This book has been available for a while in Eric Flint’s Ring Of Fire Press store and will be available for download from Amazon on Dec 15th, so this is the final snippet.

WarSpell: The Merge – Snippet 22

5:15 PM EST, Jan 2

Ft. Benning, GA

Staff Sergeant George Walker was a bit nervous about this. The whole feeling was decidedly out of place. A Staff Sergeant with fifteen years in the service and combat experience should not be nervous about a PFC not long out of AIT.

Truth be told; he wasn’t all that nervous about Private Dixon. He was nervous about Mornfeld. Being turned into a centaur was bound to make a person think twice about approaching the person who had done it, after all. Especially since it was made clear to him that if it hadn’t been an accident he would probably have been changed into a frog instead. If that had happened, he’d probably have been stepped on.

“Dixon! There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Right, Sarge,” PFC Dixon said. “I’ve been recording a spell all day. I just finished and got the message.”

“No matter. I’m off, and you appear to be done for the day. I want to talk to you about something. You got an hour or so, or do you have to get home to the wife or something?”

“No wife,” Timothy Dixon asserted. “Not yet. Not in this world. I had one, and two kids as well, but that was another life.”

George Walker frowned. There was something in Dixon’s face something George couldn’t put a name to. “Listen,” he said, as he walked with Tim toward his car, “there are some things I want to know. How about I buy you a beer or something and we can talk.”

“Sure thing, Sarge,” Tim replied. “I kind of want to apologize about the other night. The Merge hit just as you walked up. It was kind of like when someone wakes you up and you take a swing at them before you realize it. I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t sweat it,” George shrugged. “It was a little weird, I admit. Never thought I’d find myself on four fe– well, hooves, that’s for sure. Get in, kid. We’ll go to a quiet little bar I know. Hardly ever has anyone in it, thank heaven. Nice and quiet, just the place for a serious discussion.”

The bar was only a couple of miles off post. When they pulled into a hotel parking lot, George could tell that Tim was surprised. “I’ve been real careful not to tell anyone about this place,” he said. “Funny how no one ever comes here much. They all go next door to that one.” He pointed to a bar that obviously catered to the younger GIs. The building was neon purple and the sign said “Girls, Girls, Girls!”

Tim nodded. “Been there. Got the T-shirt. Got the clap too. Don’t go anymore.”

“Sensible,” George nodded. “It’s not my idea of a good time. This place is different, though.” He and Tim walked into a small bar that was tucked away in the recesses of the hotel. “See. Just the sort of place a guy needs to relax,” George commented.

Tim was nodding. The small bar had no one but a bartender in residence. There were only about twenty chairs and ten small tables. “Trixie.” George smiled. “A couple of beers please. This is Tim. Tim, Trixie, my favorite tar bender.”

Trixie, a somewhat matronly brunette, nodded and drew a couple of beers as George and Tim sat down near the fireplace. “Coming up, George.”

Trixie delivered the beer and retreated behind the bar, where she picked up the book she’d been reading and went back to it. George settled down in the chair and put his feet on the hearth, loosening his collar. “Gawd, that feels good. Sometimes doing the tight ass sergeant business is a real pain.”

“It’s weird.” Tim commented. “Seeing you relax is surprising and just what I’d expect, all at the same time. Before the Merge I never imagined you relaxing.” He said, tentatively, “You never seem to.”

“Kid, it’s mostly just an act. You stay in and you’ll learn it, too. Command voice, projection of authority; all that stuff. It’s just something you gotta do to keep the troops on their toes. Don’t go bandying that around, now,” George warned. “I’ll still come down on you like you wouldn’t believe if I catch you messing around at work. So, tell me about this Merge business. I don’t get it, not at all.”

Tim nodded. “I figure Mornfeld was, is–whatever–a much older man, than I am. It was just a way to relax, Sarge. A game that let you sort of get away from real life. Mornfeld was a character I rolled up. He’s forty-five, had a wife and a couple of kids. And he’s a tenth-level book wizard, which puts him somewhere in the middle of the standard ranks.”

“How does it work? The magic thing, I mean.”

“That’s a tough one,” Tim said. He settled back in his chair and took a long drink of beer before answering. “You have to learn the spell and write it down. The writing is sort of like making a manual. It’s a very damned detailed manual of how to make, craft, a specific spell. Insert flap a into slot b, tighten bolt c finger tight, then back off half a turn. That sort of stuff. But there’s a lot of it and you can’t afford to get any of it wrong. So you write it all down, a couple of hundred instructions for even a pretty simple spell. If you don’t write them down there is no way you’re going to remember everything. You have to do it just right. It has to be in the right order and to just the right degree.”

“What, like algebraic formulas or something?” George asked.

“Yep. A lot like them. Oh, after years, if it’s a spell you use every day, you can get to the point that you can craft it out of your head. It’s still a lot easier and safer to write it all out. Then, every morning you get up and have a cup of coffee or whatever and while you’re at your best you pull out your books and references. You figure which spells you’re going to use that day and craft them. After that’s done, you tie them off and wait until you need them.”

“Sounds like cooking or something like that,” George said.

“It kind of is,” Tim agreed. “You sit down with your spell cookbook and follow the directions. It’s actually a bunch of mental exercises that you have to do in a specific order. They’re really detailed, though. Worse, if you put salt instead of sugar in this cake, well, it’s ‘good bye, wizard.’ After you’ve done all that prep work, you’re locked and loaded. You have a bunch of crafted spells ready to cast,” Tim said. “If you have a few months I could teach you the beginnings of it.”

“Teach me? Why bother? What good would it do? Don’t you have to have some kind of inborn talent?”

“Nope. Natural wizards have to have a special talent but to be a book wizard, you just have to be able to concentrate. Anybody can learn book wizardry, as long as they’re willing to put in the effort. Well, you have to be a bit bright, but you don’t have to be a genius or anything.”

“Mmmm, I’ll consider it. I haven’t really thought about it much,” George answered, finishing off the last of his beer. “Hey, Trix,” he motioned to the bartender, “A couple more over here, please.”

George looked a lot more relaxed now. “So who am I talking to? PFC Dixon or… What was your character’s name, again?”

“Mornfeld.” Tim shook his head. “I don’t really know. I guess you’re talking to a bit of both of us. It’s weird, really weird. I miss my wife and kids, but I don’t have a wife or kids. From what happened that first night, I guess there’s a real Mornfeld, somewhere. He’s happily married and maybe trying to figure out where he got the memories of a PFC in the U.S. army. At the same time I feel like Tim Dixon, just like I always did. Like a horny teenager looking to serve his country and hoping the girls really do prefer a man in uniform. Which I never would have admitted before the Merge.”

Tim felt himself blush, proving the Merge hadn’t removed all his embarrassment.