The Starsea Cycle Bundle (Books 1-4)
A mage's fate is worse than death...
Lucian dreams of a new life outside the cesspool of Earth. Unfortunately, his wish comes true when the government identifies him as a mage.
No one knows why the mages are being born. No one knows why their powers lead to madness and death. The only solution is to train them at the Academies, for them to serve the League of Worlds that subjugated them fifty years ago.
When Lucian is exiled from Earth, he must travel to the distant world of Volsung to receive training. During the long passage, he meets a mysterious mage. She prophesies he is marked by the Manifold, the reality that is the source of all magic. It is a destiny that requires him to master abilities he never imagined he possessed.
Trouble is brewing in the galaxy. An ancient alien menace has awoken, somehow connected with the return of magic to the stars.
Lucian faces a terrible choice. To accept his new reality as a mage. Or, to try and outrun destiny...
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The League Health Authority in downtown Miami was the last place in all the Worlds Lucian Abrantes wanted to be.
He mindlessly scanned his electronic slate, looking for anything to distract him from what was about to happen. There was no reason for the League to perform another metaphysical on him—no acceptable reason, anyway. He’d already been waiting for an hour for his turn. If this were any other government agency, Lucian would have already ducked out, but nobody messed with the LHA. As the agency tasked with testing for emergent mages, they were not to be trifled with.
Lucian snapped to attention, catching sight of a tawny-haired nurse standing in the door. Every other head in the waiting room turned his way as if he had been called to his execution.
“Yeah. That’s me.”
“The doctors are ready for you now.”
When he stood, his legs were leaden weights. The nurse beamed a plastic smile that did nothing to lighten his mood.
“How are we doing today, Lucian?”
Was there even a point to that question? “I’ve been better.”
Her smile wavered a moment. “This way, Mr. Abrantes.”
She led him through the open doorway down a short corridor. Everything was gray—walls, carpet, and ceiling. Whoever had designed this place hadn’t wanted it to inspire any sort of feeling.
There was only one reason they would call him back: something had gone wrong on his first metaphysical. Either that or there was some mix-up. Those were the only reasons he could think of, anyway. Because the other reason, the one that made sense, was too terrifying to think about.
She led him to a room that was almost claustrophobically small. It contained a plastic table and four chairs—three on one side, one on the other. Other than that, it was utterly featureless, without so much as a window to break the monotony. It looked like an interrogation chamber from a crime holo-film. It seemed impossible that the bright sun and white sands of South Shoal and the Miami Archipelago were just a couple of klicks away.
During what should have been Lucian’s only metaphysical last week, all they had done was scan his head and send him on his way. He’d read that the follow-up metaphysical exam was worse, though—much worse. It was far more invasive than the scan, but beyond that, he didn’t know what it involved. He tried to stay as far away from anything to do with mages or magic, as did most sane people. They were barely a thought in his day-to-day.
“Are you sure this isn’t all some mistake? I’ve already been tested this year.”
The nurse gave her trademark saccharine smile. “Of course this isn’t a mistake, Mr. Abrantes. Please, have a seat. The doctors will be with you shortly.”
Lucian wanted to tell her that if the doctors had done their job in the first place, he wouldn’t even be here. But that would be a waste of breath. It was like dealing with a droid; she could only follow the scripts she was programmed to say. The League’s bureaucracy was an intricate machine, and within that machine, there was no room for anything as debilitating as human sympathy.
Lucian took the single chair facing away from the door and waited.
He was left with nothing but his unsettled stomach. At least it wasn’t cold in here, unlike the waiting room outside, where the thermostat must have been set for absolute zero. Judging from this office’s inefficiency, he might be here a while longer.
That thought was dashed when footsteps approached from the hallway. Three doctors in white lab coats entered the room and took up the chairs opposite him. The leftmost doctor might have been in his fifties. He was pale, bald, and sported retro, black-rimmed glasses.
The middle doctor was a young woman with perfect features that could have only come from gene-tailoring or wallet-crushing surgery. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a face too beautiful to be believed. The blue eyes watching Lucian were too wise for her age. Longevity treatments, then. Only the obscenely rich could afford those, but maybe the costs had come down enough in recent years for people of her income bracket to afford them.
The rightmost doctor was a thickset black man with a grandfatherly face. His salt-and-pepper goatee lent him an air of dignity.
All three watched him with the same controlled, professional mask.
Yes, this metaphysical would be entirely different from the last one. Whatever news they had, it wasn’t good.
“Mr. Abrantes,” the blonde doctor said. “I’m Dr. Ross. This is Dr. Nowak and Dr. Wallace. We’re here today to go over the results of your metaphysical.”
The two men nodded at the mention of their names. Lucian watched each of them warily. “You can just call me Lucian.”
“Lucian, then,” Dr. Ross said.
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I thought the results were supposed to be emailed.”
“Normally, they are, but yours is a . . . special case. We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can, I assure you. Cutting right to the chase, the exam you already took doesn’t measure metaphysical emergence. It merely flags potential.”
“I’m sorry. What do you mean by emergence?”
“Forgive me,” she said. “By emergence, I mean the capability to stream meta-energy . . . what people commonly refer to as magic.”
There it was, spoken clear as day. “Dr. Ross, I’ve never done anything resembling magic my entire life. This all has to be some terrible mistake.”
“We are not saying you’re a mage, Lucian. You merely have the potential to be. The next step is to undergo a sleep lab to confirm if anything’s there.”
A sleep lab? This was getting worse and worse. “I don’t have time for that, Dr. Ross. I have things to do. Can’t you just take a blood sample or something?”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. We’re not going to stick anything in you or dig around in your brain. However, I won’t lie. The test is a bit . . . inconvenient. Thankfully, it doesn’t last more than two hours.”
Lucian saw that he wasn’t getting out of this, and his one hope that this was all a mistake had just been wishful thinking.
“You’ll fall asleep in an MMI vat,” Dr. Ross continued. “The interface fluid will convert the imagery of your dreams into video and emotional feedback that we will analyze. The dream signatures of mages are different from a typical person. That’s how we’ll know if you are one. The odds are low at this point. Of course, about one of every twenty million people in the Worlds is a mage in the first place. But by the time a patient gets to this portion of the process, only one in a thousand is a mage, roughly speaking.”
Those statistics didn’t do much to put Lucian’s mind at ease. He knew that MMI was an acronym for mind/machine interface. He knew it had military applications, soldiers controlling droid soldiers and the like, and in the not-too-distant past, it had been used for full reality simulations before the standard simulation pill had been invented.
“This sounds pretty invasive,” Lucian said.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if there were any other way. Usually, the results come back negative. In the entire Tri-County area, we only find a mage every year or two. The exam you already did gives a lot of false positives, especially if you are under stress. So, this is normal, and there’s no need for concern.”
Her face seemed to say this was anything but normal.
“Do you have any questions before we begin?” she asked. “We’ll walk you through each stage of the process.”
Lucian had a lot of questions, but for some reason, he couldn’t voice a single one of them. “No. Let’s get this over with.”
He was about to stand when Dr. Wallace cleared his throat. “Lucian, we have a few questions we need to ask you first if you have none for us.”
“Sure. What do you want to know?”
“First,” Dr. Wallace continued, in his deep baritone, “I want to ask about your mother. Our file here says she’s on active duty with the First Fleet out of Sol Citadel?”
His mother? Why in the Worlds would they care about her? “Yeah, she’s an executive officer on the LS Barcelona. Why should that matter?”
Dr. Wallace ignored his question. “What’s your relationship like with her?”
Lucian almost did a double-take. “Good. Again, how’s that relevant?”
“It’s good?” Dr. Wallace asked, his tone skeptical.
“Yes,” Lucian said, annoyed. “Good. You didn’t answer my question.”
Dr. Wallace made a note on his slate.
“And your father?”
“You already have my file,” Lucian said, unable to control his tone. “Why are you asking me all this, anyway? Just read my mind with your MMI test.”
Dr. Wallace’s brown eyes were no longer as kindly. “It’s important that you answer, Lucian. We need to establish a baseline, otherwise, the test won’t be as effective. I can say nothing more about it.”
A baseline? Were they measuring him now, somehow? He had likely breathed in some nanobots that were taking all of his measurements, even as he spoke. If that was so, then what the doctors were doing was highly illegal. But then again, perhaps such measures could be used by the LHA. Everything was likely fair game in the agency’s eternal hunt for dangerous mages.
Lucian realized he wasn’t going to get out of these questions. The faster he answered, the faster he could leave. “My father died in the First Swarmer War when I was five. I . . . don’t remember him much.”
“I have here that you have a small condominium in Old Little Havana,” Dr. Ross said. “Great old neighborhood. Lots of history.”
Was she trying to egg him on? Everyone knew that area was a dump, where anyone not carrying a shock baton was likely to get jumped as soon they hopped off a Lev or auto-taxi. It had been a nice area in the distant past, but that was before the rising Atlantic had claimed the streets. Everyone with the creds lived in one of the state-of-the-art, hundreds of stories tall arcologies dotting the Florida Shoals.
“Have you ever been to the OLH, Dr. Ross?”
At the slight coloring of her cheeks, he guessed that she had not. She likely lived in the Shoals if she could afford longevity drugs. Those islands were guarded 24/7 by droid guards that kept the riffraff out and were veritable fortresses.
Sensing a momentary advantage, Lucian pressed on. “Why’s any of this your business, anyway? Yeah, I live on my own. I don’t have much, but I scrape by. I’ve had a job since I was fifteen. I’m studying for the civil exam, too, and as soon as I save up the money, I’m off this cesspool of a planet. And I don’t need anybody’s help to do it.”
All three watched him in a sort of muted shock. Lucian knew he shouldn’t have gone off on them, but if there was one thing that annoyed him, it was being dismissed because of his age. Sure, he was twenty, but he was ten times more responsible than most of his drug-addled, hedonistic peers, who lived only for their monthly government stimmy checks and all the drugs the city could offer.
“Very well, Lucian,” Dr. Nowak said, in a nasal tone. “Just a few more questions. Do you experience déjà vu or vivid dreams?”
The question made Lucian freeze, but he recovered. “No. I mean, sometimes I do, but not any more than other people.”
“Approximately how often would you say?” Dr. Nowak pressed.
“I don’t know. Déjà vu once every couple of weeks. Vivid dreams, about the same amount.”
“Hmm.” He made a note. Lucian tried not to roll his eyes.
“Do you have an active imagination, or do you imagine things that often end up happening?” Dr. Ross asked.
He suppressed a shiver. “No to both.”
“Do you ever get the feeling that something bad is about to happen, and it comes true?” Dr. Nowak asked.
They stared at Lucian hard, as if willing him to lie. What did it matter if he did have weird dreams, or if he did have déjà vu? Why would it matter, even if it had happened once a day, or even more? Maybe he just had an active imagination. It didn’t mean he was a mage, one of those unfortunate souls doomed to fray once their powers broke their sanity.
No. He wasn’t one of them.
“All right,” Dr. Ross said. “That’ll do for questions. If you would follow us, Lucian, we’ll take you to the MMI lab now.”
All three stood at the same time. Lucian followed them out into the short hallway, his pulse quickening. A part of him wanted to run, as futile as that was.
They led him into a large room, in the center of which stood a vertical vat. It was about three meters tall by one meter wide, filled with a viscous pink fluid. A breathing mask hung suspended in the liquid, connected to a breathing tube and a jumble of wires.
“I have to get in that? No way!”
“It’ll only take an hour,” Dr. Ross said. “We’ve done this test many times before. It’s safe.”
Lucian had so many questions, but he was already at their mercy. He couldn’t show any more weakness. If they wanted him to hop in that pink bath, then why not? It wasn’t like he could get out of this, anyway.
“Just tell me what I need to do.”
The vat whirred as it rotated downward until it lay horizontal. The glass door on top opened with a hiss, revealing the eerie pink liquid within.
“This is the MMI vat,” Dr. Wallace explained, giving it a tap. “You’ll wear the mask and fall asleep inside, taking deep and controlled breaths. The fluid will access your brain, allowing us to see what’s going on without the need for cybernetics.”
“Don’t you have pills for this?” Lucian asked.
“Sim pills don’t project thoughts outside the brain,” Dr. Ross said. “Not in any meaningful way.”
“I assure you, the vat is comfortable,” Dr. Wallace said, with a chuckle. “I’ve been inside one myself. Very warm and cozy. Some people use them for therapy, with promising results.”
Dr. Ross returned from a cabinet, handing Lucian a set of beige scrubs. They looked exceedingly uncomfortable. “Go ahead and put this on. There’s a changing room over there. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Once they’d left, Lucian didn’t waste time. He was changed in less than a minute. He waited in the cold room barefoot, his stomach doing leaps. He tried not to look at that vat, or to think about his reason for being here. Whatever that pink stuff was, it didn’t look natural.
He wanted out of here. But how? The League mandated the exam. Getting a pass was out of the question.
One in twenty million. He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t a mage.
A minute later, the doctors returned.
“Okay,” Dr. Ross said, forcing a smile. “Step into the vat and sit in the fluid. We’ll help you with the mask. Once you’re comfortable, go ahead and lie on your back and submerge yourself.”
Hesitation would only make him look weak, so Lucian stepped into the vat. The liquid was warm and syrupy, seeming to congeal around his foot. The warm feeling wasn’t . . . unpleasant. That was hard to admit. It was like a bath, but stickier.
He immersed himself up to his torso. Both Dr. Wallace and Dr. Nowak held him by the shoulders, while Dr. Ross stood next to him, slate out.
“Don’t force me under,” Lucian said.
“We won’t,” Dr. Nowak replied.
Dr. Ross handed him a pill and a paper cup filled with water. “Here.”
“It’ll help you sleep. The whole test is pointless without it.”
Lucian stared at it a moment, before popping the pill and washing it down.
“Now,” she said, “let me help you with that mask . . .”
“I’ve got it,” Lucian said.
When Lucian picked up the mask, pink fluid dripped off it in long, snotty streams. The fluid even covered the inside.
“Hold your horses,” Dr. Ross said. “Will you let us help you?”
Lucian was forced to oblige. A moment later, a disgusting sucking sound emanated from the breathing tube. Once the inside of the mask was clean, the suction stopped.
“I hope you don’t do that to me while I’m wearing it.”
“There are safety features that prevent that from happening,” Dr. Ross said in a world-weary way.
She helped Lucian with the mask, and he let her clamp it on. A steady supply of air entered. The mask covered the entirety of his face. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about the fluid getting into his eyes.
“Okay,” she said. “Ready?”
Lucian nodded. “I guess.” The mask made his voice garbled and robotic.
Dr. Wallace and Dr. Nowak guided him down. Actually, they were pushing him down. So much for not forcing things. Lucian fought the urge to free himself.
Before he knew it, he was completely submerged. When the glass door clicked shut, a mounting sense of claustrophobia made him want to scream. His breaths came out rapidly while his heart slammed against his chest.
The vat rotated until it was completely upright. Lucian tried not to think of how exposed and idiotic he looked. But before his thoughts could race out of control, a sudden wave of drowsiness overcame him, too powerful to ignore. His heartbeat slowed, and he could barely keep his eyes open.
His last view through the pink haze was of a video screen. The three doctors crowded around it.
The image on the screen was startling. It was of the world through his eyes, of him watching the doctors watching the screen, ad infinitum.
It was the last thing before darkness took him…
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“The results?” Lucian asked.
Through the expansive window of Dr. Ross’s office, Lucian could see the shimmering waters of Biscayne Bay intertwining with the canals that now defined Miami. After succumbing to the relentless rise of the sea, the city now resembled a latter-day Venice, its glimmering skyscrapers partially drowned by time and tide. In the distance, a spaceship pierced the serene sky, leaving a contrail as it ventured into the unknown. Lucian imagined himself aboard that ship, far away from the nightmare unfolding before him.
“The results are in,” Dr. Ross confirmed, her voice snapping him from his reverie. “I won’t sugarcoat it. We’re witnessing unmistakable signs of metaphysical emergence.”
The room seemed to shrink, the words echoing ominously. Lucian felt a surreal detachment, as if he were a spectator in this scene, not a protagonist.
“This must be a mistake,” his mother said, her voice laced with denial. “I’m his mother. I’ve never seen him act like . . . one of them.”
Dr. Ross shook her head. “There’s no mistake, Mrs. Abrantes. The dream analysis conducted yesterday revealed clear meta-energy signatures. It’s an early sign, and a significant one.”
Lucian could feel his mother’s gaze, probing, searching for some sign of denial in him. But he could only offer silence, his focus fixed on the desk before him.
“But the screen going black. . .” His mother was fishing for something, anything, to deny what Lucian already knew to be true.
“It’s a consistent marker of emerging abilities,” Dr. Ross explained calmly. “Though full manifestation hasn’t occurred, catching it early gives us a chance. Immediate intervention might delay the worst. Lucian needs to be enrolled in an Academy as soon as possible.”
A chilling realization crystallized within Lucian. The fabled tales of mages going mad with their powers were no longer just stories; they were reality. A future tainted with decay, loss, and a battle against an inner darkness that threatened to consume him from the inside out.
His mother and Dr. Ross turned their attention to him, their expressions a mix of pity and desperation. Lucian felt paralyzed, fear and disbelief rendering him speechless.
His mother’s voice broke through his daze. “There must be a cure, something to prevent this . . .”
Dr. Ross shook her head, her voice carrying a hint of sorrow. “Unfortunately, modern medicine has its limits. The only viable path is training at a League-sanctioned academy. It’s not an easy journey, but a necessary one.”
The discussion about travel logistics seemed to buzz around him, a distant hum as he grappled with the staggering reality. Lucian felt cornered, his dreams and aspirations slipping through his fingers like fine sand.
A thought then struck him. He knew it was grasping at straws, but he couldn’t help himself. “And what if I go it alone?”
Dr. Ross regarded him with sympathy. “Lucian, that’s not a viable option. The League has measures in place to track unregulated mages. Escaping their radar is impossible, and even if you manage to, the results could be catastrophic.”
There was no way out then. This was his reality. He was a mage, doomed to go mad and die from a power beyond all understanding. Beyond all reckoning.
The room closed in on him, the paths before him narrowing until there was but one path left. The path chosen for him. The path he had no say in.
He felt a surge of anger, a fierce rejection of the hand he had been dealt.
He suddenly stood. “I won’t have it.”
“Lucian?” his mother asked.
“I won’t have it!”
He pushed back from the table, his chair scraping harshly against the floor. He sprinted from the room, running as far as he could from the looming shadow that threatened to cover him . . .
This special bundle contains the first four books of The Starsea Cycle:
- The Mages of Starsea
- The Orb of Binding
- The Rifts of Psyche
- The Chosen of the Manifold
|Paperback dimensions:||8.5" x 5.5"|
|Total Page length:||1,522|
|Audiobook narrated by:||Rob Brinkmann|
|Audiobook length:||48 hours, 12 minutes|
About the Author
Kyle West is best known for his bestselling science fantasy series: The Starsea Cycle, The Wasteland Chronicles, and The Xenoworld Saga. His passion for both science fiction and fantasy come to life on the pages of his books, melding into a genre known as "science fantasy."
He got his start in 2012 with his post-apocalyptic/horror/fantasy series, The Wasteland Chronicles. He then moved onto The Xenoworld Saga, a dystopian fantasy series set in the same universe.
Most recently, he has published The Starsea Cycle, a creative spin on space opera, where magic is introduced to the universe through a series of mysterious interstellar gateways.
In 2022, he took his success one step further by launching Kyle West Books, his own independent bookstore that provides readers direct access to his work.
Kyle currently resides in Oklahoma City with his family.
Why your own bookstore?
It's just a way for Kyle to keep a greater share of the sales price. You can also find his books elsewhere online.
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