Monday, May 30, 2016

A slight delay and a throwback gift

Hi guys!

Sooo...I'm doing edits. Like, lots of them. Picture a page covered with words. Add red. Add yellow. Add text boxes. Now do that two hundred and thirty times. Yeahhhh...and it's exactly what I should be doing, but it hasn't left much time for writing. Yep, I don't have more of The Train for you yet.

But but but! I have a present coming your way! It's a vignette that I mean to add to the end of Redstone, and it's going to be fun. I'll try to do it tomorrow, possibly Wednesday, and post it asap. I won't leave you hanging!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Train: Chapter Five, Part Two

Notes: I'm finally starting to tie bits and pieces together! We're probably 1/3 of the way done, maybe a little more. Slow and steady steampunk! Don't worry, action is coming.

Title: The Train: Chapter Five, Part Two


Chapter Five, Part Two


Anton frowned. “How could you possibly know what I’m thinking?”

“Because with your limited experience in such investigations, not to mention your particular skillset, your mind is naturally inclined in certain directions,” Camille said. “I can deduce what you’re thinking about this case by considering what I know of you and juxtaposing it with your facial expressions, which are far from well controlled, I must add.”

“I can’t believe that my face gives away so much,” Anton protested. “What am I thinking, then?”

“Something incorrect.”

“Then what is correct?”

“It’s hard to know quite yet,” Camille mused. Anton was prepared to shout at him for being obtuse, but he went on. “I’ll need to see the body again, but for now, come back to the suite with me.”

“So you can tell me again everything that I’m missing, without telling me anything at all?” Anton asked sarcastically.

“So that I can tell you what I observe, and you may determine whether or not you agree,” Camille replied as he pushed to his feet. It was a rather more genteel response than Anton had been expecting, honestly. Instructors of any kind, in nearly any situation, believed that the best way to make a lesson stick was to shout it into their students’ heads, and apply themselves as heartily to punishing failures as they did to ignoring successes. Or perhaps that was just Oxford, but either way, Anton was cautiously eager to learn what Camille had discovered.

They stood together just inside the door of the suite. The body was now resting in the train’s ice chest, but everything else was still there. The room was beginning to smell ripe, and Anton wrinkled his nose.

“You studied with a mortician, did you not?” Camille asked. “Surely you’ve seen plenty of death before.”

“None of it so immediate,” Anton said.

Camille kindly didn’t press, instead gesturing toward the too-small red puddle in the center of the carpet. “I begin with the body itself. You remember how it looked, yes?”

“Yes.” As if he could have forgotten over the space of a single hour.

“What did you remark about the viscount’s feet?”

“His feet?” Anton thought back. They had seemed like perfectly ordinary feet to him. “They were…”

“Bare,” Camille provided when Anton stalled. “But he had slippers at the ready, at the foot of his bed.”

That seemed sensible enough. “Why is that relevant?”

“It’s a matter of positioning.” Camille waved a hand as if dismissing it. “Now consider the manner of the viscount’s death. I deem him to have been killed by a gunshot.”

“As do I.”

“But there was no psychic sign of the killer within the room,” Camille continued. “So. Where would an assailant have to be in order to murder the viscount without being in the room?”

Anton felt a bit like a child, but he answered gamely. “Outside the door.”

“Possible, although there would be the issue of noise from the gunshot. Where else?”

“Um…through one of the windows, perhaps?”

“Perhaps. None of them are open, but that’s hardly material,” Camille agreed. “But if either of those options are the case, then the evidence doesn’t add up. The body proved that.”

“The body?” Anton thought about the position of Viscount Bonaparte again, the way he had lain flat-faced against the ground. He thought about the way the death miasma had shown him jerk, just as he was bending over for his…his…

“Wait.” Anton moved a bit further into the room and looked straight down at the carpet. There was nothing amiss with it but the blood. He glanced over at the slippers at the foot of the massive bed, then down again. “It’s not possible.”

“What isn’t?” Camille asked.

“He could not have been shot from below. There’s no way!”

“Or so it appears.” Camille joined Anton at the edge of the carpet. “At first, at least.” He bent over and picked up the corner of the rug, then threw it back. Only a triangle of floor was revealed, but it was enough to see the neat, splintered hole in the wooden floor. There was also a great deal more blood smeared across the smooth oak boards.

Anton gaped from the hole to Camille, who looked mildly satisfied. “So. There is the trajectory of our murder weapon.”


“Why do you persist in doubting it?”

“Because there are too many variables that would have to fall into place for such a thing to occur!” Anton insisted. “Apart from magically moving a rug beneath the viscount after he had already died, there is the issue of where such a shot could have been delivered from, and what sort of shooter could possibly have the prescience to know where to fire, much less when, so that the shot corresponded perfectly with the viscount reaching for his slippers!” Anton threw his hands up in the air. “I’m the thaumaturge, and I know of no spell that would accomplish all of these things at once.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t just one spell.” Camille crouched down and stared at the bullet hole, rubbing one hand thoughtfully over his chin. The train’s pace was smooth despite the angle of their climb, as they’d entered the mountains last night, but Anton was tempted to move a bit closer, just in case they jolted and Camille needed someone to lean against in order to hold his position. “But you’re correct about the timing. One would need to be a very special sort of shooter—or at least, have a very special weapon—in order to make a shot like that.”

Anton felt suddenly chilled. “You would need to be armed,” he said slowly, “with a gun that didn’t miss. A gun that guaranteed a kill whenever it was fired.”

“That would be a very dangerous and very masterful spell,” Camille agreed. “And where have you encountered a weapon like this before?”

The chill gave way to a feeling of nausea that made Anton shut his eyes for a moment. “Oh lord. The knife that Hasler attacked me with.”

“The knife that would have killed you if it hadn’t killed him.” There was more than a hint of compassion in Camille’s voice, and Anton mentally clung to it. “If such a spell actually exists, and was laid upon the knife, then it could be that the same spell was set upon the gun that was used against Viscount Bonaparte.”

“It seems likely.” And Hasler’s thaumaturgical expertise had been in enhancing weaponry. “But…but that doesn’t explain how the gun could have been fired through the floor!”

Camille nodded. “I have enquiries to make with the rest of the staff concerning the working of this train, as well as many people who need their curiosity quelled. Perhaps you could attempt a spell of magical resonance with the knife.”

Magical resonance…oh, why hadn’t Anton thought of that? He began to nod, then halted, frozen. “How did you know I kept the knife?”

Camille’s smile was slightly mocking. “A magical knife of unknown abilities that dispatched its owner and creator for you? You’d have to have no sense of curiosity whatsoever to toss something like that in the nearest rubbish pile. Not to mention, it wouldn’t be a responsible way to dispose of something that could effectively make its’ wielder invincible if they always struck first.”

“Of course.”

“If you would test for resonance, it might help us find the gun.” Camille shrugged slightly. “Or the gun might have been thrown out of a window and the distance will be too great for a resonance field to be of any use. Nevertheless, I would appreciate you trying it.”

A spell. Anton mentally reviewed his available equipment. “I’ll do that.” He turned to head back to their room, but stopped when he felt one of Camille’s hands press against his calf. Anton’s breath caught in his throat.

“Do remember to leave it sheathed,” Camille said softly. “It’s conceivable that such a blade won’t be satisfied being on display without taking a life.”

“I will take every precaution,” Anton replied, a trifle stiffly, but it was hard to keep his cool while he took comfort in the kind touch.

“Thank you.” He let go, and Anton headed back to their car.

Getting there was like beating his way through a bloody gauntlet. Consuls and courtiers pressed in on him from all sides, demanding answers. Anton blithely turned their attention back to Lord Lumière, who had reentered the lounge car shortly after Anton. He bore the shouts and inquiries with cool aplomb, and Anton practically ran the narrow hallway to their sleeping car. Locking it shut was a true relief.

He wanted to take a moment to breathe. He wanted a moment to eat, even; his headache was coming back with a vengeance, and that was entirely due to being denied his morning tea and toast and eggs, but there was no time to ring for a plate. Every second counted now, and a resonance spell could grow stronger over time if it was cast right. Anton needed this to be over before Zürich; he would accept nothing else.

All right, then. A resonance spell. With mundane objects, this was a simple task: you laid out a set of seeking glyphs around the item at hand, tested its thaumaturgical vibrations, and set it to search a similar resonance. Then you carried the object around and watched it for responsiveness.

Anton pulled the ingredients methodically out of his bag, saving the sheathed knife for last. He made a face as he set it in the center of the floor, and immediately began inscribing the seeking glyphs around it. He surrounded those with several atypical sigils for protection, just in case. There was no need for the brazier this time; Anton lit a simple beeswax candle, spoke the words for seeking, then laid a line of wax along the side of the knife. He took a deep breath, then blew out the candle.

It was like sounding a gong inside his head. Anton gritted his teeth at the vicious strength of the response; lord, it was a good thing he’d laid in the extra protection sigils, otherwise he might have lost consciousness. And now he would have to carry the bloody thing around with him. Delightful.

The ringing subsided to nothing after another moment, which…could mean anything, really. Resonance spells were still woefully non-specific, as far as Anton was concerned. The gun might be five feet away, or fifty miles. Perhaps he and Camille were drawing a connection where none existed, and there would never be an answering resonance.

Anton wasn’t willing to bet on that, though.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Learning The Long Way Around

So, here's a thing to know about me: I'm not a quitter.

This is good sometimes. I've got a college degree that required three passes at Calculus 1 to get (but I finally finished that useless, completely unhelpful goddamn requirement), I've got looots of martial arts experience despite numerous lacerations, severed tendons and broken bones over the years, I stuck out two years in the Peace Corps in Togo (admittedly, with a couple of getaways) and, oh yeah, I've written some things as well. I firmly believe that persistence is key to accomplishing a lot in life.

Sometimes, though, I screw myself over by not knowing when to quit. Like when I keep backpacking even though I've got that telltale pinch in my foot, and then walk until I'm bloody. Or when I keep participating in something that's no more than rote tediousness because, well, I haven't finished it yet (Girl Scouts, oh my god. I was much better at Explorer Scouts, where I could do more outdoorsy stuff). Or, when I'm writing something and I'm not feeling it, and I'm not liking it, and I'm not having any fun but I keep on going because, well, I determined that this was the thing to be working on right now. It's on my schedule. I highlighted that bad boy. It's time to Do This Thing even though I already know I'm not going to like the way it turns out. Or, if I finally throw in the towel, I do so with a great sense of personal failure, like, "Wow, you couldn't even meet this goal. You suck, babe. Say it with me: you SUCK."

Something I recently realized about myself thanks to a friend's observation: I tend to do better when I'm writing something with humor. It doesn't have to be a comedy, but there needs to be a certain lightness to it that I can latch onto and run with. It makes the writing more enjoyable for me and, judging by reception, it makes the reading more enjoyable for whoever picks the book up. I haven't yet mastered the art of angst, or the sort of heavy, serious reads that so many authors in the genres I enjoy excel at. I do it lighter. I need the banter, the buildup, the playtime. I just do. Or, at least right now I do, because my latest story has all sorts of potential and I'm just not feeling it because it's so fucking doom and gloom. With, y'know, a happy ending, but that isn't enough. The plot needs an overhaul. The characters need more consideration. And I just need to move on to something else.

Example: if any of you have read Tempest, there's a part in the middle where things are suddenly really Not Okay for our main characters. Everything before that I wrote in three weeks (the fastest I've ever written in my life). Once I got there? I had to put the book away. For almost a year. Yeah. And then I went back to it, and it was fine, and I think it turned out pretty well!

I'm trying to get a handle on the fact that it isn't quitting to set something aside, or even scrap it entirely. It's okay. This current story doesn't have a due date; it's a thing I want to try, but I'm not there right now. Maybe I will be in a month. Maybe a year. Maybe not at all. Letting it go for now is infinitely better than pile-driving my way through a story that I'm only going to be unhappy with, though. And I kind of hate that I have to, but I'm trying to learn to be a little nicer to myself, so: "Cari. You don't suck, and you're not a failure for shelving that project. Pick something else up and run with it. It's okay."

I don't quite feel that way yet, but it's a goal, and hey, I'm not a quitter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Train: Chapter Five, Part One

Notes: Who did what when, where, and why? We start to figure that out now. Or at least someone does; Anton is mostly confused, which to be fair, I am too. And I'm the author. I'd better figure this out.

Title: The Train: Chapter Five, Part One


Chapter Five, Part One


The lounge room was appropriated for the sake of interviews. It irritated the other consuls to no end, but Monsieur Cassan had been more than willing to give them the space. The man was clearly shocked, but doing his best not to let on to the rest of his passengers. He assembled the group in the dining car that morning and explained, in as few words as possible, the “vile and nefarious act that had occurred on his train,” and that, in accordance with the will of the Emperor’s investigator, they would not be stopping on their way to Lucerne, so as to preserve the scene of the crime as best they could.

It went unsaid, but understood, that as long as the train was moving, it would be difficult for the perpetrator to escape. For a limited time, Camille could be assured that the killer was among the group of people on board. If a stop were allowed, that would change. It was, he said, too great a risk.

“But I must leave once we reach Zürich!” Anton had quietly but fervently protested over the disconcerted murmur of the other passengers.

“Then you had better hope we catch the killer in the next forty-eight hours,” Camille had replied with perfect unconcern. “More like thirty-six now, actually.”

“This wasn’t part of our deal! You never said I would have to—”

“I said you would have to play your role to the hilt,” Camille interrupted, his voice soft but intense. “I said you would have to bear the responsibility of your actions no matter what course they took. You chose to come aboard this train in the duplicitous manner than you did, and now you will continue with that task until I have no further use of you, or I will make your life far more difficult than missing your stop in Zürich ever could. Is that understood?”

It wasn’t the first time Lord Lumière had reminded Anton of his part to play in this charade, but it was the first time it had sent a chill down Anton’s spine. This man, who he had so recently felt a degree of amity and understanding with, had no true concern for Anton’s affairs. He was working in his official capacity, and if that meant throwing Anton beneath the wheels of the very train they rode, then he would do so without a word of apology. It was a frightening realization, and Anton turned his face away as he fought to control the fear. He had been far too afraid far too often, lately.

“Consul Hasler.” Lord Lumière’s hand was suddenly on his shoulder, squeezing gently. “Look at me.”

“I would rather not.” The other man would read too much from his face.

Anton.” He spoke with quiet fervency. “I believe it can be done. We can discover the murderer and his associates before it’s too late, but I can’t do it without your help. You have already proven invaluable to this investigation, and I do not take that lightly. Hold on for me, just a few hours more.”

It was stupid to feel reassured by the same man who had had him quaking in his shoes a moment earlier, but Anton did. Lord, he was such a soft touch. “Fine.” He squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “Let’s get on with this.”

“Good man.”

The first thing to do, and the most pressing, was interviewing the people closest to the crime. The first screams had come from one of Viscount Bonaparte’s two personal servants, one of them a young woman currently so pale she would put milk to shame. She wore a royal blue smock and apron, both cut shorter than was usual, and her hair was in a state of utter disarray. She accepted the cup of tea that Camille pressed upon her when she sat down, but she didn’t actually raise it to her lips, instead cradling the heat of it in her hands.

“Your name?”


“And your surname?” Camille prompted.

“Oh, yes.” She gave a fluttering little laugh, but there was no heart to it. “Orlande. Yvette Orlande.”

“How long have you been employed by the viscount?”

“Nearly a year now.” Her lips pressed tight together, and she kept her eyes firmly on the floor.

“During that time, can you recall any person or people who offered him violence? Any arguments, any personal disputes?”

“No, sir.”


“It isn’t my place to remember such things,” she said. “I exist to serve the viscount.”

Rather unique wording. Anton found himself frowning, but he held his tongue and let Camille keep going.

“Of course,” Camille agreed. “Very appropriate of you. Tell me about what happened this morning. The order of events as you remember them.”

“I was…I was sleeping,” Yvette began, her eyebrows scrunching a bit.

“In the viscount’s room?” Camille interrupted.

Finally color began to come back into Yvette’s face, a heated, shamed blush. “Sir…”

“I have no interest in passing judgment on your arrangement with the viscount, whatever it was,” Camille assured her. “But do not let conventional propriety hold back the truth.”

“Not…not in the viscount’s room,” she whispered. “Not last night. Usually, yes, he likes us to be in with him, but not last night. I woke up, though, and it was simply…habit to check on him. When I saw him lying there on the floor, I just—I didn’t know what to do.” She finally turned her wide, pained eyes on both of them. “What should I have done?”

“I cannot say.” Camille’s voice was gentle, but his eyes were not. “Thank you for your candor, Yvette. Send in your partner, if you please.”

“Yes, of course.” She got up and left the room, and Anton immediately turned to Camille.

“She is hiding something.”

“She is hiding, or rather, attempting to hide a good many things. But now isn’t the time to discuss them.” He tilted his head meaningfully toward the door, where a young man about Yvette’s age was entering. Anton subsided and let Camille continue the interviews.

The questions for Yvete’s counterpart were largely the same, but his—Bernard Orlande’s—reactions were far less demure. “I’ve been with him for nearly as long as Yvette,” he snapped. “We’re married.”

Well, that explained the names, Anton thought.

“And did you observe any incidents of argument or violence between the viscount and anyone else during that time?” Camille went on, unperturbed by the man’s tone.

“Only every other night.” Bernard had the same thin, elegantly wan appearance of his wife, but rather more fire, especially now that his employer was wrapped up in sheets repurposed as shrouds and laid in the train’s freezer compartment. Camille had overseen the wrapping himself, but hadn’t yet shared any more of his observations with Anton. “It won’t surprise anyone to know that my lord made enemies far easier than friends. Even the emperor wanted to get rid of him, and they’re first cousins; why else would he be ordered to marry in Lucerne? He was being pushed aside and he knew it. My lord did not appreciate that.”

“He had enemies among his fellow aristocrats?”

“Every one of his breaths held insults, every sigh was shaped to scorn. Who could love such a hateful man?”

“You speak very strongly about the man who was your employer.” Anton’s voice held no censure, but Bernard narrowed his eyes regardless.

“Lord Lumière, I will be the first to confess that my heart never held any love for him. He held a geis over my wife that enforced her loyalty to him, and by marrying her, I shared it.”

Anton frowned. Such things were hedge-magic at best, once common if crude means of enforcing the loyalty of one’s serfs, but they had gone out of fashion in the Middle Ages. Too much sacrifice was required, and after a few hideous royal incidents that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the practice had been banned in Britain. Anton had thought that wisdom would hold true through all the civilized world, but apparently the French were rather more rustic and bloodthirsty than he’d thought.

“And why would a free young man do such a thing?” Camille asked.

“Because there is only so much suffering I could bear to see before I had to act. A geis shared is a burden halved, and it was due to run its course in another year. Then we would have been free of him.”

“I see. Thank you for your time, Monsieur Orlande.” Camille extended his hand, and after a moment, Bernard shook it. “If you would send in Monsieur Cassan on your way out,” Camille added.

“I…that’s all?” Bernard seems a bit flustered. Anton felt rather the same. “You’ve no more questions for me?”

“Well, don’t go leaping from the train, but no. Not at the moment.” He left, and Anton turned incredulously to Camille.

“No more questions? He practically bragged about how much he despised the viscount!”

Camille shrugged. “True, but as he said, any number of people despised the man.”

“But not all of those people had such a means or motive to kill him!”

Camille looked curiously at Anton. “You think he could have fought the geis?”

“I don’t even know the boundaries of it. How am I to know whether or not it would have precluded physical harm?” Anton demanded.

“That’s a standard feature in them.”

It felt like his mind was lost at sea, all his certainty packed onto an island that was rapidly disappearing into the distance. “How are such barbaric things so common?”

“They are not common,” Camille countered. “Nor were they ever. But they do stem from a certain class, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. That class of people is quite careful with themselves: clauses against causing harm are almost always a part of a geis.”

“So then he couldn’t have done it?”

“I didn’t say that,” Camille murmured. “Ah, Monsieur Cassan. Please be seated.”

Anton hadn’t even noticed him entering the room. He straightened his back and clasped his hands attentively, but Cassan didn’t seem to mind, smiling apologetically at them both as he sat down.

“Forgive the delay, Lord Lumière. With things so amiss my presence has been required in too many places at once.”

“We will strive not to keep you for long,” Camille said. “Tell me of your evening, Monsieur, and your early morning. You are the train master, but I know that even you must sleep sometime.”

“True enough,” Cassan agreed. “Although last night was a bit irregular for me. I’m sure the Orlandes already told you of their altered circumstances last night.” He seemed a bit shame-faced. “I assure you, I wasn’t trying to foment discord in the viscount’s personal affairs. His lordship went to bed early, and the Orlandes seemed desperate for some time alone. I gave them my berth for the night.”

“I’m sure they appreciated it,” Camille said. Anton felt fortunate that nothing was required of him but silence, because he hadn’t seen this coming. “Which meant that you slept where?”

“In the laundry room, for a few hours. I don’t need as much sleep as most men.”

“That is at the back of the train,” Camille noted. “So you were nowhere near the viscount’s room this morning?”

“I was delivering laundry this morning, actually,” Cassan replied. “I see you got your jacket back, sir,” he added in an aside to Anton, who was startled into nodding like an idiot. “I had just finished and was heading up to the dining car to check on the state of breakfast when I heard Madame Orlande scream. I ran to meet her, I saw the state of the room and it’s poor inhabitant beyond, and I immediately locked it and sent for you.”

“The door was unlocked when you got there?”

“I…I left my personal keys with the Orlandes, so that they would be able to return to his lordship when he needed them.” Cassan sighed deeply. “I hung them on a hook just inside the door of my berth. It isn’t impossible to think that someone could have grabbed them without the Orlandes noticing. It was a careless action, and I fear that Viscount Bonaparte paid for my laxity with his life.”

Anton was going to give himself apoplexy if he held in his exclamations much longer. Camille had pity on him.

“That is all for now, Monsieur Cassan. Go and feed your passengers. I may call upon you again later.”

“At any time, day or night,” the trainmaster said graciously. He stood and removed himself from the room, and Anton turned to Camille full of theory.

The quick shake of Camille’s head forestalled Anton’s outburst. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s wrong.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Train: Chapter Four, Part Two

Notes: This story is actually going really fast, which is good, since the train ride is already a third of the way over. On with the investigation!

Title: The Train: Chapter Four, Part Two


Chapter Four, Part Two


Anton blinked dumbly. “A what?” he asked, not at all sure he was hearing things correctly.

“A murder,” Lord Lumière repeated. “Get dressed immediately. You need to be fast to get an accurate reading of a death miasma, do you not?”

“A…a what?”

Lord Lumière sighed deeply. “Are you always this slow in the mornings, or is this a particularly bad day for you? Look at me.” He stepped directly in front of Anton and looked him in the eyes. It was a strange feeling, being in the focal point of such an amorphous individual. Anton briefly felt like if he looked away, he might not be shocked to find that nothing else around him was clear any longer. “There has been a murder. Thus far I have been able to keep the curious masses away from the body, but the longer I’m parted from the scene, the less my influence can hold them back. I need you to get dressed, Consul Hasler, and accompany me to the body, where you will attempt to deduce any and all information you can from the man’s death miasma. Is that clear?”

A murder. It was almost too much to believe. Anton had just seen a man murdered yesterday; what were the odds of such a thing happening again, in so short a span? “Consul Hasler was not a specialist in death miasmas,” Anton said, finally reaching for his day clothes and beginning to change. Under less extreme circumstances he might have been a bit shy about changing in front of Camille, but his brain was still working to catch up to his body.

“His specialty was in weaponry, which will still apply here. Moreover, his resume was indistinct, and no one else here should have a working knowledge of it anyway.” Camille was very clearly barely holding himself back from pacing. As soon as Anton’s shirt was buttoned, he handed over his black jacket. “This was hanging up outside the car.”

That had been returned by the porter much faster than Anton had anticipated. He hastily threw it on, gathered up his hat and holdall, then looked at Camille. He was very aware that his hair was still in disarray, his face was stubbled and his eyes still at half-mast from being woken so abruptly. “Will I do?”

Camille’s expression changed to something softer than Anton had seen on him yet. He reached out and turned the collar of Anton’s jacket down, so it no longer touched the bottoms of his ears. “You’ll do,” he agreed. “Now, we must hurry.”

Forcing a path through the throng of people lining the halls should have been nearly impossible, but for such an invisible man, Lord Lumière was frightfully good with his elbows. He pushed his way through the crowd and Anton followed close like a duckling, clutching his holdall to his chest as they went. They passed through the sleep cars, through the dining car, and to the lounge. Several people waited outside the door that connected the lounge car to the suite beyond it: the Viscount’s personal servants, both of them appearing stunned and upset; Monsieur Cassan, the trainmaster; and a small gaggle of black-jacketed advisors, none of them looking satisfied.

“See here, Lumière,” Consul Olivier—naturally it would be him, Anton couldn’t escape him for a bloody moment—huffed. “You can’t expect us to stand around out here twiddling our damn fingers with the Viscount’s body cooling within! We should be working to solve this, man, not wasting time waiting for you to fetch a blooming thaumaturge. I intend no offense of course,” he added in an aside to Anton, “but—”

“You will do exactly as I tell you, sir.” Lord Lumière’s voice was so cold Anton felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. “Otherwise I shall have to charge you with interfering in the emperor’s affairs. Such a thing could be construed as treason.”

Consul Olivier’s broad face went red with anger. “My lord, you cannot—”

But Lord Lumière was already ignoring him, turning back to Anton and speaking in a low voice. “How long do you need with the body?”

Anton stared at him blankly. “The Viscount is the one who’s dead?”

“Isn’t that obvious? How long, Consul?”

Anton fought the urge to slap himself to wake up a bit faster. “Um, a quarter of an hour, perhaps. The spell is fairly easy to cast, but it needs time to permeate the room.”

“May I observe any of the proceedings?”

“The end, if you wish it,” Anton agreed. “Once the spell is cast and extended, I have a brief window in which to activate the observational component of it. I could call you back in for that.”

“Please do so.” He took a key from Monsieur Cassan’s unresisting hand and opened the door. It was dark inside. “And please,” he said softly. “Do not disturb the corpse.”

Don’t tell me how to do my job, Anton almost snapped, but he held his tongue and entered the room. The door shut behind him, and Anton was left alone with the body of Viscount Bonaparte.

It was almost too dark to set up his equipment, but fortunately one of the drapes had been pulled slightly apart, letting in a sliver of sunshine. Anton began by removing his pewter stand and the silver censing bowl that it was made to cradle, setting them up in the corner of the train car. The train was still moving; he felt the rumble of tracks beneath his knees as he set up his equipment, but the motion was dulled by thick, lush carpeting. The viscount lay a few feet away, sprawled out flat on his face, his head closer to the door than his bare feet. Anton could smell the blood in the air, and winced. He wasn’t at all fond of fresh corpses, although they were much easier to get a telling miasma from.

Anton pulled the mix of herbs, spices and slivers of shaved metal that accompanied a spell like this from his holdall and went to work. He had retained his silver wand through the mugging, thank goodness—silver was as neutral a metal as one could use in cases of discovering death miasmas. For any work actually touching the body, gold was a far better conductor, but Anton had been forced to give up his gold wand when it became apparent that his muggers wouldn’t be satisfied with nothing.

He shook his head slightly, trying to push the sound of his attacker’s voices from his head. He had work to do. Work to focus on. His life might depend on how well he performed right now. Anton pulled out his chalk and drew a series of interlocking symbols on the floor around the stand, signaling his alchemical intent. He prepared the match, conjured up the appropriate spell in his head, and spoke it aloud. The match flared brightly, lit by power, and Anton quickly lowered it to the herbal mixture before it could flame out. It caught, and smoke began to rise. Anton removed a fresh paper fan from his holdall and waved it gently, spreading the smoke through the room. As it moved, it began to coalesce around the body. Anton watched as it became vaguely recognizable, began to move, and then—

Curious. He turned and rapped gently on the door. It opened a crack. “Are you ready, Consul?” Lord Lumière asked.

“Come in. Slowly,” Anton emphasized. “Don’t open the door any further than you must.” Lord Lumière slid inside, still perfectly oblivious to the huffs and queries behind him, and shut the door. “Watch,” Anton instructed as his companion came to a stop beside him.

The smoke had been slightly disturbed by the draft from the door, but the image was still quite obvious. The gauzy grey figure emerged from the bed, walked to the center of the room, bent over, and then abruptly collapsed. Curls of smoke crept across the floor, mimicking the living blood escaping from the body, expanding into a broad pool before suddenly the image reset.

“Fascinating,” Camille remarked quietly. “I’ve never seen a death miasma appear in such detail before. You know your trade, Anton.”

The approbation of a man Anton hardly knew shouldn’t have felt so good, but nevertheless, his shoulders straightened some at the praise. “Thank you. It’s rather strange though, isn’t it?”

“It is, for many reasons. What is your observation in particular?”

“Just that…the smoke should have shown signs of any living thing in the room at the moment of death, even those not directly connected to the viscount. The psychic shock usually leaves an image behind, although it would be much fainter. But there is no one else, and he didn’t die of a heart attack, clearly.”

“Clearly.” They watched the smoky figure go through the motions again, and again, until after a few more minutes it dissipated into nothing. Anton exhaled heavily, feeling the spell drawing away some of his reserves as it fell apart, then bent his head and prepared to clean up.

The pressure of Camille’s hand on his shoulder startled him, and he looked up in confusion, ready to ask what else was needed. The words died in his throat as their eyes met, Anton struck dumb once again, but this time from surprise rather than fatigue. “Thank you,” Camille said, and Anton let himself lean into the weight of Camille’s hand as he nodded.

The moment ended when Camille straightened up, strode over to the nearest window and threw open the drapes. Anton winced at the sudden influx of sunlight into the room, then forgot all about cleaning away his equipment as Lord Lumière pulled a measuring string from his pocket.

He stood over the body, taking note of the position it lay in. He stretched his string out over the blood stain, examined path from the viscount must have taken, even stared hard at the velvet slippers at the foot of the bed. “Odd.”

“What is odd?” Anton asked, finally remembering to move. He tipped the ashes out of the bowl into a tiny linen bag, tied it shut and stowed it inside the holdall, then wiped the silver bowl off and set it inside as well. He’d clean it properly when he got back to their car.

“Everything here is odd, but some things do stand out. You say there is no sign of the murderer.”

“No.” Anton was sure about that. “They would have appeared in some way within the miasma, unless,” he let himself chuckle a bit, “unless there was nothing for the spell to detect within them, but no thaumaturge has yet discovered a way to shield someone’s living soul.”

Lord Lumière shook his head in irritation. “There’s no need to get outlandish,” he chided. “But the viscount was shot, straight through the heart. You yourself saw the blood spread across the floor.”


“Then we have a number of apparent oddities in this room. One is the viscount’s manner of death, and how it was achieved from outside the room. Another,” and now he caught Anton’s gaze again, “is what happened to most of his blood. There isn’t nearly enough staining the carpet to account for it.”

Ah, yes. Anton looked over at the pool and realized that the smoke had spread much farther than that. “What else?” he asked.

“Many things, which we shall begin to discover from the crowd in the lounge. Come.” He offered Anton a hand and pulled him to his feet. “It’s time to begin the trickiest part of any investigation: discovering who knows what, and whether or not they’re lying.”

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Release: Perilous

Hi guys!

It's been a busy month. Like, seriously busy between day job, RT and new releases. The last of these is my new release today, which some of you may be familiar with: Perilous, formerly known as The Captain.

 My one and only work of historical fiction, set in a time period I adore: the Napoleonic Era and the Age of Sail. Sea battles! Cannons! Obscure nautical terms! Seamen! Lots and lots of seamen!

In all honesty, I love this story, and I'm grateful to NineStar Press for taking it on and editing the crap out of it. They've made it better, and I hope you give it a try. If you love Horatio Hornblower, Aubrey Maturin or just enjoy a good action story, you'll like Perilous!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Train: Chapter Four, Part One

Notes: Dum-dum-DAAAAA! Not so late after all, plus--stuff happens! Woohoo! Enjoy :)

Title: The Train: Chapter Four, Part One


Chapter Four, Part One


The lounge car was decidedly atypical, to Anton’s mind. Then again, perhaps this was always what happened when nobility moved from place to place: they rearranged, redesigned, and casually appropriated whatever space they needed for their voyage. God knew it happened often enough in England, with Anton’s more illustrious Oxford fellows commandeering whatever they felt they needed, whenever they needed it, whether that meant study space in the most private spot in the library, or the best equipment laid out for apprentice thaumaturges to use during the laboratory sessions. Admittedly, most of them had had their own valises full of equipment at that point. Anton was one of the only students to need to use the school’s stores after the majority of his father’s personal equipment had been “appropriated” by the university.

Well, apparently arrogance bred true everywhere. The lounge car had been transformed into a monument to Viscount Bonaparte’s name and title, the walls covered by heavy cloths depicting the imperial emblem and holding in the heat. As more people filed into the room, the air quickly became stale and stuffy. The pervasive scent of pipe smoke made it even worse, giving rise to a haze that stung at Anton’s eyes and made him feel as though he needed to cough. He stifled a small wheeze into his hand, and raised one eyebrow as the motion caught Camille’s eye.

“Is it always like this around the Viscount?” Anton murmured as the two of them were pressed back against the wall, making room for more people. He hadn’t even caught sight of the noble himself yet, just seen two of his personal servants, a young man and woman in matching livery, hovering over a reclining couch along the far wall.

“This particular Lord Bonaparte has always excelled at making people aware of his connections,” Camille replied. He was not looking for the viscount; his eyes roved over everyone else in the room, seeming to note who was where in an instant. “This blend of tobacco is a favorite of the Emperor,” he continued. “It’s use carries a certain cachet, and therefore all his extended family insists on smoking it as well. I personally don’t care for such a strong flavor, but each to his own.”

“Filthy habit, imbibing smoke,” Anton murmured.

“How so?”

Now it was Anton’s turn to cast an incredulous glance of superiority at his companion. He tried not to enjoy it too much. “Have you ever been to London? Walked through the smog there? I’ve seen the effect it has on the body, and willingly inviting such pollutants into your system is foolishness.”

“How have you seen such things?”

“I’m a forensic thaumaturge specializing in death miasmas. You think I didn’t spend plenty of time in the city morgues?”

“Most interesting,” Camille said. He looked like he wanted to continue, but at that point, Viscount Bonaparte chose to rise from his couch and address the gathered throng.

He was…well, prepossessing wasn’t exactly the word. He had the look of a man who was trying with all his might to put his rank front and center, and it had to be said that title and rank were clearly the most remarkable things about the Viscount.  He was of average height, with curling, thin brown hair held back from his face by an elaborate hat. He held himself like a Bonaparte, insofar as he thrust his chest forward to better display the medals pinned across his breast, but his shoulders remained slouched as though he were still reclining. It was a feat of spinal flexion that made Anton wonder how the man actually kept on his feet. His face was sour as he puffed on his pipe, his eyes and mouth heavily lined, and Anton spared a moment to feel a bit of sorrow for the bride who was anticipating this groom.

And then he opened his mouth, and Anton felt downright mournful for her.

“So, you are the lot sent along to keep me in line, hmm?” He smiled, but there was an edge of nastiness in the expression, like he was about to spit on them. “My imperial minder’s cadre of professional henchmen. Responsible for keeping me from offending the piddling, powerless aristocracy of the ridiculous Swiss village where I’ll be spending the rest of my miserable life, so help me God.” He glared at them through the haze, and Anton found himself grateful that he was too far back for those eyes to fix on him.

“Some of you I know. Some I’ve never met before, but I don’t particularly care to deal with any of you, y’understand me? Lucerne is a rural pisspot and I won’t be told what I can and cannot say about it, not by anyone. If I want to tell my bride she stinks of cows and glistens like bluebell butter, I shall do so. I’ll be the ruler of her canton within the week, and that means that she, and all of you, shall answer to me. Lucerne is a long way from Paris.” Now his smile twisted into a grimace. “And you lot are with me for the long haul, so it’s best you learn now who your new master is. You answer to me, not the emperor. He may have sent you here, but only I can send you back. I suggest you keep that admonition close.” He waved a hand at them. “Dismissed.”

Anton was more than happy to leave at that point, although a number of advisors were pressing in and trying to ingratiate themselves better with the Viscount, or make a point with him about the seriousness of his upcoming nuptials. He didn’t appear vulnerable to either tactic, and it was a lesson in casual insults, watching the other passengers cast themselves upon the rocks of the Viscount’s disdain in an attempt to educate him. Anton nudged Camille, and nodded toward the door. Later, the other man mouthed, and so Anton left alone. As soon as he made it back into the dining car, he shut his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Are you well, sir?”

Anton jumped a bit as he took in the Train Master at his side, carrying an entire tray of champagne flutes. “Oh yes, quite! Yes.”

“Is there anything I can get for you?”

“No, not at all. You look quite busy,” Anton added. “Don’t let me keep you, Monsieur Cassan.”

“If you’re sure…”


“Very well, then. Have a good night, Consul.” Cassan entered the lounge car with all the grace of a dancer, letting out a plume of smoke as he went, and Anton took the opportunity to make it back to his sleeping car before any more people decided it wasn’t worth it to try and ingratiate themselves with that atrociously-mannered blockhead.

Once he reached his room and shut the door behind him, Anton let himself relax for the first time in what felt like forever. How was it possible that he’d just boarded the train that afternoon? How was it possible that he’d only arrived in France yesterday, so full of hopeful vigor and confidence? How had he fallen into such inexplicable straits, and how on earth would he manage to maintain them all the way to his destination? Anton knew his own strengths, and protracted lying wasn’t one of them. He was to be Consul Hasler, he had to be, but every interaction he had with someone under that guise made him cringe.

“You have made your bed,” Anton told himself firmly. There was no one to pass the blame to, no convenient scapegoat to lay the burden of his troubles on. “Now you must lie on it.” In only a few short days, they would be in Zürich. He would last.

Although he might not last for long if he didn’t get this coat cleaned. The smell was worsening. Anton shrugged out of the dark jacket, checked to make sure that his shirt didn’t show any blood, and pressed the button for the porter. It only took a minute for a man to arrive. He was taller than Anton, with dark, arresting eyes and a curiously inviting expression. “How may I assist you, sir?” he asked with a smile that spoke volumes.

If Anton hadn’t felt so ill from the lounge car, he might have investigated that smile a bit more. As it was, he felt almost ready to fall over. “I need this laundered and returned to me by tomorrow morning, if possible.”

“Certainly, sir.” He took the jacket, and didn’t even wrinkle his nose at the smell. A true gentleman. “Anything else?”

“Not for now, thank you.” Anton tipped him with some of Consul Hasler’s money, then shut the door again. One problem down. The others…well, those could wait until tomorrow. Except, perhaps, the matter of the palimpsest. It was probably best to keep that little book close, in case Camille decided his status as a lumière allowed him to rummage through Anton’s things. Anton pulled it out of his holdall, along with the loup that would make it legible, changed into a sleeping shirt, and dimmed the lantern. He settled into his bunk and began to work on the spell.

There ought to be a way to transcribe a visual language difference into one he could understand, the way the Device did. The first step was identifying the language, though. Or, perhaps he might get a clue from the drawings interspersed here and there. That was…a chemical equation of some sort. Not alchemical, or at least not entirely, but the symbols were familiar. Lord, what Anton wouldn’t give for Caroline’s opinion right now.

There were more voices to be heard now in the hall, murmuring as people made their way back to their rooms. Anton’s vision blurred with fatigue, and after another minute of fruitlessly staring at the palimpsest, he set it back in his holdall, locked it with a spell, and turned out the lantern completely. He took a moment to clean his teeth and wash his face at the sink, enjoying the heat of the water, before he lay down again and resolutely shut his eyes. Anton was asleep in moments.

He didn’t wake up when Camille came in, but he did wake up in the middle of the night, his bladder urging him to action. Too much alcohol, Anton reflected as he slid from the top bunk, careful to land softly so as not to wake his companion. The dark lump that was Camille remained silent, and so Anton let himself out into the hall and walked down to the water closet at the end of the hall. He relieved himself, then went to rinse his hands, but the water that came out this time was icy cold.

“Hell,” Anton murmured, shaking his fingers out. He waited for it to warm up, but nothing happened. Perhaps they turned off the heating elements at night, to give the spells a chance to recharge. He would ask about it tomorrow.

He fell asleep again in no time, but the next time he woke it was to nothing as innocuous as a full bladder. Screams echoed throughout the train, screams that gained in force and were soon augmented with the cries and exclamations of many others.

“What the devil?” The compartment was just light enough from the sun that Anton could see that Camille was gone. Just as he got to his feet, however, the man himself entered the car. He was only partially dressed, and the look on his face was grim.

“I need you,” he said, and this was not Camille speaking now; this was Lord Lumière. “There’s been a murder.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Slight delay for The Train!

Hey darlins,

I'm freakin' bushed, in addition to being hellishly busy. New releases are awesome, but a bit time-consuming, and I've got three new clients to integrate into my day job. HOWEVER! I will get the next chapter of The Train to you either tomorrow afternoon after work, or Wednesday when I have a shorter day.

Thank you for your patience!

*hugs you*

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Where There's A Will is out!

It's here! Where There's A Will is available to all!

Guys, I'm so ridiculously pleased with this book. It's got Heroes, Villains, mad science, battle royales, humor, angst, love, sacrifice...all of my favorite things. I pretty much love it. And so did Publisher's Weekly, where it got a starred review! Did I mention that maybe once or twice already? *wink*

"Z’s third novel set in the beautiful but dysfunctional city of Panopolis, where superheroes and their daily affairs are a frequent threat to civilization, is sexy, emotional, and hilarious... Z keeps the action rolling at a breakneck pace, with sharp turns from bold humor to heartbreaking tragedy and self-sacrifice. The satisfying and exciting conclusion is tender and a just reward for both the hero and the reader."

If you're looking for a good place to jump into the Panopolis series, this is it. This book follows the hero Freight Train, as opposed to the villainous couple who starred in the first two, although they both get cameos. I hope you give it a try! You can find it any any of the retailers below:

There's a blog tour, with a pretty cool prize (if I do say so myself) to go with it, so follow along on Riptide's website or follow me on Twitter to see what's up.