Chapter Reveal: Spellhacker by M.K. England
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SPELLHACKER should be on your TBR if you like witty, funny, heist stories that are filled with diverse characters and a fantastic magic system! So check out the first chapter of SPELLHACKER below!
Note from M.K.: SPELLHACKER is the story of a heist gone wrong in a futuristic world with magic, starring a girl named Diz who is basically a cactus secretly filled with marshmallow. Diz is joined by her NB childhood friend Remi (who she is definitely not dating), her fierce bestie Ania, and her dad-friend Jaesin. I love the magic system, setting, and found family dynamics in this book, and I hope you do, too!
Spellhackerby M.K. England
Published by: HarperTeen
on January 21, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Bookshop, IndieBound, Audiobook through LibroFM, iTunes, Amazon
From the author of The Disasters, this genre-bending YA fantasy heist story is perfect for fans of Marie Lu and Amie Kaufman.
In Kyrkarta, magic—known as maz—was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled—and, of course, outrageously expensive.
Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.
But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague—and possibly save the world.
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SPELLHACKER by MK England
I don’t know why I thought the cops wouldn’t follow me onto the roof.
Honestly, most of the time it’s true. When I go up, the cops stay down, and I’m home free a minute later.
Ninety-nine jobs out of a hundred are in, steal, out, profit.
It figures that this, our crew’s last job ever, would be the one fiery exception.
“Dispatch, this is 21-501, I have the suspect cornered on the roof of the Ivon Building. Requesting backup and air support.”
Cornered? Please. She knows I’m up here, but she doesn’t know where. It’s only a matter of time, though. And isn’t air support a bit overkill? The officer sweeps her gaze over the rooftop, pulling threads of glowing fire between her fingers as she glances right over the nook I’ve crammed myself into. The low concrete wall at my back bleeds evening chill through my hoodie, and my thighs burn with the exhaustion of holding still in a crouch after running for a mile straight. I clutch my bag tighter, as if that will somehow erase the vials of stolen maz inside.
This is fine. Totally under control.
Ania is probably close by, near enough to cook me up a distraction of some kind if I ask. I sneak a hand slowly into my back pocket and click the button to turn my deck back on, and it gives a slight vibration in response. I turned it off earlier so I wouldn’t get distracted by messages and calls while I was busy, you know, not getting arrested, and about a billion missed notifications flood my vision as soon as the interface pops up in my contact lenses.
Continue Reading Chapter 1 of Spellhacker
Epic Group Chat: LAST JOB EVER Edition
Jaesin: Remi and I are almost home
Ania: I’m still waiting on Diz at the meet point
WHERE ARE YOU
The client is getting pissed
He says if you bring cops down on him he’ll make sure we’re blacklisted
Jaesin: Good thing this is our last job anyway
Remi: you ok, diz?
don’t make me come after you dizzy I will fight
Jaesin: She probably found some shiny new building to climb DIDN’T YOU DIZ
Your vital signs for the hour: Average pulse rate, 98; Blood pressure …
(private) Remi: diz?
Kyrkarta weather update: Scattered showers beginning at 3:30 a.m., with …
(private) Jaesin: Don’t be an ass, call Remi
They’re kind of panicking right now
(private) Ania: Okay, we’re really worried
Sera Shortner followed you. Follow them back?
(private) Davon: You decided about the job offer yet?
I sent you a little something for graduation
It’s fine, I know I’m the best cousin ever, you don’t have to say
(private) Ania: Diz, I’m seriousssssssssssss.
(private) Jaesin: Do we need to turn around and come back?
I double-blink to clear the clutter from my vision, then give the deck a silent command to bring up a map. The tiny sensors that read the movement of my throat have been messing up all the time lately, though, so I get my bank app, a word game, and a half-read fanfic before I actually get the map I asked for. Ania’s dot blinks on the map at the drop point, about two blocks from my location. Definitely close enough to create some kind of diversion for me. I start to subvocalize a message to the group chat, hesitate . . . then delete the whole thing and close the map.
They’ll all be gone in a week. Literally moving on with their lives, to a whole new city. College, jobs, all that.
I’m not going anywhere. Besides, I know this city better than anyone. If anyone can figure a way out of this, it’s me. I need to do this myself.
I let my head fall back against the wall and try to visualize the roof. In the half-dozen times I’ve been up here before, I’ve used the maintenance ladder, the staff exit, or the breezeway over to the next building. This cop is between me and all of them. I ease myself up slowly, just high enough to see over the wall at my back and past the hulking air-conditioning unit behind it to the roof’s nearest edge. Against the inky black sky, two faint curves are backlit by the glow of the neon signs from the street below. A fire-escape ladder.
In the distance, the whine of aircar engines and sirens grows louder.
Well. No time like the present.
As soon as the cop turns her back to me, I vault over the low wall and sprint for the ladder. Her shout goes up barely a second later—“Halt!”—which is about a second longer than I expected to have, honestly. I dive to one side, tumbling over a two-foot-wide pipe with the bag held tight against my stomach. A bright flash of orange maz blasts the metal just beside my hand, turning it red-hot in a flash. Seriously, she’s just gonna sling firaz around? She doesn’t know what’s in these pipes. What if they explode?
Apparently she doesn’t care. Another fireball blasts at my heels, leaving a black scorch on the concrete.
I grab the top of the ladder where it connects with the roof and swing myself over the edge, dangling by one hand for half a terrifying second until my feet find the rungs. My shoulder screams in brief protest, but it’s used to this kind of abuse by now. A quick glance below, and I spot a landing about two stories down, where the ladder turns to stairs. Perfect.
Another blast of fire connects with the top of the ladder, then two more in quick succession, then more, and more. What the hell is she doing? What a waste of maz. I guess when the city’s paying for it, you can use as much as you want, though.
Then the ladder starts to heat up under my hands, and I understand.
I need to hurry, outclimb the warming metal under my palms. I risk another glance down. The landing is closer, at least; less than one story to go. Above me, the cop pokes her head over the side and winds up for another blast.
I let go.
For one brief second, my chest fills with the weightless thrill of falling, falling.
Then I look down, soften my knees to absorb the shock, and exhale as I land on the balls of my feet and guide myself into a forward tumble. Perfect form, way to stick the landing, self.
Unfortunately, the platform is slightly shorter than I anticipated, and I roll straight past the edge of the landing and onto the first staircase. Behind me, the landing rattles with another blast of firaz, then another, closer. A message pops up in my vision:
(private) Ania: Our client is getting ready to murder me, therefore I’m getting ready to murder YOU
Our client can eat one thousand bees for all I care. I subvocalize a message back that thankfully translates correctly.
(private) Me: Kindly FUCK OFF when your best friend is being chased by the cops
Perfect. Good rule for life.
I use my unintended momentum to swing myself over the railing onto the next set of stairs, then the next, and the next, the bag full of stolen maz thumping against the small of my back with each landing. If I were at all talented with maz, I could have sacrificed one of the vials (and a bit of our pay) to fight back. Maz is not my thing, though. You want your ex’s social media profiles hacked so they look like an ass? I’m on it. With maz, I’m useless.
Well, except for the stealing-and-selling-it thing.
Far above me, the staircase rattles as the cop makes her way down in the more traditional manner, but as soon as my feet hit the asphalt, I may as well be invisible. I’m gone, around a corner, over a fence, through a narrow alley—and onto an empty street with another officer at either end.
Both cops charge at me, but before I can find yet another alternate route, an arm darts out from the alley I just came from and yanks me back, then behind a dumpster. I’m all but thrown against the cold stone wall—by Ania. Thank the stars.
“Our client actually let you leave to rescue me?” I ask through gasping breaths.
“Kindly fuck off while your best friend is trying to save your ass.”
I bite back a grin. Ania never swears like that. I’m proud to be responsible for it.
Between us, her fingers fly as she weaves together a quick and simple concealment spell.Plum-colored strands of obscuraz pour from her fingertip implants, coming together in a tightly knit pattern. She ties it off with a quick yank, then rips it in half and shoves half of it into my hands, keeping half for herself.
“Stay absolutely still,” she murmurs.
The spell crumbles into faintly glowing sparks as it takes effect, and I press back against the alley wall and breathe as shallowly as I can. Ania does the same, taking my hand and holding tight as all three cops converge on the alley. The woman who chased me across the rooftops does a slow scan of the entire alley, sharp eyes looking for any sign of our whereabouts. She takes a step closer to the Dumpster, squinting at something on the ground, then peeking around behind the thing until she’s looking right through us.
One of the other cops calls out to her, and I flinch, my shoe making the faintest scuffing sound . . . but she pulls away and turns back to her counterparts, meeting them back in the middle of the alley. They talk too quietly for me to hear well, but it sounds like they’re trying to assign blame for losing us. Just as I’m starting to go light-headed from the lack of breath, they turn to leave, disappearing back in the direction I ran from.
Once they’ve been gone for two full minutes, I shake off Ania’s hand and step away to get some space, taking a few deep breaths.
“Thanks,” I say, still keeping an eye on the mouth of the alley. “Let’s get to Mattie’s. I want this maz off my back and those credits in our account.”
Ania nods vaguely, zoned out in that way that means she’s doing something on her lenses, her slim legs crossed at the ankles, where expensive skinny jeans and low boots let a strip of warm brown skin peek out. The yellowy light from the streetlamp shines through her hazy cloud of curls, wrapping each dark strand in threads of gold. We seriously just left the sewers forty-five minutes ago—how the hell does she look so put together? She must have ditched her sewage-covered rain boots somewhere.
Ania snaps back to reality and dodges my gaze in a way that I know means she was just messaging Jaesin about me. She turns to lead the way back to our drop point, and I scowl at the back of her head, dashing off a quick message to Remi as I follow.
(private) Me: Hey, sorry, ran into some trouble. It’s fine now. Heading to the drop point.
(private) Remi: GOOD because I have something that will make you die
The next message was a link to a news article: “Tifa and the Flower Girls to Play Two Surprise Shows in Kyrkarta on Aeraday and Firaday.” A photo quickly followed: Remi with their hands pressed to their cheeks, screaming at the camera.
(private) Remi: WE ARE GOING
I’m heckin serious I don’t care what Jaesin and Ania say
I bite my lip and clear the notification away, swallowing down the knot in my throat. Of course we’ll go. One last chance to dance with Remi before they leave, the bass pounding in our chests, singing in our blood. I start to reply, then delete it.
Later. I’ll deal with it later.
We cross the block to the next intersection, moving slowly to take advantage of any lingering effects from the concealment spell. It won’t do any good if we run screaming down the street, but if we’re chill, it might help an errant gaze or two slide past us. A few minutes of tense silence later, we arrive at a nondescript elevator that takes us up twenty levels.
A quick walk across one of the thousands of breezeways connecting the buildings of Kyrkarta, and we come
to a darkened flower shop with loud, busy arrangements filling the front window. The CLOSED message glows bright in one corner, but the door opens anyway, held by a guy a few years older than us with tawny skin and way more piercings than me. Mattie, our client for this job. He’s got a siphoning crew of his own, but they couldn’t get it together in time to pull off this job for whatever reason, so they contracted it out to us. Their loss.
It’s a big haul, and the particular maz strains they requested took us to a part of the city we’d never hit before. Maz Management Corporation’s system looks the same no matter where you are, though: pipes in sewers, hiking through sludge, Ania and Jaesin watching our backs while I hack the security and Remi draws out the maz in manageable quantities. We got it done, despite the trouble at the end.
“Where’s the goods?” Mattie asks as he leads us into the back. His sweet old mother who owns the shop would skin him alive if she knew that “staying late to clean the shop” actually meant “conducting illegal exchanges in the stockroom.” I let the pack slip down my arms and swing it up onto a work top littered with trimmed stems, wilting leaves, and shed petals.
“I didn’t realize I was supposed to walk in juggling the vials for all to see,” I say with an eyeroll, pulling a hard plastic case from the bag. I click the latches open and lift the top to reveal seven clear vials nestled in their foam padded spots. Each one glows with contained threads of maz, coiled as tight as each strain allows. Our very last haul. Thick bronze terraz, sparking green vitaz, some of the same hazy purple obscuraz Ania used earlier.
Mattie picks up each one and inspects them all carefully, like he’s some kind of master maz connoisseur. I bite the inside of my lip to hold in a sigh of annoyance. A less obnoxious client would have been a much nicer way to end our siphoning career together. So much for going out in a grand blaze of glory, walking off into the sunset with our riches as a team, the latest overplayed graduation anthem seeing us off.
Then again, this group has always been a mess, and I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.
Epic Group Chat: LAST JOB EVER Edition
Remi: Are you dead, Dizzy?
Ania, are they killing her?
Ania: Remains to be seen. She’s getting fussy. Will report back.
Fussy? I burn a hole in the side of Ania’s face with my glare. I’m actually going to be forced to murder her.
Jaesin: I call dibs on her deck
Remi: Please, she probably has that thing programmed to self-destruct if she dies
You know what she’s got on there
Jaesin: No, I don’t
and I don’t want to
The corner of my mouth pulls up in a half smile. I quite enjoy this reputation of mine, at least partially deserved. My files are largely boring records of which public officials are breaking their spousal agreements, local celebrities’ secret dating profiles, and the internet search histories of Kyrkarta’s most prominent business leaders. I suppose some people might find it valuable information, but gathering it all is just a way to keep myself entertained when I can’t sleep.
“Oi, what’s with this one?” Mattie snaps, pulling my attention away from the group chat. He holds one of the vials of obscuraz between his thumb and middle finger, tilting it this way and that to let the light filter through the strands. I see what he means. It’s a notably different shade than the other vials of the same maz, like a few of the threads have turned a brighter violet-purple.
“Did you bring me contaminated maz?” he says, shoving the vial in my face. My stomach turns, and I jerk away, putting the table between us.
“That’s what came out of the tap point, Mattie,” I shoot back, working to keep my expression under control. “We went where you told us. MMC’s pipes are clean. It’s not contaminated.”
Even as I say it, as I know it’s true, the worry begins to boil in my stomach. Remi is the only one who ever has contact with the maz we siphon off from MMC’s pipes, and they were diagnosed with the spellplague when they were eight. Would they even know if the maz was contaminated? It’s not like you can get infected again if you’re already ill.
Mattie growls and puts the vial down with the others. “I’m only paying half for that one, and if it is contaminated, I’ll put the word out, believe it.”
Ania meets my gaze, then looks at the ceiling, her subtle way of rolling her eyes among company. We’re never working a job again period, no matter how much I might want to, so he can shove his empty threats.
“Fine, yes, half for that one vial,” I say. “Can we please close this deal now? We’ve got places to be.”
Mattie scowls but pulls out his deck and sets to work on the credit transfer. A moment later, a transaction notification pops up on my lenses. Payment cleared. Our bank account once again has more than two digits.
“Pleasure doing business,” I say, throwing the vial case back in my bag and walking away, Ania on my heels, before Mattie can find another excuse to complain. As I reach the elevator, I bring the group chat back on-lens with a grin.
Epic Group Chat: LAST JOB EVER Edition
Diz: Against everyone’s better judgment, he did not kill me.
We have our money
Remi: DIZZY YESSSSSSS
Jaesin: Thank god, now we can CELEBRATE
Ania: Let the Grand Farewell Tour commence!
Diz: You all were in mortal peril today too, you know
Ania: Yeah, but we don’t inspire murdery feelings in everyone we meet
Remi: Yikes, shots fired
I shove Ania’s shoulder, and the elevator fills with our laughter. I can’t wait to get home, even as I feel a weird sort of nostalgia for those little vials of maz we just left behind. Ten years of friendship, two years running jobs together, and now it’s over. The others are understandably ecstatic, brimming over with the thrill of getting away with one last haul and looking forward to their shiny futures. Futures that require moving away.
In seven days.
Hence our Grand Farewell Tour of Kyrkarta: seven nights, seven locations, one amazing last hurrah before we go our separate ways.
Before they all move away and abandon me here, more like.
Ania startles me out of my mood with a quick excited double clap.
“I have a surprise for you,” she says, throwing an arm around me and leaning down to rest her head against the top of mine. I cringe but endure her cuddling. Might as well take it while I can.
“I hate surprises,” I say. “What is it?”
She grins and holds up one hand, waggling her fingers as the elevator stops and the doors slide open. Her wrist and the inside of each finger are lined with thin metal, unassuming, but actually packed with bend sensors, accelerometers, and other bits. The tip of each finger ends in a small implanted extruder that, by her command, releases threads of whatever maz she had loaded into the chambers strapped to the underside of her wrist. She doesn’t have the natural ability to work maz with her bare hands, like Remi does, but she’s good with her hardware. She’s had her maz license since the day she turned eighteen—not that the lack of a license stopped her before. Not with me as a friend. I may not be able to work with maz myself, but I can build ware better than anything her mommy and daddy can find in an overpriced shop. Her ware is a Dizmon Hela original, and I’m proud of my work.
“This is a fun surprise, promise,” she says, flipping her hand over to glance at her nails instead. “I went in for an A-level maz certification practice test today, and I think I pushed it a little too hard. The fifth position flow was kinda weird and uneven during our job. Wanna fix it before we go out tonight?”
I perk right up, then narrow my eyes. “You know I do, but don’t think this gets you off my list. Fussy? Are you serious?”
“I love you, Dizzard Lizard,” she sings, syrupy sweet, and I fight down an unexpected surge of anger. She obviously doesn’t love me enough to not leave. None of them do. I want to sink in to that anger, to let its talonsgrip tight and pierce and fill my veins with heat. It’s right there under the surface, all the time, just waiting for the wrong turn of phrase, the wrong change of subject.
But if I say anything, I’ll only lose them all sooner.
My shoulders slump, and I take three long, deep breaths, one for each word.
Let. It. Go.
“Come on, then,” I say, beckoning her forward. “Let’s see what poison Jaesin has on the cooker tonight, and I’ll take a look at that mix sensor before we go out. You didn’t notice it until we were already in the middle of the job?”
She hums in agreement but doesn’t elaborate as we cross into the crowded intersection at Four Bridges, where the three rivers converge at the business sector. Too many voices clamoring for airspace, and Ania hates to shout. We pass glowing storefronts nestled in the bottom floors of bulky office buildings, offering everything from maz tech, to spellweaving services, to rare foods and custom aesthetic implants. We don’t need any of it, of course, and I wouldn’t be caught dead paying business-sector prices even if we did. We already have Ania for a techwitch, and Remi the spellweaving prodigy, and I have all our hardware needs covered. Jaesin rounds out the group with most of the mundie skills, like keeping us from starving to death. And hitting people. But only sometimes.
We pass into the slightly more rundown part of town I call home a few minutes later, and the Cliffs, the dorm complex I live in, comes into view. With the chaos of business behind us, Ania finally answers my question.
“Yeah, I had some magnaz loaded in fifth position, and by the time I finished setting up our wards at the draw point it wasn’t flowing as easily as the rest. I was having to force it a little more than normal, and I can’t stop thinking I’m gonna pull on that thread so hard I’ll blow my own hand off.”
“Nah, I’ll take care of that. If it’s not the sensor, it’s the extruder, and both are easy enough to fix. Should be no problem to finish it before we go out tonight.”
Out to one of Ania’s fancy clubs, where we’ve been begging her to take us for ages, for night one of seven.
The beginning of the end. My stomach sours.
Then the ground . . . shivers.
Ania and I stop dead. Wait, absolutely still.
Another tremble, longer. Definitely not imagined. Our eyes meet as the ground shifts under our feet, harder this time, a threat.
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