Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Tower: Epilogue

Notes: Oh my word, it's the epilogue. The end! At least of this chapter of Anton and Camille's epic journey. There are more adventures to come and crimes to solve, but for now, we're done.

I hope you enjoyed the ride. Next week we'll start something new. Thanks for reading, darlins!

Title: The Tower: Epilogue

***




The Tower: Epilogue



There was an unspoken but powerful code of behavior that went along with being a lumière. The conduct of the emperor’s investigators had to be beyond reproach, both personally and professionally. Slipups led to mistakes, and mistakes led to people thinking they could get the better of you through intimidation, blackmail, or subterfuge. Such a thing was inexcusable.

Lumières were chosen in part because they had something about them, usually some loss, that made the work a prime candidate for their fulfillment. Numerous lumières were the sole surviving members of their close families, while others had families that were taken care of because of the admittedly hazardous job. A small percentage of them were special people, like Camille—people with a trait that set them outside the normal human experience.

Camille was the only lumière he knew of, though, that could claim his particularly interesting lineage.

It hurt to leave Anton alone in his bed, but Camille didn’t plan to be gone long, and the young man needed his rest. He had been through hell and back in the past few days.

And whose fault is that, he asked himself as he headed out into the cold, blustery darkness. He drew his collars up more tightly, then headed for the area of town that sold what he needed, even at this hour.

Camille wasn’t a fool, or prone to self-delusion. He knew exactly how much of what had happened to Anton as a result of this investigation was his fault. He should never have brought an outsider in, should have resisted Anton’s desperate deal back on the train four months ago and forced a stop, given him up to the gendarmes. It was cruel, but if he had been cruel then, most likely Anton wouldn’t have nearly died tonight.

You would miss him.

Or perhaps you wouldn’t even realize what you missed, and life would have gone on grey and alone and safe. Safe for him, at least.

Ah, well. The past couldn’t be undone. Anton was in this up to his neck now, and Camille wasn’t the only one who knew it anymore. Dr. Grable would help look after him here—the professor had done his time in the imperial army, and Camille knew there was more to his distinguished service record than met the eye. After his recent shaming, he would work harder to ensure the safety of his students. He would protect Anton when Camille couldn’t.

You’re setting yourself up to be his keeper, when you know full well what he wants is a partner.

Camille pulled his coat tighter and picked up the pace.

He ended up in a small, smoky gaming house not far from the river, a combination gambling den and tavern. Camille went to the bar and ordered a drink, then turned around and watched the games. He looked for patterns, for who won when, for how they did it, and for their demeanor in general. After a few minutes, he saw what he was looking for.

There. Four out of five of that particular man’s wins, his throws of the dice were accompanied by a peculiar twist of his wrist. When he lost, there was nothing. Minor magic powered by a simple action, just what Camille needed. When the bartender came back his way, Camille had a drink sent to the man in question. It should be enough to get his attention. If it wasn’t, well…no one liked to be taken by a cheater. Camille could make this gambler’s life very uncomfortable.

The beer was delivered, a question asked and answered, and a moment later the gambler looked Camille’s way with one eyebrow raised. Camille smiled and wiggled his hand slightly. The gambler frowned, but he excused himself from the game and joined Camille at the bar a moment later.

“What the hell are you playing at?” he demanded in a low voice, leaning in close. He smelled strongly of alcohol, but it seemed to come mostly from his clothes, Camille noted. A true professional, then.

“I simply have need of a little special assistance,” Camille replied. “It won’t take more than a moment of your time, and I will pay for it.”

The man eyed him suspiciously. “Assistance with what?”

“A very simple bit of spellwork.”

The man began to shake his head. “Ah no, I don’t do that sort of thing. I’m not trained for it, and what you don’t know can kill you in this game.”

“Trust me, the spell in place is impeccably safe. All it needs is a bit of energy.”

The man eyed him. “You know of such things, and yet you cannot charge it yourself?”

“A man can understand the mechanics of flight without being a bird. Come now.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a twenty-franc gold Napoléon. “This will be yours for the work of a moment.”

The gambler’s eyes widened. “That’s more than I’ve made all night.” He looked up at Camille again. “A moment’s work, you say?”

“Indeed.”

“Fine.” The gambler tilted his head back and downed the beer in one long go, then set the tankard back on the bar with a sigh. “But not in here. I have a reputation to think about.”

“Of course,” Camille said dryly. “Come with me.”

They ended up in an alley that let out next to the river, filthy and abandoned at this time of night. The gambler chafed his arms with an irritated grumble. “Whatever the object is, better give it to me fast before my hands entirely lose their ability to feel.”

Camille reached around his neck and pulled out a chain. On the end of the chain was a dull, lead-covered locket. He handed it over to the gambler. “Open that, feel for the edge of the spell inside, charge it, and then lay the locket on the ground.”

The man looked at it curiously. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What is this thing?”

“None of your concern, except with regards to making it function.”

The gambler held up a hand. “Aye, aye, I see the way of it. Fine. One moment.” He opened the locket, looked inside, and frowned. “Hmm. Clever.” He closed his eyes, cupped the open locket in both hands, and shook it for a moment. A glow began to emanate from between his fingers. “Aha! There you are.” He went to hand it back, but Camille forestalled him.

“On the ground, please.”

“Right.” He set it down, straightened up and held out a hand. Camille pressed the Napoléon into it.

“My thanks. Go back and warm yourself. Have another drink on me.”

The gambler grinned. “With this I could have a hundred drinks on you! Good luck in whatever the hell it is you’re doing.” He turned and sauntered away, leaving Camille alone with the glowing locket. He knelt down on the cobblestones beside it and stared into the glow. Soon, he would receive an answer. It never took more than ten minutes.

This time it took five, and the face that appeared inside the locket was yawning, clearly woken up by Camille’s call. “Rather late for a check-in, isn’t it?”

“Forgive my intrusion, sir, but time is of the essence. Things have become complicated in Zurich.”

This wasn’t the sort of call Camille made lightly, and the tired eyes staring at him sharpened with curiosity. “Go on.”

He quickly recounted the tale since his arrival: the winding resolution of the murders, the connections that went deeper than expected, Montgomery’s use of dark magic and subsequent flight with the palimpsest. Things being what they were, the man he was speaking with pressed where Camille had hoped he wouldn’t. “And the young thaumaturge? What is his status?”

“Taken aback.”

“Camille.”

He sighed. “Forgive me. He’s…recovering. Feeling responsible.”

“And so he should be.”

“It was I who—”

“I’m not absolving you of responsibility either. I’m simply pointing out the facts. Do you think he can still be of use?”

“He has extensive notes on the palimpsest and will continue working on them.”

“That isn’t what I’m referring to, and you know it.”

“I would rather not involve him and more deeply than is necessary.” Camille had to force the words out past his lips. He always hated confiding things he regarded as precious, as his. “He has a future here. Let him live it.”

“At this rate, he will be involved one way or the other. If not through you, then through Grable. Are you abdicating all responsibility for him, then?”

Camille had considered it, cutting off all contact with Anton and leaving him hurt but whole. Anton would recover in time. The dark, shameful secret of it was that Camille wasn’t at all certain that he would recover. He had never had someone like Anton in his life before, a life of duty and sacrifice, and the thought of losing him was breathtakingly painful. “No.”

The man nodded. “Very well. But be sure, Camille. This is likely your last chance to set him loose. I have too much need of skills such as his otherwise.”

“I understand.” I am selfish, so selfish. I would be damned if I had a soul.

“Fine. For now, leave him be. Hunt down Montgomery and retrieve the palimpsest by any means necessary. We need to keep that information from spreading.”

“I understand.”

“Check in with me again when you have something substantial to report. Do you need anything sent to you? Money, equipment?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Then go and get some rest, Camille.” The man smiled slightly. “Your mother would slap me from beyond the grave if she could see you now.” His face vanished. Camille carefully tipped the locket closed, handling only the leaded side, and the glow cut off entirely, leaving Camille alone in the dark.

The die was cast. Anton was in deeper than he knew. Camille should tell him more, would tell him more, but…not yet. He had an education to finish, research to do, a normal life to live. There would be time later, time to explain, to bring him in deeper.

Camille would not spoil what they had before it was absolutely necessary.

He made his way back to his guesthouse and up to his room, entering quietly and stripping down. Anton was still asleep in the bed, the only movement the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. The darkness hid his contusions, his cuts and wounds. He had almost died tonight. Unthinkable.

I will not let that happen.

Camille joined him in bed and, unable to resist, settled in so that their sides touched. Anton turned to him like gravity, pressing his face against Camille’s neck before startling slightly. “Cold,” he slurred.

“I know, I’m sorry.” Camille kissed his forehead. “Everything is well, go back to sleep.”

“Mmm.” Anton was out again in moments, and Camille shut his eyes and breathed in the scent of him, tried to memorize the warmth of his body and the feel of his strong, slender limbs. He had to leave in the morning, and who knew when he would see Anton again?

That he would, though, was inevitable.

He would make sure of that.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Three Announcements! New release, audio book and giveaway results!

It's a busy Monday today!

Seriously, Baby Girl has her 4-month doctor's appointment in an hour, it's super busy, but I've got time to put the word out for a few fun things.

The first, and biggest: today is the release day for the final book (novella) in the Bad Behavior series I wrote with LA Witt! Romantic Behavior is the happily-ever-after you've all been waiting for. It's been long enough coming, jeez. Links below!


Secondly, I had an audio book come out last week. Not a Riptide book, shockingly, a Dreamspinner one! Off The Beaten Path, my novel of family, werewolves, weird politics and, of course, romance is now available at Audible! It was narrated by Jack Wesley and I think he did a great job. You can find it here!



And lastly, speaking of audio books, it's time to give away Friendly Fire! Lynette, Amelia, Carolyn and geemeedee--you guys win! I'll leave reply messages on the other post so you know where to contact me to get your book.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Tower: Chapter Ten, Part Two

Notes: Almost done! One more chapter for an epilogue from Camille's perspective, I think, and then we'll be on our way. Have some denouement, darlins.

Title: The Tower: Chapter Ten, Part Two

***



Chapter Ten, Part Two



To say that Doctor Grable was furious about the entire affair would be an understatement. He was in a state of towering rage, the sort that made some men fume and pace and throw things. In him, it just seemed to make him go cold and still. Anton had never seen a man’s eyes harden like that. “You’re sure of this?”

“As sure as I can be.” Camille didn’t sound intimidated. Well, that made one of them. “Wordless, wandless magic—a spell of compulsion laid on each of his friends, and on Anton as well. They did the killing—at least some of it—but Gerald Montgomery was the one powering their actions and blacking out their memories of it. He tried to cover up his tracks tonight by pushing the three of them into actions that would result in their own deaths. That, of course, is where he went wrong.”

“Why ‘of course’?” Anton asked. Doctor Grable was the one who answered.

“Spells of compulsion like Montgomery worked are considered dark magic. Old, without concrete form and function, more the result of sheer will on the part of the caster than on the rituals we utilize today, for safety’s sake. This sort of unstructured magic used to be common, but it regularly killed more people than could ever hope to master it. The thaumaturgical system enforces order, and through that order, there is safety for the practitioner. It’s hard to disregard your own safety when you’re working a spell, harder still to force someone to disregard their own.

“Montgomery was able to make his friends kill because he’d had months, perhaps years, to work on them. To turn and twist their will, a cause aided by lowering their inhibitions with alcohol, most likely. But to get them to kill themselves, or take actions that would cause the same result?” He shook his head. “Not so simple. You saw the result of that—hell, you’re part of the result of that. You were able to catch yourself, Percival didn’t end up committing suicide, and Harry worked his magic so inefficiently it was a matter of ease to loop a binding over him.”

Anton hadn’t remembered his part of things being quite so easy, but now didn’t seem to be the time to argue the point. Doctor Grable clearly wasn’t done with either of them. “I can see now the method behind his murders, but I cannot understand his motive. What was he looking for? What did he think these men had?”

“A magical palimpsest,” Camille said, surprising Anton with his immediate candor. “One that contains a spell deadly enough to raise concern at the highest levels of government.”

The doctor’s eyebrow raised. “And why send a man with no magical skill after a magical book?”

“Why not?” Camille countered. “When has anyone ever needed magic to act as a hunter? Although, in this case, I was not entirely without magic, thanks to Anton’s assistance.”

“Ah.” Doctor Grable looked between them and nodded. “I understand the timing now. These men who died…Montgomery thought they had the book.”

“Indeed.”

“Well.” The doctor blew out a breath. “At least his plans were foiled there.”

 Anton cleared his throat. “Ah—”

“Indeed, we were most fortunate,” Camille said before Anton could continue to interject. “And as for why he decided to end his charade now, I assume it has something to do with the fact that his father has just been thrown in prison back in England, and all of their lands have been confiscated by the crown. I went through some of his personal correspondence while you cleaned up,” he said in an aside to Anton. “Debauchery and deceit are apparently heritable traits in the Montgomerys.”

“Oh.” But… “But he had to be a member of the Devoué before that, didn’t he? To learn the dark magic?”

“Perhaps he was merely waiting for the right cause to come to him,” Doctor Grable said dryly. “The Devoué, from what I understand, are not a movement that relies too heavily on magic in any form. That’s the only minor blessing to be had in this whole rotten affair.” He pushed up from his chair. “Lord Lumière, if you wish to bring my inattentiveness regarding the conduct and capacity of my students to the emperor’s attention, that is of course your prerogative. Rest assured, I’ll be threading through the rest of them like a needle through broadcloth. If there are more Devoué sympathizers, I will root them out.”

“I believe you.” Camille stood and laid a hand on Anton’s shoulder. “I believe our business can be continued tomorrow. It’s late, and we should leave you to your work.”

It was an easy out, and Anton wanted to take it, but first he had to know—“What are you going to do about Percival and Harry?” Because they were killers, that much was true, but they weren’t cold-blooded murderers.

“Do?” Doctor Grable looked a bit surprised. “All I plan to do is have them see a medical thaumaturge as soon as I can summon one, to ensure the hold Montgomery placed on them is gone. Then, I suppose, we’ll see. If they wish to continue their studies here, I won’t discourage it. I have the feeling, though, that our university’s appeal has rather palled for them at this point. I hope it hasn’t done so for you as well, Mr. Seiber.”

“Oh.” Anton hadn’t even considered that. “No, I—I have no plans to, to leave before I’m finished with my studies.”

“Good. In that case, gentlemen, I bid you good evening.” This time, Camille took the hint and left, guiding Anton by his shoulder and steering him away from the hall that held his little room.

“Come back with me to mine,” he murmured, and Anton all but collapsed with relief. His nerves were frayed to the breaking point, and it was all he could do now to let himself be led back outside into the darkness and wind—that terrible, hungry wind, that tore at you and did not want to let go—and down the road to Camille’s guesthouse.

If Anton had thought of returning here before the events of tonight—and he certainly had—it had been with ideas of mutual pleasure like they’d enjoyed before. But now…he felt hollow. He had used up all his energy, every iota of emotion that had helped him maintain his strong front, and now he was nothing but a husk. He could not feel desire, not even for Camille, when there was no wellspring for the feeling to flow from.

Camille seemed to understand without making the question explicit. He helped Anton out of his bloody, sweat-stained clothes and into a clean nightshirt. Anton’s skin, at least, had already been wiped mostly clear. He wished his mind had as well.

“Sleep,” Camille said gently, laying him down on the bed and joining him a moment later after he blew out the candle. “There is no expectation here other than that.”

And Anton was ready to sleep, ready for oblivion, but first… “You forgive me, then?”

Camille killed his brown, just below the swollen skin of the cut on his head. “There is nothing to forgive.”

Anton was pretty sure there was, but he’d take the reassurance for now. Sleep, at least, came as swiftly as he’d hoped it would.

***

For Camille, it was a different story.