Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Tank: Prologue

Notes: OMG it's here! The Tank, sequel to The Train and The Tower, is ready to begin! We'll start you off with a Camille POV, to set the stage.

Also, next week I'm traveling, so I might not be posting. I'll try though!

Title: The Tank: Prologue


The Tank

Prologue: Camille POV

The closer they got to the cave, the worse the weather seemed to be. Weather thaumaturgy was mostly a myth, impossible on a large scale, but perhaps Gerald Montgomery, formerly a nobleman of England and a student at the Universität Zürich, had found the time to bespell his hideout in the foothills of the Apuseni mountians. Whatever the cause, they could not stay in the driving snow much longer, or even Camille’s alpine-hardened troops would freeze to death.

Fifteen men, he had left. Fifteen, of the forty he’d started his hunt with. They were the best of men, loyal and skilled, but six months of chasing Montgomery had taught them all to be wary. Camille’s second, Lieutenant Romilly, caught the edge of his sleeve. “Shall we make for shelter, my lord?” he asked in the manner every good underling had, that of suggesting what they considered to be right in such a way as to make it seem like their superior’s idea.

And it was a good idea. It simply wasn’t feasible, though. “There’s no time, Lieutenant.”

“Lord Lumière, I fear we must make time.” The lieutenant gestured around them with a grimace. “This damned snow won’t let us move with any sort of speed, and Montgomery won’t be able to go anywhere in it either. Best for us to wait it out.”

“No.” Waiting was the one thing they couldn’t afford to do. “I will not have another Vienna, Lieutenant.” Or Sopron, or Ocna Dejului. Following Montgomery hadn’t been challenging, at first—catching him was another matter entirely. Camille had severely underestimated the amount of support that the nebulous shadow society of the Dévoué had dedicated to their English turncoat. Montgomery had escaped them at every turn, sometimes narrowly, always bloodily. The number of innocent people caught in the crossfire between their factions was far too high, their blood staining Camille’s hands as surely as they stained Montgomery’s. The difference was, Montgomery didn’t care.

“My lord—”

“We press on,” Camille interrupted with a slash of his hand. “We will go up this slope and into that cave and take down Gerald Montgomery, Lieutenant Romilly, and we will do it now, before he flees too far east for us to follow. Do you understand me?”

The lieutenant, to his credit, just nodded. “The light will fail soon,” he said neutrally. “If we are to make it up the slope without breaking our necks, we must go now.”

“So we must.” Camille turned to look up at the cave, a faint dark hole against the blinding white of the mountainside. “Get me Deschamps.”

Romilly left him, and a minute later thaumaturge Martin Deschamps pulled up beside him, puffing and rubbing his hands together against the cold. Deschamps was Camille’s third thaumaturge since beginning this chase, and no better than any of the others had been. Uncharitable, he chided himself. Just because none of them had the skill and determination of Anton didn’t make them bad at their trade, just…less effective than he would have wished them. The first had died in Vienna, the second had broken his leg a month ago after falling off his horse.

Anton wouldn’t have fallen from his bloody horse.

“My lord?”

Camille bit back his sigh and looked at his thaumaturge. “What cover can you give us as we march up the slope?”

Deschamps worried his lower lip between his teeth. “Lord Lumière, I have already cast an obfuscation spell on you and the soldiers.”

“And that won’t do us a bit of good if Montgomery has translated the palimpsest.” It was an open question at this point. Camille had lost some of his best men to nearly impossible shots over the past few months, but they had also quite effectively harried Montgomery into constant movement. Without the time to sit and study the magical booklet that contained the details of the deadly spell—cast on a gun, it would ensure every shot hit home—it seemed unlikely he could  make use of it yet. Still. “I need something better than blurred silhouettes.”

“Now?” Deschamps squawked. “In this weather? My lord, there is nothing more to be done! Any spell I cast will simply blow away on the wind. It can’t be done, not without more time, perhaps a day.”

“Insufficient.” Camille looked the shivering thaumaturge up and down. “You have a number of defensive spells on your own person, do you not? Within the amulet and rings that you wear?” He certainly recognized the silver protection triquetra at the man’s throat.

Deschamps’ face took on a hunted expression. “Yes, but these are—these spells are specifically attuned to me, my lord. I can’t simply hand them out to you and your men.”

And that was the worst thing about Deschamps—he still didn’t count himself as one of Camille’s men. He had been a late arrival, a solitary source of reinforcement who clearly thought their mission was pointless. But he was Camille’s to use, and by God, he would use him. Camille set a heavy hand on the thaumaturge’s shoulder.

“The time has come for you to step forward and prove your fealty with the strength of your own abilities. You shall lead us up the slope, Specialist Deschamps.”

The man’s hunted expression turned positively sickened. “My…my lord, I cannot…surely, I’m not…I have not had time to—”

“You sit with your alembics and concoctions each night, layering more and more spells on yourself. You exert yourself mightily on your own behalf, Deschamps. It’s time for the rest of us to benefit from that.” Camille pushed the thaumaturge forward. “And I’ll be right behind you the whole time.”

“My lord, I—I—”

“Move. Now.”

With Camille’s hand exerting steady pressure on his back, Deschamps began to trip up the side of the mountain toward the cave. He had one hand on his pendant, the other frantically drawing glyphs in the air in front of him. The driving snow that had been pummeling their faces suddenly vanished.

A sudden crack rent the air, and the shield that Deschamps was maintaining suddenly caved in the center. Deschamps squeaked, but the shot didn’t penetrate.

“Good,” Camille said grimly. “Continue.”

“My lord, I beg of you—”

“Keep your focus and work your craft if you want to live, man!”

They made it ten feet. Twenty. Thirty. The mouth of the cave was clearly visible now, but the men within it were still obscured. More shots were fired down the slope, though, all of them impacting the shield. None of them made it through, but Deschamps was beginning to moan.

“My spare stores of energy are nearly exhausted,” he whimpered. “I can’t maintain the protection much longer!”

“Fifteen more feet.” They were almost there.

“I can’t possibly—”

The next shot hit the shield, but this one didn’t fall to the snow. It ricocheted into the rocky mountainside, bypassing their protection, and slammed into the line three men back. Its victim died immediately.

Montgomery was making himself known at last. Apparently he’d translated the spell, but only treated his own weapon. Paranoid, but it meant they still had a chance. “Faster!” Camille shouted, bodily shoving Deschamps ahead of him like a cringing battering ram. “We can’t let him have the chance to reload!” If he was using a pistol, if he had but six shots—

Crack. Crack. Crack! Three more men went down by the time Camille and Deschamps crested the cave entrance. The scene within was far from inspiring—half a dozen men hunkered down behind rocks, only the tops of their heads and the barrels of their guns showing. “Fan out!” Camille shouted, keeping Deschamps right where he was. If his men moved fast, they could find cover of their own and pick their targets.

“Fire on the tall one!” Montgomery shouted from his perch in the back of the cave. Bullets spat at Camille, no longer bouncing off of Deschamps’s shield but sticking in it, like flecks of fruit in a wobbling pudding. Deschamps was hyperventilating so hard he could barely keep his hand moving, glyphs forming feverishly as Camille pushed him toward Montgomery.

“We won’t make it within five feet of him!” Deschamps cried. “He’s too heavily warded!”

Now wasn’t the time to explain why that wouldn’t matter in a moment. “Press on!”

Camille might be down to twelve men, but they still outnumbered Montgomery’s force. Dug-in fighters who would have focused on Camille were distracted, then taken down, by a grim-faced Lieutenant Romilly and his brigade. Montgomery raised his magical weapon and fired, but despite the weakening of the shield the bullet still ricocheted, this time striking one of his own remaining men in the neck. The fur-covered gunman collapsed, blood spurting like a faucet from beneath his jaw, and Deschamps shrieked as he saw it, his spell finally dissolving.

Camille pushed Deschamps out of the way and lunged for Montgomery, who was already starting to squeeze his trigger. Camille caught his foe by the hand and slammed it into the rock wall, dislodging the gun just as it fired a final bullet. Again there was ricochet, a new arc of certain death streaking into the air—

A bat, its tiny body practically obliterated by the round, fell to the ground with a splat. Camille smashed his elbow across Montgomery’s face, stunning him, then rolled him over onto his stomach. “Resist me and I’ll break your arm,” he told him.

“Forgot about your little parlor trick,” Montgomery croaked, his voice a parody of laughter. “Can’t damn a man to hell who’s already damned, eh? I should have brought a cannon.”

“Yes, you should have,” Camille agreed. He looked back at his party. All twelve of his remaining men were alive, and mostly undamaged. His thaumaturge was slumped on his back, staring at Camille with uncomprehending eyes. Montgomery’s supporters were all dead.

And high time. Once Camille delivered Montgomery to the emperor, perhaps then, finally—finally—he could see Anton again.

It could not come soon enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Birthdays, Father's Day, Travel, and Writing

Hey darlins!

Sooooo...why aren't I starting a new story this week?

There are a few reasons. First and foremost, it was my birthday on Sunday (and Father's Day too, this happens every now and then and it's a sweet intersection) and I wanted to spend it hanging out with my family and enjoying delicious meals and eating birthday cake, as opposed to plotting. Mission accomplished! I do plan to post the beginning of a new story next week, but updates will be a little erratic for a while, since the honey and the baby and I are traveling at the beginning of July. Wish us luck managing on a plane!

What else is up...I've got grad school beginning at the end of July, which is intimidating but should be fun. It'll be a big drain on my already-intensely-managed time, but I'll figure it all out. I've got a few books coming out in the next few months, and you can find them...*dum dum DUUUUH* on my website!

Yeah, really! It's updated and only has a few broken links, swear to God. I'm still in the process of fixing it but it doesn't completely suck right now, so there's that. Find it here:


That's basically it right now. I'm coauthoring another Bad Behavior book with L.A. Witt, I'm running around after my 21-month-old, I'm prepping for this year's knife camp...busy times! I hope your spring/summer is going wonderfully.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mutable: Epilogue

Notes: OH MY GOD, WHAT?!? 89,000 words later, we have...the end? RLY?

Really. At least, this is the end for now. A sweet, sexy ending for my long-suffering readers just WAITING for the promised HEA.

Up next: whatever comes after The Tower. I don't have a title yet, but I'll put one together shortly. And yes, there will be more sex in that story--I basically wrote myself out of logical places for sex in this book. This long, looong book. Almost 90k, lord. No wonder it took so long. You all are amazing for sticking with me, and I love you.

Title: Mutable: Epilogue


Mutable: Epilogue

The sun never set on Axia Mara, the planet that Cas and Rone and the children had chosen to settle on. Only half of the planet was really habitable thanks to an unforgiving axis of rotation, but it had a good-sized population whose culture emphasized education and environmentalism, and more importantly, who had no reason to dislike Imperians yet. They were welcomed by the governor of the largest city as official Imperian representatives, set up with a house and staff and private lab, and expected to contribute to local society and bring new trade deals to the government.

The trade deals, at least, came easily—Amiru wasn’t happy about exiling Rone, but he knew he couldn’t send Cas away without Rone going with him, and exiling Cas was the price of keeping his kingship strong. It wasn’t fair, but Cas had never expected life to be fair, so it didn’t hurt to leave a place he hadn’t lived in long enough to know as home. The children came with them, more excited than sad over the prospect of living in a new place, and a military escort and science staff joined them as well. Fillie—now Lieutenant Fillie, the head of their escort—had been the first to volunteer.

It was good, especially now that Cas could relax in the knowledge that he’d done everything he could to avenge Beren, and the rest of his murdered people. Vengeance was a surprisingly faint comfort prepared to the pit of grief inside of him where their loss still lived, but it eased the pain a bit. His enemies were gone, and he was still alive. It was time to embrace that, as well as really settle into not cohabiting with a phage any more.

Losing the strength and speed had been inconvenient, but not too bad. Losing the ability to transform had resulted in some unexpected tears, but again, he’d gotten over it. He still had most of the physical skills he’d had before, just in a slower body. Honestly, the hardest part about learning to live without a phage was realizing that Cas didn’t have the same control over his body’s involuntary reactions that he used to.

Sweating wasn’t terrible. He could do without it, but he recognized that a normal person without a phage recycling their moisture needed it. Fine. Blushing? Yeah, all right. Same with spots, a rumbling stomach, and waking up with weird crust in the corners of his eyes. The one that he really wasn’t used to? Waking up with an erection.

He had trained himself out of it when he was younger, the phage eventually getting the idea and putting a stop to it before he could do more than stir. Now, though, it seemed like he woke up hard every single day, without any regard to what he did or didn’t do the night before. It would have been annoying, if he wasn’t so well-occupied with his husband.

“Slower,” Rone said, putting his hands on Cas’s hips and stilling him. “Take it easy. We’ve got time.”

Intellectually, Cas knew that was true. The kids were occupied, work wasn’t going to take them out of the house until that afternoon…he could relax into this. But it was hard to abolish the habit of years, hard to get over wanting to be fast and furtive and as quiet as possible. Rone was guiding him through taking sex at a more leisurely pace, and sometimes that was great.

Other times, it verged on sadistic. “I want more,” Cas groaned, shifting his hips over Rone’s. He was filled up, fully seated on Rone’s thick cock, just the right side of too big, and he wanted to move. “You can make it bigger.”

Rone chuckled, dark and wicked. “The phage isn’t a sex toy. You don’t need it to be satisfied.”

“Then I need you to let me move!”

“Go ahead.” Rone ran his fingers down Cas’s aching thighs. “But slow.”

“Slow,” Cas muttered. “Slow my ass.”

“Exactly, honey.”

It was frustrating, how well Rone knew him by now. Cas arched forward and lifted up, forcing his muscled not to clench as he let go, let Rone slide closer and closer, almost out—then down again, just as painfully slow. He felt every inch, and Rone was right—he didn’t need any more of them. Cas was gleaming with sweat, and his back and legs burned from the glacial pace, but the diffuse pain just heightened the intensity of his pleasure. He groped backward with his hands, bracing them on Rone’s lifted knees, and rolled his hips into it, over and over, a needy, trembling mess.

“Touch me,” he gasped. His cock stood out from his body, flushed and drooling. “Touch me, I’m going to come, please...”

Rone liked to tease him, but he never left him wanting. He reached up and stroked Cas’s cock, working his balls with the other hand, and Cas sat down on him hard and came, digging furrows into Rone’s knees in an effort to keep himself upright. Fuck, fuck—“…fuck!

“That’s so good,” Rone said in a low voice. “So good, Cas, god—you don’t—” He got a hand behind Cas’s back and rolled them over, driving into Cas’s trembling, hypersensitive body with a few more short thrusts before coming himself. Cas tightened around him, holding him close and so satisfied but also wishing it would never end. They both shook as they finally separated, Rone plying Cas with soft, searching kisses as they caught their breath.

“Good morning,” Rone said at last.

Cas laughed. “Good morning to you too.” Pale sunlight filtered in through their window, the unit automatically programmed to provide blackout conditions while they slept and gradually lighten things as the day progressed. “How about we stay in bed for the rest of the day?” Cas suggested with a subtle stretch of his back. Now was when he missed the phage—he’d be living with sore muscles for a while.

“I’d love to, but I need to feed the beast before it eats through my stomach.”

Cas rolled his eyes. “It can go for days without food. You spoil that thing rotten.” Rone’s progress at mastering the phage was impressive, but he was inclined to give in to its cravings.

“We can afford to spoil it, and ourselves now. We’re not at war. We’re not fighting anybody anymore.”

That was true, and the novelty still hadn’t worn off. The last time Cas had even looked at a gun was the one Glynnis had held, almost three standard months ago. Her death had been ruled a suicide. He was grateful he hadn’t had to stage it. “I know that, but I still feel…a sort of background franticness. Like static in my mind, telling me I need to be doing something.”

“You’re doing plenty,” Rone assured him. “You’re parenting, you’re taking classes, you’re teaching Fillie how to fight without embarrassing herself. The noise will fade as other things start to fill you up.”

Cas quirked a smile. “Is that a suggestion? Because that was fantastic, but I’m completely spent.”

“Maybe later,” Rone said, kissing the corner of his mouth. “For now, how about breakfast with the kids?”

“Sounds perfect,” Cas replied.

And it was.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two

Notes: Okaaay, this could be a triggery chapter for people, so let me say this upfront: warnings for suicide! I don't care if it's a spoiler, there be emotional land mines ahead! Tread cautiously.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two


Chapter Thirty-One, Part Two
Glynnis Marigo/Melaria Yoshika

Her inn was conveniently empty the day Melaria found out about the Imperian ship arriving at Utellie, at the spaceport in the heart of the great city. She’d set the system to water all the outdoor plants, but preferred to do the indoor ones herself. It was meant to be soothing, or so she’d heard, but Melaria went about it with mechanical precision instead, dispassionately watering the tufts of salvia and tomillo until the pots glimmered blue. The newscast was nothing but background noise until she glanced at the video playing on her lounge room wall.

Melaria pressed her hand to her throat as she watched the royal couple disembark from the ship, accompanied by their young children. She never forgot a face, not even one she’d only seen once before. There was just one reason for her to see this one now, when he was so capable of changing his form. It was a warning, and she knew it was meant for her. Get your affairs in order.

Melaria had been the person to sink down onto the sofa and watch the ceremonial entrance, but it was Glynnis who stood up when the newscast ended. She made a list in her head as she moved into the kitchen, absently pouring hot water over her favorite loose tea. She would give herself the day to get things done. Firstly: cancel the upcoming stays.

That was the easiest part. Melaria’s inn, Shyne Cottages, was located in a scenic mountain hamlet several hours out from Utellie by hovercraft. It had never been a very busy place, but her clientele had been steadily growing over the past few months. What a shame she wouldn’t be able to host guests when her orange phoralia trees blossomed in a few months. The scent was absolutely enchanting.

“Of course, you’ll get a full refund of your deposit,” she told the last customers, an elderly couple who had once lived in the village, but had moved down to live with their daughter in the capital a few years ago.

“I’m not worried about that, my dear, just about your health! You’re seeing a specialist for the problem, aren’t you? Utellie has some of the best doctors in the entire system.”

“I am planning on seeing a specialist, yes,” Glynnis said around the unexpected lump in her throat. “But I’m afraid they won’t be able to do much good. It’s…related to where I used to live.”

“Oh, no. Did you bring something with you from that dreadful planet? Is it contagious?”

“Not contagious at all, I assure you. Thank you for understanding, Maria.” She ended the call, took a deep breath, then moved on to the next bullet point in her head: Juney.

The cat was dozing in the sunshine, a lazy puddle of fur splayed beneath the bay windows. Glynnis sat down next to him and carefully stroked his back. Juney opened one eye and growled at her, but let it go for the moment. “Prickly thing,” she chided him gently. “We never really got a chance to get along, did we?” The cat had been left behind by the previous owners of the inn, and had never exactly warmed up to Glynnis. Who could blame it, she mused distractedly. Who could warm up to ice? “You survived before when people just let you be. I think you’ll manage it again, don’t you?” The cat glared at her, and lashed a hind leg out to scratch the back of her hand. “I’ll leave the neighbors a note, then.”

The rest of it was slightly more complicated, but only because Glynnis hated the thought of leaving another mess behind her when this was over. She’d done that once already, and the fact haunted her. Daphna would have been so ashamed of her.

As long as she kept moving, it was possible—just possible—to keep thoughts of her daughter, so lively and lovely and fierce and gone, at bay. Glynnis cleaned the entire inn from top to bottom, folded the sheets and blankets and resolutely refused any assistance from the housekeeping system when it beeped insistently at her. If there was a stain, she would own it. A dustbunny, she would eliminate it. And when it came time for her past to swallow her whole, she would meet that head-on as well.

She had a gun, in a box beneath her bed at the very top of the main house. It wasn’t her old field piece—this gun had bee Daphna’s. It was one of only two personal effects returned to Glynnis after she was informed of her daughter’s death. The other had been a single earring, a small red cave crystal stud, that she’d turned into a ring and now wore on her right hand. When the inn was clean, and the sun was beginning to get low, she took out the gun and stared at it, set it in her scoured left hand and ran a finger over the grooves in the barrel. There was no blood there now, but there might as well be. Glynnis had helped bring ruination to an entire people because of this gun—her own people. She had laid them to waste more effectively than the Leelingers ever could have, and all because she’d been tired. Tired, and heartsick, and missing her child. So many others had suffered the same way, but she was the only one in a position to do something so drastic with her pain. In hindsight, she knew that she’d been at least partially insane at the time, but that was worse than cold comfort now.

Glynnis didn’t quite know how long she sat there, quiet and alone, until she heard the downstairs door open with a creak. There was no “hello” or “hola” or any variation, so…well. He was here, then.

Part of her wanted to scream, to leap for her console and call the police. Part of her wanted to take cover on the stairs and start shooting—the gun had three manual projectiles left, although its energy cell had died months ago. The biggest part of her, though, decided to sit right where she was.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Her stuttering heartbeat slowed, calming. It was time for this, she realized, and in a way she was relieved not having to wait any longer. Someone would have found her out eventually. At least he was a professional.

Cas Farling, Phage Operative, appeared in the door, holding Juney in his arms. The damned cat was actually purring. “Sweet pet,” he said.

“Not for me,” Glynnis replied, pleased that her voice was steady. “But I think I always knew he had it in him.”

“Almost everything does, until something goes wrong. How are you, Commander Marigo?”

Hearing her name and rank pierced her heart, but Glynnis didn’t bother to wipe the tears away. What good would it do to hide them now? She was already discovered in every way that mattered. “I’m here. That’s about all I can say for myself.”

“That’s a shame,” Farling said, “considering how dearly you sold your present location. I wish for your sake that you loved it here, and were full of rage and horror to see me.”

“I wish that too,” she agreed. “But I couldn’t let myself go, even when I knew it was the only comfort I was going to get. I couldn’t let her go.”

Farling glanced at the gun. “Your daughter’s, I take it?”


Farling stared in silence for a long moment. “I came here ready to fight, but I think a part of me knew it wouldn’t be necessary. I could snap your neck, or take that gun and shoot before you managed to close your hands around it, but I don’t believe I need to. Do I?”

As soon as he said it, the way forward was clear. “No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Perfectly sure.” Her hands were steady, her heart still calm. “Would you like to wait and verify?”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary.” He was still holding Juney. “What would you like me to do with your cat?”

Glynnis had an epiphany. “Take her with you, please. Give her to your children; they might enjoy having a pet.”

“They’ll have a menagerie before long,” Farling said with a faint smile. “Thank you, though.”

“You’re welcome.”

He paused, then freed one hand from under the cat to give her a formal salute. “Be strong, Commander.”

Be strong. Be brave. You are the hope of your civilization, the shield of your family, the heart of your people. It was in the Delacoeurian oath of service, one that all who served in the military took. Slowly she pressed to her feet, the gun still in her left hand, and returned the salute. “Thank you for your service, Operative Farling.”

He nodded, then turned and walked back down the stairs, Juney still in his arms. Glynnis waited for the door to shut, then looked down at her daughter’s gun. Be strong.

For the first time in over a year, and only for a split second, she had the satisfaction of knowing that she was.