Thursday, September 26, 2019

All the irons, so many fires!

Hey darlins!

Here's a quick update on me, just so you know where I'm coming from lately, writing-wise. I'm trying to make this word-thing work for me while I'm juggling grad school, my lovely but EXTREMELY ENERGETIC kidlet, and being a decent wife, mom, and person at the same time. So!

I just subbed a story I've been working on for four freaking years to PitchWars. If you don't know that name, don't worry about it, it's just something I'd really love to get into. Basically you query four mentors you'd like to work with with your first chapter and some other book info, and if they're interested in helping you try for an agent/publication, it's a BIG DEAL. It's also hugely popular and I have no clue how I stack up, but I'm trying to think about other things.

I'm writing a cracky little myth retelling for my master's work right now (yeah, it's an MFA, I'm doubling down) and that's fun, but hard to focus on.

I'm trying to get writing jobs on Upwork like nobody's business, and it's extremely hit-or-miss.

I'm trying to get hired to write serial fiction for an online subscription service, and trying to get a contract to write some short fiction for a company that wants tie-in stories for their tabletop games. Cool, right?

I'm trying to edit other people's work, probably for not enough money, but I need the experience and I love it so much.

I'm trying to write a chapter for my next coauthored book with L.A. Witt.

And I'm writing the current blog story. And trying to republish my backlist from Dreamspinner.

I'm busy as hell, but also super anxious about everything right now. I'm going to go workout this afternoon and see if I can beat some of the nerves out of myself. How are you guys? How's life?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Five: Part Two

Notes: More story, yay! And longer than usual, and definitely more action that we've seen for a while. Also, Anton should just stop taking trains altogether, he's clearly cursed.

Title: The Tank: Chapter Five, Part Two


Chapter Five, Part Two

The change happened so fast, Anton didn’t have a chance to stop himself from falling. One moment the train was chugging along, heading southwest on a decline as it passed through a narrow valley in the Bernese Oberland, and the next…

The noise was bad enough, a sharp crack followed by a rattling boom that penetrated Anton’s teeth, but it was accompanied by a sudden lift that sent everyone in their car, for a moment, into the air. Anton hung for a breathless second, with just enough time to turn his eyes away from the window he was hurtling toward before he impacted it.

Glass shattered against his cheekbone, and he felt something in his face crack along with it before his shoulder took on the burden of preparing the path for the rest of him. Even as the window vanished, the train rolled. That shouldn’t be possible, Anton thought to himself before he realized that he was airborne yet again. Only this time, he was outside the train. He’d passed right through the window frame, and flew through the air until he hit—a tree? A needle-covered rock? Something that broke his fall and nearly broke his spine as well.

Anton crashed to the ground, the air gone from his lungs, and watched as the train, all eight passenger cars, completed a second roll to the left. The engine was a smoldering mess, completely destroyed—but by what?

Magic? An explosive? Anton struggled to push up onto his hands and knees. The way his back screamed at him for it was slightly reassuring—at least he could still feel things, and his vital organs didn’t seem compromised. He tried to get to his feet and failed. Or maybe it’s too soon to know that. It didn’t matter—he could wallow in his own pain later. Caroline was on that train. Camille was on that train!

Anton staggered a few steps forward, one hand cradling his ribcage, then stopped. There was a shadow ahead of him that shouldn’t be there.

It was an odd thing to notice, but ever since he began deciphering truth from pictures that were little better than smoke and spirit, he had learned to pay attention to the way light moved. Things might get muddled in a building, with artificial light to confuse things, but out here there was nothing but the setting sun to cast a shadow, and all of those should be facing the other way. So it wasn’t a shadow, then. It was a…

“Look at you.”

A person. The man peeled away from the tree he squatted behind, taking a few small steps toward Anton. He was swathed in dark clothes, baggy and indistinct, and his face was covered in ash. “Never seen a fellow fly like that before,” he said. His French was oddly accented—an Alsatian dialect, perhaps? “The fact that you can even stand, much less move, is proof that God loves you.” He pulled a knife out from beneath his shirt. “But not enough to save you from my eyes, or my blade.” He took another two steps forward, his knife glinting menacingly in the red light of the sunset. “Now you—”

Anton pulled out the tiny Deringer he’d taken to wearing in his jacket after his last talk with Camille, cocked the hammer, and fired his shot dead into the man’s face. It was a small caliber bullet, and if his attacker was wearing armor of some sort beneath his camouflage the round might not penetrate, but there was no shield protecting his gaping mouth, now dripping blood like a faucet. Brains spattered the trees behind him, and after a moment he slumped to the ground.

“Apparently God’s still on my side,” Anton muttered. He took a deep breath, winced, and tried not to look at the ruin of the back of the man’s head as he stumbled past the body, desperate to make it to the train. Was it an ambush by the Dévoué? Were there more grey-garbed men stalking the wreckage of the train for passengers to murder even now? Anton had some of his spell equipment on him, but none of them would be much good offensively, unless he counted the wooden ball in his left vest pocket…but honestly, how useful would that be up here, in a fairly remote mountain pass with no villages? He needed to—

A second explosion rocked the ground, only this one sounded more like a swarm of metallic bees being released at high speed. Glinting orange sparks shot high above the train before crashing down again, trailing their light like spears of fire. As soon as they hit the ground, they shot straight out in all directions. Anton heard screams, expected to scream himself—he was standing, he was moving toward the train, how would the magic distinguish him from an attacker?—but the light passed right through him, harmless.

That amount of deadly precision had to be the work of Dr. Grable. He, at least, was still functioning. It was a tremendous relief to Anton—he wouldn’t yet be called to use his talents to kill. He gulped and thought of the man behind him. To kill again, at least, and that hadn’t been talent, that was pure luck.

He pressed on over the rocks, past small shrubs and straight toward the smell of gunpowder. Orsini bombs, perhaps? Whatever had managed to roll the train, it had been powerful. He stumbled toward the private car, now a broken wreck. “Caroline!” he shouted, his anxiety bursting out of his chest. She had to be all right. “Caroline!”

It wasn’t until he saw her crawl out of another broken window, coughing but managing to get herself to her feet, that Anton realized he’d just given himself away. Why should he care about her in particular, other than because she was one of the only women in their party? Why should he be so forward as to address her by her first name? Idiot, idiot

The odds were good that no one had even heard him, so surrounded were they with cries and tears and shouts. Caroline heard, though. She met his eyes for a moment, and her free hand clenched over her heart as she saw him, her eyes closing briefly. Thank God, he saw her mouth. Perhaps she and his attacker had a point after all.

“Fucking hell,” a familiar voice groused from above. Anton saw Dr. Grable standing on the toppled train, a silver wand glowing like a brand in one hand, the other one clutching the wooden leg of an elongated cocktail table. It seemed to be all that was keeping him on his feet—he was listing heavily to one side, like his left leg couldn’t support him. How had he even gotten up there?

“Sheer bloody-mindedness,” Dr. Grable said, and Anton realized he’d spoken the last part out loud. “You survived, then. Excellent. Get into the cabin of our car and check on the others while the young lady and I do a little protective thaumaturgy on what’s left of this rubble.”

“It will be all right,” Caroline chimed in. “I’ve got plenty of materials for the basics.” She had her holdall with her—smart.

“I—yes, I can do that.” It helped to have an order to follow, now that he knew Caroline was unhurt. It was the tether he needed to keep from running off to the other passenger cars, searching for Camille. There were plenty of people in a muddle over there right now already, and Anton was no healer—he would only get in the way. He crawled in through the same window Caroline had exited from and looked around, marking where their company lay, then moved to each of them in turn.

Cardinal Proulx was unconscious, and judging from the size of the knot on his skull, likely to have a terrible headache when he awoke, but he was breathing freely and no limbs looked to be contorted. Monsieur Deschamps was similarly unconscious, although he seemed to be coming around. His wrist was likely broken, or at least very badly sprained, but Anton could detect no other obvious maladies. He moved to the second half of the car, where the news was less good.

Caroline’s companion was dead, her neck very clearly broken. She’d probably died in the initial explosion, as the twist of the train had thrown them all about the cabin. And Voclain…

Well. He was dead, that was evident. But it probably wasn’t the crash that had killed him.

It was far more likely the bullet lodged in his chest that had done that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Five, Part One

Notes: Back to The Tank! Have some introductions, enjoy the wine, prepare for chaos!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Five, Part One


Chapter Five, Part One

It was just as well that Anton had packed when he did, because before the sun set he, Grable, the three principle representatives of the emperor and their entourage were on their way to Paris via a private train car. Not an entirely private train, thankfully—Anton didn’t think he could have taken that. The private car was stressful enough, for a variety of reasons.

The men sent by the Emperor to coerce—er, persuade—them to Paris were a disparate lot. One of them was a clergyman, a cardinal in fact, his blood-red robes making him stand out like his avian namesake among the dark, crowlike garb the rest of them wore. He was an older man, with a severe face but a surprisingly approachable demeanor. Anton, who was disinclined toward religion on moral grounds, nevertheless found His Eminence Cardinal Proulx to be a thoughtful, pleasant person who was more curious about his thaumaturgy than condemning. The relationship between God and magic played out in fraught ways at times, both politically and philosophically, but the cardinal was nothing but polite. Anton intended to corner him for a discussion of the church’s position on supporting the empire’s violence against its own indigenous populations when they had a moment.

The thaumaturge that accompanied the party wasn’t much of a conversationalist, to be honest. Monsieur Deschamps appeared to be a ritualist type—“Lit up like a cathedral at Christmas, he’s got so many magical devices on him,” Dr. Grable had remarked—and while that was interesting to Anton, the man didn’t seem very inclined to discuss the craft.

“I prefer not to speak about them,” was all Deschamps said when Anton tried to bring his devices up in conversation once they were settled in their car. “As long as I’m the only one who knows what they are, no one will be able to counter them all.”

Anton had chuckled. “Are you worried about an assassination attempt, then?” he asked.

Deschamps had scowled in return. “You have no idea what I’ve been through,” he declared, gripping the silver triquetra pendant dangling around his neck so hard his knuckles turned white. “I won’t have my protections dismissed by someone who’s never put his life on the line for the greater good before! Good day, sir!” He had retreated, leaving Anton completely nonplussed. Whatever had happened to the man, it had left him rather on edge.

The final imperial representative was a vicomte, because of course he was. There was no escaping the grasp of the aristocracy when the emperor himself had sent the delegation. Vicomte Wilhelm Piotr Swartzman Voclain had an estate outside Strasbourg, hence a very strong motive to keep the empire whole—Strasbourg was technically still in the “heart” of the French Empire, but it would be one of the first to chip away in real unrest, a way for dissenters to strike at Napoleon’s most powerful allies.

Vicomte Voclain was charming, personable, and about as genuine as a fish sporting fur. He was handsome, a bit taller than Anton and broad through the shoulders and chest, very fit, and also very industrious when it came to picking and choosing his company. He had taken one look at Anton and immediately deduced that they had nothing to talk about, and apart from a brief and genteel greeting hadn’t looked his way since. He seemed wary of Dr. Grable, for all that he had been sent to Zurich to persuade the man to his cause, and he was very clearly uninterested in moralizing with the cardinal or putting up with Deschamps’ fluttering nerves. So he’d found another person to keep him company.

“That is too clever!” Caroline exclaimed from the other side of the car, a glass of wine in one hand, the other resting on the vicomte’s arm. Anton glanced her way and grimaced. Her prediction that she could find a way to finagle herself down to the capitol had come true. She had undoubtedly taken one look at Voclain, determined him to be her ideal target, and persuaded him into doing exactly what she wanted in less than an hour.

Her retinue had been dismissed to another car, with the exception of an older woman who was her “travel companion,” sitting back and knitting quietly. The presence of the other lady was meant to encourage chasteness between the married Caroline and the decidedly rakish Voclain, but her presence didn’t seem to be deterring the vicomte a whit.

Voclain smiled a vast white smile. “You would have thought it twice as clever if you could have seen it for yourself, my lady.”

“I have no doubt of that at all. It’s so rare to find a gentlemen such as yourself paying such close attention to the comings and goings of his own estate, sir.”

“I’ve never understood the English need to reduce all important labor to the realm of servants,” Voclain declared. “If I am to be the lord of my manor, then I must know every aspect of its workings. How else will I know if I am squeezing enough blood from my stones, no?”

“How indeed!”

This sort of entitled prig is exactly why the empire is careening toward an uprising, Anton thought uncharitably to himself. If he’d been alone with Caroline, it was the sort of observation he’d have enjoyed sharing with her, but she’d clearly been very careful not to give away their connection. He appreciated that. Having given her a “no,” she was handling it gracefully. He only hoped she wouldn’t get too ambitious with her spy-gathering.

What a joke. That woman only knows how to be ambitious. In that case, he wished her much joy of it, because he wouldn’t be assisting her.

The only bright spot in the entire process so far, apart from having an assured income for a time, was the glimpse Anton had gotten of a man getting onto the public part of the train when he’d boarded earlier—a man who looked, at least from behind, very much like Camille. Was he returning to Paris already? Was he doing it because he wanted to be close to Anton, or because he had already been summoned home by his masters? Or did he have another destination in mind, one that would have him leaving the train well before the three-day journey to Paris was over?

Anton didn’t know, but if he had to be satisfied with so little of Camille, after he had just had so, so much of him, he would do his best.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Second Coming of Chicken Little

Notes: Hey there! So, knife camp was fun, and having my ficwife and her gent around is great, but it hasn't left time for writing. So, today you get something very new, and weird, that I wrote for my MFA. It's got a chicken, animal sacrifice, and minor acts of possession. If any of that bothers you, please stop here.

I'll have more of The Tank for you next week!

Title: The Second Coming of Chicken Little


The Second Coming of Chicken Little

The chicken is lying in a bag, hanging from the handlebar of a bicycle. It’s a young chicken, and clearly the lowest in the flock’s pecking order, so to speak—its feathers are patchy and half of its upper beak has been broken off. It’s in a bag, but it’s not tied up. It’s just lying there on its side. No scratching, no fluffing, no clucking. This is a chicken that has accepted its fate. This chicken is one with the universe.
It shits in the bottom of the bag. Take that, universe.
The bag sways back and forth on the handlebars for a long time, and the chicken sways with it. The movement is soothing, despite the heat and the general foulness in the confined space. The chicken’s beady eyes are half-closed, mesmerized by the rhythmic motion. When it stops, the chicken doesn’t even realize it until the bag is shifting, up and down before bump-bump-bumping along in time with the pace of whoever is holding it. The chicken is disgruntled, but it still doesn’t speak. Why bother? It’s going wherever it’s going.
The murky light turns dim and dark, and the air in the bag gets even closer. The end of it opens up, and the chicken stares up at a large, freakish face—no beak, no wattle, and a comb so short it might as well not even be there. The face makes an unintelligible grunting sound, then huge hands descend to pluck the chicken from its plastic nest.
Now the chicken has something to say, and boy does it say it. It curses out the man holding it, all the people sitting in a circle stound them like a bunch of slow, stupid bugs, and the undignified way it’s suddenly dangling head-first over a grimy old clay pot, the edge rimed with a pinkish-gray foam that smells suspiciously like death, and hey wait, what’s that shiny thing coming close to its—
One hand holds it steady while the other one cuts its throat. It flaps, startled by the pain, even more startled by the way it begins to leak. Its head is covered in wet and salt, and its vision goes blurry. It’s shaken a little over the pot, plink plink plink to get the blood in, then turned upright and set on the packed earth floor to the left of the sharp-handed, freak-faced human.
The chicken is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.
The stupid bug people make stupid noises, pointing and staring at the chicken. The chicken ignores them, because it is not moving, thank you very much. The chicken is happy just to sit here and take stock of its life and impending death and wonder where it all went wrong. The bag, definitely. Leaving the bag is where it all went wrong, the chicken remembers that now.
The human to its right says something new, pours something else into the pot, stirs it all together and throws some of the liquid onto the back of chicken, and then—
Oh. Goodness. How strange. It’s like…like being a weed clinging to the crevice of a rock, only the rock is inside of you and the weed is outside of you, but it tells you what to do and you do it. The chicken knows that the best thing for it is not to move, but it doesn’t feel like it can refuse the weed-voice. It’s clinging to its tiny brain, firing up nerves that have been resignedly shutting down for the past thirty seconds. The chicken, who is still slightly more alive than dead, but definitely more dead than alive, gets to its feet.
It reels to the left first, and runs right into the wall of the hut where this travesty is taking place. It goes right, gets up speed for a few feet, then trips over the desiccated maw of a crocodile who predeceased the chicken by decades in the center of the room, where a pile of bones makes a nest for the pot. The chicken falls onto its back, and is still for a long moment. The human bugs make noises, very loud noises, which wouldn’t bother the chicken except that the weed inside its head is very insistent that it keep moving, because “hand to the ancestors, what are chickens made of these days that they can’t handle a few seconds of post-sacrificial cavorting?”
The chicken kicks once, twice, then manages to flip onto its belly.
There is loud noise again, but it sounds higher this time, happier, in a way. The weed begins to withdraw its tendrils from the chicken’s brain, taking away most of its extra perception as well, which is really for the best considering what happens to it next. The chicken is completely out of it when new hands, tentative hands, pick it up and, with a great deal of prompting, break its wings in their sockets. It barely even feels the vibration run through its body when those same hands break its legs as well, although a final wisp of indignation does manage to float through its tiny brain when the hands have to break its legs again, because they didn’t do it well enough the first time. Honestly, “what are people coming to these days, when they can’t even break the legs of their chicken sacrifices like they’d break the legs of their enemies, swift and sure?”
Wait, what? Never mind, never…never mind…
The chicken is plucked, and cooked, and eaten, and knows no more.