Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part Two

Notes: Hey darlins! Everyone is still sick here, but feeling better enough to handle a new chapter. This one is extra long, as a thank you for being patient. Plus, it has Cas kicking some ass! Enjoy :)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part Two


Chapter Nineteen, Part Two

The tunnel let out underneath a bridge two blocks away from Rone’s enormous house, in an area labeled “UNSAFE: DO NOT ENTER.” It looked unsafe, at first glance, the smooth rock of the interior of the tunnel giving way to crumbly chalk beneath his feet, but Cas knew a well-preserved blind when he was inside of one. Hells, there was another one of those goddamn murder circles embedded at the exit of the thing. It was well-disguised, but again—Cas had built these sorts of tunnels with his own hands, and he wasn’t going to be fooled just because this one was high tech.

He pursed his lips, then slid out the end of the tunnel before he could second-guess himself. Nothing except a faint glow from the security device. Good. Now, to find the kids.

He was almost positive they’d head for the arcade, a place of near-mythic proportions that Lilah couldn’t stop talking about. “You can fly in there, and there are good games there, not dumb games like these ones, and the food is better, and you can pretend to be a spider.” Cas didn’t get the appeal, but he didn’t have to. Clearly it all meant enviable fun to Lilah and Shar.

The arcade was a little over a kilometer away, along a route that Cas had traced out in the dark last night while giving the phage a break. From here, he needed to go…up onto the main street, then left for two blocks, then right for seven. That was the most direct route, the one the kids had most likely taken.

You let his kids run away on your watch. You’re terrible at this.

“Shut up,” he muttered to himself as he tied Lilah’s shirt over the lower half of his face and climbed up onto the main street level. It was…

Loud. Cas had forgotten how loud a riot could be. There were shouts and screams, the constant crackle of some sort of energy weapon that seemed popular, the slow-burning sizzle of melting glass in storefronts where some people were concentrating those weapons. The arcade would probably be abandoned.

Fuck. That meant the kids could be anywhere.

He merged with the crowd, dodging around people flying grotesque signs high above their heads and others firing off bolts of energy into the air, ramping each other up with every step. Everyone’s faces were covered, some with plain cloth but others with some sort of smart fabric that looked electronic, shimmering and distorting their entire face. Cas’s hands itched to grab one, but he had to focus. He had to look for the kids.

He started to push left, toward the edge of the crowd, so he could get going in the right direction.

“Hey! Wrong way, asshole!” A young man carrying one of the tri-pronged zappers clacked the triggers irritatedly. “This is the fastest way to get around the park and to the prince’s gates.”

“I’ve got someone to find first,” Cas replied.

“You’re getting distracted from the fucking mission, man!” He clacked the triggers again, this time in Cas’s direction.

Cas shrugged. “Not my mission.”

“It’s everyone’s mission!” He engaged the triggers, and Cas heard the device prepare to discharge.

Faster than his attacker could react, Cas grabbed the barrel of the device and twisted it up with one hand while sliding in close and driving his elbow in the guy’s solar plexus. The guy bent over, gasping, and Cas put his free hand on the back of the man’s neck and smashed his head down into Cas’s rising knee. Crack. Cas wrenched the zapper out of the guy’s hand, then let go of him.

Blood sheeted down Cas’s erstwhile-attacker’s face, and he staggered away into the arms of two other people, who were watching with wide eyes over their facemasks. “Bye now,” Cas said, clacking the triggers mockingly, then made his way to the side of the press of people and along the nearest building until he could turn right again.

The alleys were quieter, all doors and windows closed off. They looked secure—for a place used to dealing with falling ash or worse from volcanoes, they’d have to be. Cas went as fast as he dared, looking for more signs of either child as he went. He needed to know he was going the right way…but there was nothing. If they weren’t at the arcade…

Panic later. He would find them. They were kids, not enemy operatives. They had a goal in mind, they went for it. They could slip through the crowd easier than an adult, and Lilah would never let herself be separated from Shar, so they were together. They were at the fucking arcade, and Cas was going to find them there. So get to it.

The arcade stuck out along the street—which considering the weird, eye-poppingly strange ways of attracting attention these buildings had, was saying something. It was taller than any of the other buildings by an extra story, and festooned with the sorts of bright colors and cartoon-like characters that Cas could remember watching on stolen media with Beren when they were young. Just like he had thought, it was closed, every one of those colorful doors shuttered. The glass was scuffed and dinged in a few places, maybe evidence of someone trying to break in, but Cas doubted it was the kids.

There were way fewer people to contend with here—the arcade was pretty far from any official government buildings or royal residences. Cas climbed halfway up the nearest lamppost—it connected with a twin across the street, and would set the filament connecting them ablaze with light as soon as dusk hit—and looked around for a small, safe hiding place. Somewhere the kids would fit together, but people wouldn’t think to look inside.

There were bubble-like pop outs on one side of the arcade, hollow spheres that were probably usually lit up with digital displays. Right now they were in what seemed like their sleep mode, swirling, wavelike patterns in neutral colors. One of them, near the bottom of the wall, was broken—maybe it had been hit by a car? Whatever it was, the damage was new enough to be jagged and unrepaired, and it didn’t light up. It was, however, fairly large. Large enough for…

Cas climbed down, darted over to the side of the arcade, and crouched to look inside the sphere.

A blue-clad little foot lashed out at him, barely missing his head.

Cas leaned back far enough to be out of the line of fire. “Hey, Lilah. Hi, Shar.”

Shar’s face peeped around the broken edge. He smiled wide, looking a little relieved.

“Are you okay?”

“We’re fine!” Lilah’s voice was a little muffled, and decidedly not fine.

“Are you sure?” Cas went ahead and sat down on the ground next to the bubble, taking himself out of the sight line of any wanderers as possible. “You sound a little upset. I know I am.”

“Why are you upset?”

“Well, there were an awful lot of people out here. Way too many for me. I don’t like when it’s so crowded.”

There was a pause, and then, “Me neither.”

“Plus, some of them were shouting nasty things. I didn’t like hearing it.”

“They were shouting about Daddy and Uncle Amiru. And they had mean pictures of them.”

Oh…oh, she’d seen some of the…fuck those graphics, it was an atrocious thing to hold above your head and display so anyone could see it, twice as bad when children could see it. Ten times as bad when the kids looking at drawings of their dismembered parent were Rone’s kids.

“Yeah, those were awful,” Cas agreed. “I didn’t want to see them, so I stopped looking up. I kept my eyes on the ground, looking for clues.”

Lilah’s face joined Shar’s. “Hey, that’s my shirt!”

“I know, I needed to borrow it. Sorry.”

“Hmmph.” She frowned at him for a moment, then reluctantly asked, “What kind of clues?”

“Clues about where you guys would be. You were really sneaky getting out of the house.”

Lilah nodded. “Daddy showed us how.”

Oh, I know he did. “Well, I’m lucky I found you.”

“Are you a detective?”

Cas smiled. “Not really.” Although there was a lot of investigative work ahead of him. “I guess I just know you guys a little bit by now.”

“I guess…”

“So.” Cas leaned in a little closer. “Do you think you guys are ready to—”

“Hey, fucker!” One of the signs that had disturbed Lilah so much crashed against the wall next to his head. Cas instantly jumped to his feet and moved away from the broken bubble where the kids were hiding.

It was the idiot from the other road, along with two of his friends. They had already broken into a run, each of them holding some kind of weapon. Seeing them coming at him like this, eager for it, unwilling to negotiate…it made a tension release inside of Cas.

If they were going to try and kill him, then he didn’t have to hold back.

They were all wearing facemasks, but he could smell the blood from the broken nose he’d already given the one in front. Cas slipped under the metal pole that the man swung at him, drove his palm up and into his attacker’s nose—he felt it break in another spot—and swept his foot out from under him at the same time, sending him flying onto his back in under two seconds.

He didn’t bother with the zapper, he didn’t bother picking up the pole. Cas moved like a striking eel, gliding up to his prey and snapping up the guy’s nearest limb, controlling it and reeling him in, then disabling him joint by joint—elbow, shoulder, neck—not quite hard enough to break it, although he was tempted. He ran the second attacker over the first one’s body, dropping him on top, then leapt over both of them to confront the third, who was charging his own zapper and trying to keep his distance. Cas wouldn’t reach him in time to avoid taking a hit with that, so he’d have to—

“Hey!” A blue shoe hit the man in the side of the head, distracting him. Lilah was outside the bubble, barefoot, hoisting her other shoe in her hand.

If Cas could have spared the time for a heartfelt “Fuck!” he would have right then. Instead he took advantage of the guy taking the time to change his target to a little girl—and Cas had never been so sure another person deserved to be maimed—and closed the distance, kicking the zapper out of the man’s hand before stomping down on the top of his foot. Half a dozen little bones shattered under his heel. The man had just enough air to scream before Cas rammed the blade edge of his hand into his hyoid bone, dislocating it. The man dropped, both hands clutching his throat.

Eh, he’d live. Cas took a deep breath, checked the make sure the phage was still up, then collected Lilah’s shoe and brought it back to her. “Thank you,” he said, handing it back. It wasn’t like it would help to get mad, anyway. “I think we should make our way home, don’t you?”

Shar came out and joined his sister. The pair stared at him with wide eyes. “How did you do that, Beren?” Lilah whispered.

“It’s a secret, special thing I can only do when someone is counting on me,” he said. “Like you and Shar.”

“And only us know?”

“Only you.” Cas set a hand on each of their shoulders. “Can you help keep my secret?” They both nodded eagerly.

Thank goodness the surveillance systems are still out. It didn’t really matter if the kids talked about it, Rone probably would just attribute it to overenthusiasm on their part, but anything that encouraged a little bonding between them was good. And frankly, Rone deserved to be left in the dark after neglecting to tell Cas about the damn escape route in his kids’ bedroom. “Okay then. Let’s get back.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Taking a day off because...

Because life, the universe and my kidlet have conspired against me, darlins.

I caught a minor cold over the weekend (shouldn't have made that joke last week about being sick, ah ha ha...ha). This isn't enough to keep me from writing, but the day I normally dedicate to Mutable/all blog stories (Sunday) was a festive, visiting-people kind of day, so no time. Fine, I'll get it done on Monday then.

Not if she has anything to say about it.

(Here we have my beloved reorganizing my bookshelf for the fifth time today...she has very strong opinions on the placement of graphic novels, and who am I to gainsay her?)

My baby girl, light of my life, my bees knees, my cats pajamas...she had a rough Sunday evening. And by "rough" I mean "we were up from 1:30 to 4:30." So Monday I was little more than a zombie with a stuffy nose and a case of the chills, and went to bed early. Now it's Tuesday, and I've got nothin' for ya. Nothing except this cute picture of my kid and a promise to get back on track next week (barring any more karmic justice).

I hope all of you have a great day and sleep amaaazingly well tonight.

*Update--the kiddo has caught my cold. We are not a joyful house this morning. We are crusty and snotty and trying to eat and breathe at the same time.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Tiny Bit of the Existential Flu

Hey darlins,

Sooo...my book came out, which is great. I'm happy it's out in the world and to those of you who've bought it, THANK YOU so much for your support, I love you. What I don't love right now? My productivity.

Handle With Care was the last book I managed to complete before the baby got here, and you know how many books I've finished since she arrived? None, for myself, excepting my last coauthored book with Lori. I've been spending most of my free time writing for other people, and while that's important because it pays the bills (mostly) it doesn't do anything to set me up for success with my own career. I feel creatively, mentally, and physically drained.

A lot of this is because I spend all day with a delightful handful of a baby girl, who is close to walking and looking less like a baby and more like a child all the time (OMG I'm not fucking ready for that, noooooo!). Some of it is because I'm having trouble with my two biggest personal projects, an urban fantasy and--you guessed it--Mutable. Neither is done yet, and in Mutable's case, I know where I need to get to but not how, and it's taking a toll. Basically, I feel like I've been spinning my wheels, trying so hard to do more and get more and be more, and not really succeeding. Blah.

Everybody goes through times like this, I know. It's been quite a while since I published anything personal on this blog, though, so here--have some of my minor angst! While we're at it, let me think of something cool I can share, hmm.

Okay, this is neat. Last weekend I got to be involved in filming another episode of The Best Defense, which my knife fighting instructor is a co-host for. Last time was a mass shooting scenario, in which I played a terrorist and got shot in the head. This time it's a school shooting scenario, and I play a teacher who--yep--gets shot. I'm sensing a theme. It was really fun, though!

I guess that's it for now. I'll post more Mutable next week, and as soon as I get out to see a movie again (whenever my parents get back from Germany and can babysit the wee one) I'll put up a review. I hope you're all doing well, and are as happy and healthy as possible.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part One

Notes: You know what we haven't seen in a while? Cas being a badass. So in this chapter I send us off the rails and propel him into a situation where he gets to be as awesome as he actually is. I'll get us back on track later ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part One


Chapter Nineteen, Part One

In his two and a half decades of life, Cas had endured physical and mental torture at the hands of his enemies, his instructors, and even his phage. He’d suffered through the deaths of his parents and the murder of his younger brother. He could handle extreme privation, and had stared death in the eye without blinking.

Another day of no one else to bleed off Lilah’s ire might just do him in, though.

Things had gotten…tense, in Obsidian. Cas had expected Rone to be busy attending to military matters, but he hadn’t expected the riots that started only a day after his arrival.

“It’s got nothing to do with either of us,” Rone had assured him in the morning before he left. “Not really. These riots happen every year on the anniversary of the monarchy’s inception. They don’t tend to last all that long.” Only these ones were going on three days now, fueled by rising expenses in the capitol and an especially bad volcanic eruption that necessitated everyone going out in face masks. Additionally, the atmospheric and electrical disturbances caused by the ash in the air and the tremors that shook the foundations of the city made the ever-present monitors meant to identify people as they walked about malfunction. Violence and looting became simple, for the first time in a long time, and the citizens of Obsidian took full advantage.

The troops were called out to police the streets, and all members of the monarchy—and most of the nobility as well, every lord and lady of Metal and Mind—were encouraged to confine themselves to their homes until the situation was under control. All members except Rone—he was out running patrols with the rest of his people, including Fillie and the rest of the household’s usual internal security force.

Which meant Cas was alone with the kids, with no time to research Christala, do anything about his medical problems, or have a moment to rest the phage other than during lightning-fast showers or in the darkest art of the night, when he was certain the children were asleep. And by the third morning of no Rone except for vid calls and no time outside to burn off her own energy, Lilah was downright caustic.


Cas stared at the mess on the wall where Lilah’s bowl had hit it, her casserole spattered across five square feet. A bit of noodle hit the ground with a sad plop.

“I just asked if you wanted something different for lunch.”

“And I said no! I don’t like your lunch, and neither does Shar!” She reached for her brother’s bowl and prepared to throw that too.

“Uh-uh,” Cas said, his voice as stern as he could let it be without tipping over into angry frustration. “That’s not yours. If Shar doesn’t like it, that’s one thing, but you don’t get to make that choice for him.”

Lilah narrowed her eyes. She hefted the bowl, then drew her arm back and threw it toward the wall.

Cas was already there, though, as fluid as a decopus, catching the bowl with one hand and spinning to keep the food inside of it. He set it back down in front of Shar, who stared at him, clearly impressed.

Lilah, on the other hand, looked furious. “You cheated!”

“I told you not to throw it.”


“No throwing food, especially not your brother’s,” Cas repeated. “That was the rule, and you broke it. Go to your room.”

“But I’m hungry! And Daddy promised to take us to the arcade and it’s been so long since he got home and we still haven’t gone!”

The arcade again. “You had your chance to eat and you wasted it, so nothing else until dinner. And it isn’t safe for us to go outside yet. If it was, your daddy would be back already. When he comes home and says it’s okay, we can go to the arcade. For now, go. To. Your. Room.”

“I hate you!” She stalked off in tears, and Cas watched the door shut behind her with a sinking feeling. Rone wasn’t going to be impressed with him when he came back. Not even close.

“Some job looking after the kids I’m doing,” he muttered, then looked down at Shar, who was calmly eating his casserole. “You don’t mind me though, right?”

Shar grinned, then turned his bowl upside down, emptying the rest of its contents out over his tablemat. He wiped his hands on his shirt, then followed his sister into her room.

“Or I guess you do.”

It would be undignified to throw his own food around in a fit of disgust—the house AI was still monitoring them, after all, and Cas knew that meant that Rone could look in on them and see everything they were doing at any time, except—ostensibly—in Cas’s own room. Bad enough he was using his enhanced reflexes to catch bowls of food, for fuck’s sake.

He’d give Lilah a chance to calm down before trying a different method of distracting her. They’d played every game he could think of and some he’d never heard of before, including so many rounds of hide and seek he felt like he’d learned every nook and cranny of the house where a child might fit. They wouldn’t sit still for a vid, they wouldn’t settle for a story—Lilah was leading a charge against her father’s absence and Shar was drifting along in her wake, happy to let Cas try to entertain him but just as happy to side with his sister when she got to her most ornery. Cas and Rone had spoken every evening, and he’d talked to the kids as well, but it wasn’t the same.

Cas methodically cleaned up lunch, then went to the bathroom and checked his face. He was doing it more and more frequently here—the phage felt unpredictable, too ready to move of its own volition. It made him nervous, and that was something the parasite would take advantage of if it could. Cas had to master it, to clamp down on it. Anything else invited failure.

“It’s two kids,” he told his reflection. “Just children. His children. You can do this.” You have to do this. He was invested, signed on, determined. For better or for worse, he had to figure out how to handle Lilah and Shar.

“AI, give me the childrens’ status, please.”

“Status unavailable.”

Wait. What? “AI, give me the location of Lilah and Shar.”

“Location unavailable.”

What the everfucking fuck? Cas charged out of the bathroom and toward the childrens’ suite, through the door and into their rooms. Nothing, in either of them. “AI, where did the kids go?”

“Information unavailable.”

That wasn’t the right tack to take. He tried again, still searching high and low in every hiding place he’d spent hours identifying. “AI, report the last known whereabouts of the children.”

“The closet in Miss Lilah’s room.”

No, I’ve already checked the closet… But had he checked closely enough? A cold chill radiated down his spine as Cas ran back to the closet, searching the floor, then the walls. It had to be here, there had to be a—

A push against the mid-level set of shelves moved them back and in, dropping them down to floor level.

There was a hidden passageway in this house. One that the kids knew about. One that Rone had forgotten or neglected to tell his husband about.

That knowledge could have been enough to send Cas into a spiral of self-doubt, but he had bigger things to worry about right now. Like the fact that the children were running from boring safety into exciting danger.

He could call Rone and pass the responsibility to him, leave him culpable for not telling Cas about the damn escape routes in the first place. Time was already wasting, though. “AI, inform Rone of what’s happened and let him know I’m going after the kids. Tell him to get his soldiers looking for them as well.”

“Affirmative, Beren.”

Cas grabbed one of Lilah’s long-sleeved shirts from a shelf, then crawled into the tunnel.

At least he had a damn good reason to go wandering in the city now.