowed. We thought Basil had decades of graduates to choose from, oodles of highly competent mages. But the number eligible students has just been cut down by a huge margin. You’re the only Burned Basil has ever had. You have to compete.”
I gazed at him, wondering if a fire had ever gone out from pure dread. Of course, Gage was right. Basil would ask me, and I would be compelled to say yes.