Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Plague Household, Back Away!

Hey darlins,

If you follow me on FB or Twitter, you know my kiddo's been sick with the nasties. She's doing better, finally keeping things down, but now it's me who feels like I've been hit with a car. My brain is fuzzed over and it aches to type, so I'm going to be napping along with my kiddo today instead of, y'know, working. Sorry to skip a week, but 'tis the season.

Take care of yourselves!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Tank: Interlude: Camille POV

Notes: Guess who has no time today! Or this week, really. Everyone in the house is sick, deadlines are looming, and I'm running on fumes. So today's post is a little different--a short Camille interlude, complete with pseudo-technical explanation of airship technology. Enjoy!

Title: The Tank: Interlude: Camille POV


Interlude: Camille POV

It was a curious, this ability of Camille’s to be surrounded by magic and yet untouched by it. As a child, it had been something that he regretted, quite apart from the stigma that came from not having a soul. There was magic aplenty in the Imperial Court, much of it geared toward entertainment for la noblesse and their families. Camille could watch a play acted out in light and shadow, but he couldn’t feel the prickle of twilight stars against his skin as they fell from the air onto the watchers. He could observe the other children running through a magical maze, but Heaven forfend that he try to enter it himself—the magic would simply cease to be wherever he encountered it, and all the other children would cry and rail as he ruined their fun. He still had a tiny scar just beneath his left eye from where the daughter of a marquis, quite put out with him for accidentally spoiling a game, had thrown a blue crystal vase at him. It had shattered against the doorframe beside his head, but a shard of the glass still pierced his face.

The first time he’d seen this flying contraption, Camille had refused to go onto it. At least with the tanks, if he fouled up the thaumaturgy the worst that would happen was that he and the crew manning it would have a walk ahead of them. If he obviated the spells powering an airship, he might fall out of the sky. While Camille was resigned to the likely prospect of a violent death, he refused to bring it upon himself if at all possible.

It was interesting, then, to be assured by the thaumaturge behind the airship that Camille could fly in it with no problem. “This model’s ability to fly is based in physics, not spellcraft,” he’d assured Camille. “The materials that create the vacuum that expands the negative space within its sphere are all perfectly mundane. The spells simply act as stabilizers and improve the rate of speed.”

“Negative space?” Camille had asked. “What exactly do you mean?”

The man had grinned. “I’m so glad you asked!” Then he proceeded to go on at length about  gases that were lighter than air, and how he had determined that if he could create a material that could be expanded from a perfectly empty state, the subsequent expansion would be filled with Nothing, which would necessarily be lighter than air and provide lift.

Camille considered himself a fair hand at most of the sciences, but the physics of this explanation had been quite beyond him. Nevertheless, the thaumaturge was right—the ship had lifted off with no difficulties with him in the cabin, well away from the expanding sphere of Nothingness above. Getting rid of any of the existing magic wouldn’t cause any sort of problem.

Adding to it was a different story. The device would lock into place if the stabilizing spells failed, maintaining their lift, but if the spells were altered by another thaumaturge, things would begin to unravel. It was best not to risk it.

Camille wondered what Anton thought of it all. I can ask…but no, perhaps he couldn’t. Perhaps he was nothing more than a brute in the eyes of his lover. Former lover?

He is exhausted and injured and aggrieved, and perhaps you are so quick to take offense because you know there is more truth to his question than you’re comfortable with. Camille knew that he was capable of great violence, but he hoped to hold that aspect of himself away from Anton. I would keep him in the dark about my own darkness, for as long as possible.

Unless it was forever, it wouldn’t be long enough.

The whistle sounded. All the passengers but himself had boarded. Camille squared his shoulders and marched resolutely onto the airship. They would have more time to talk in Paris. He would right things between them there.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Free Halloween Story: The Wild Hunt

Hi darlins!

It's not Tuesday, omg, what am I doing posting? Well, I have a free story up as part of a Halloween giveaway with a bunch of other authors, so yep, this is me trying to give you stuff. Accept it😉

The story is called The Wild Hunt, and was originally published in a Dreamspinner anthology in...2012, I think? Long ago. At any rate, I hope you enjoy it--this is one of the first of many self-pubbing efforts coming out soon, so let me know what you think. The cover art is courtesy of my unfathomably excellent ficwife, Tiffany.


David Evans has wanted to join in the Wild Hunt ever since he was a child, watching it ride through the forest behind his house on Halloween. He never has, though, no matter how intrigued he is by the leader of the hunt, Gwyn ap Nudd. Going with Gwyn would mean leaving the real world, and his family, behind forever.

When life pushes David to the breaking point, Gwyn offers him an escape for a single night. David accepts, not knowing how irresistible the land of Annwn is until he sees it for himself...and learning firsthand the pain of leaving his fae lover behind for another year.

David will wait as long as it takes to see Gwyn again, and thanks to Gwyn's magic, that might not be as long as he fears.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Seven, Part One

Notes: We're about to lift-off! It'll be a short but very bumpy trip to Paris, so hold on tight ;)

Title: The Tank: Chapter Seven, Part One


Chapter Seven, Part One

“Oh my goodness,” Caroline exclaimed under her breath as she caught sight of the silver dirigible flying their way, already canting itself down for a landing. “How can such a thing be possible?”

It was a good question, and one Anton would have given a limb to have answered. Airships in and of themselves were nothing new—hot air balloons had been introduced to the skies almost a century ago, first as little more than curiosities, gradually becoming something that could be used for surveying, emergency transport, or in the case of nearly every government on the continent, a weapon of war. They were too slow to be truly effective as more than a lookout, though, and too vulnerable to puncture. Modern airships were faster, better armored and light enough that they had a bit more utility, but they were still better in theory than practice. At least, that had been the case, before Anton had cast his eyes on this.

The airship descended until it was within twenty feet of the ground, then threw out a line. A young man—probably still a lad, given his slightness—shimmied down it effortlessly, took something out of his pocket and stuck it through the loop on the end of the line, then jammed that into the ground. The connection point glowed white for a moment.

“We’re stuck tight!” the boy shouted up toward the cabin of the airship—which was another point of amazement to Anton. The entire device was miraculously quiet. Where was the flame? Did it run on electricity in some way? Even if the French had somehow perfected the art of lightning capture and storage, there would still be a hum about the entire business. But it was almost silent.

“Good work!” a voice called in reply. The ship sank the rest of the way to the ground, coming to rest exactly on top of the anchor holding it into place. It should have wobbled—there was no real basket, no struts to catch it, just a smooth, curving ship-like belly—but instead it stuck like a tongue in a groove. As soon as it was settled, a handsome, dark-haired man in an Imperial army uniform, with a silver airship medal on his chest, lowered a walkway and stepped briskly over to them. He saluted Camille.

“We came up as swift as we could, milord.”

“Excellent, Captain, thank you for your diligence,” Camille said, sounding every bit as haughty as Anton knew he could be, and yet…there was something warm lurking beneath the surface of his voice. “I hope I didn’t send you and your shipmate too far out of your way.”

The man smiled. “Not at all, milord. Nowhere’s out of the way for our beauty, ‘specially not for you.” He glanced over Camille’s shoulder and winced sympathetically. “Should we load your cargo, then? People should wait for the last moment, I reckon—it won’t be a comfortable ride, not at this time of night.”

“That would be acceptable.” Camille waited for the captain and the lad who evidently worked with him on the airship to begin grabbing the luggage Anton had so painstakingly assembled before he turned back to the party. “Sirs and lady,” he said formally. “The rest of our trip to Paris will be facilitated by the latest in Imperial airship design, the Fleur D’Argent. We should be there before midnight tonight.”

“Before midnight?”

“So soon?”

“That seems impossible.”

“What’s the catch?” Dr. Grable asked with a grunt, silencing the amazement of their fellows with his stern tones. “If it was that easy, nobles would be demanding rides all over the continent, not subjecting themselves to trains.”

“Indeed,” Camille agreed. “This ship is one of only three of its kind, a proof-of-concept prototype created by the Institute. One of the side-effects of its use is the fact that, to be most effective, it must be used in a lighter atmosphere. This means that it goes very high, and the ship itself becomes quite cold.”

“Warming spells can take care of that.”

Camille shook his head. “Not in this case. The…” He cast a glance in Caroline’s direction, and folded his hands behind his back. “The thaumaturgical equivalencies at work are, from what I understand, quite delicate. The device which powers the ship is quite fragile, and a random spell at the wrong time could cause fluctuations in its magical matrix.”

Dr. Grable shook his head. “Not ideal for a weapon.”

“No,” Camille agreed. “But it still could be an effective transport, once the other issues are worked out.”

“Issues?” Monsieur Deschamps asked, looking ill.

“Turbulence. Occasionally monumental turbulence. You shall all have to be strapped in rather tight. Even you, sir,” he added with a regretful look at Dr. Grable’s leg.

“Dignity goes before death, I s’pose.” Dr. Grable sighed, then held out an arm to Anton. “Come on, then, help me up and in there.”

Anton went to him at once, pleased to have a task that would take him out from under Camille’s gaze. He resolutely didn’t check in on Caroline, just gritted his teeth as Dr. Grable leaned his considerable weight onto Anton’s shoulder as he stood. “Bloody God-damn hell,” the older man gritted out through clenched teeth. He kept his leg—splinted now—airborne, and making it up the ramp was a painfully slow process.

“This way, sirs!” the lad called out, appearing beside them once they reached the top of the ramp like a Jack-In-The-Box. He led them over the smooth wooden flooring to a little passenger’s berth, one set of stairs down from the captain’s station. “There’s room for six,” the boy pointed out, rather proud. “Good thing you lost a few, eh? The bodies’ll go in the hold below. They’ll be right safe there,” he added, crossing himself for good measure. “Promise.”

“Thank you,” Anton said. There was something about this boy… “Can you show me how to work the harness?”

“Oh, right!”

The contraption designed to hold them in place was labyrinthine in design, built to withstand forces coming at you from all directions. Once Dr. Grable was strapped in tight, the boy began adding blankets and padding. “You’re close to the engine down here, so it gets even colder than it do outside,” he said apologetically.

What sort of engine gets cold when it’s working, instead of hot? Admittedly, Anton was no sort of engineer, but from the little he knew of the contraptions, that seemed counter-intuitive to him. He’d have to see if he could glean anything once they touched down in Paris and circumstances were less urgent.

“Let me give you a hand, sir,” the boy said, leaning in to help Anton adjust the straps around his torso. As he buckled Anton’s shoulder in, he said, “Don’t remember me then, sir?”

“Remember you…oh!” Oh, of course! It was the boy from the train, Bert, whose father had been killed in the Devoué plot and who had helped save the day in the end. “My word, Bert, you’ve grown so much I hardly recognized you! How on earth did you come into this position?”

Bert leaned back a bit, pleased. “Lord Lumière got me into the corps as a powder monkey,” he murmured. “He said he’d find a place for me, an’ he did. Boats was fine and all, but when a chance to fly in one of these came along, I wanted it. He came to visit, I told him, and—poof!” He snapped his fingers. “Look at me now!”

“Look at you indeed,” Anton said. “I’m so pleased for you, Bert, you’ve no idea.”

The young man blushed. “Thanks. If I had to lose my dad, at least I got this out of it, right? A word for you, sir, for your kindness.” He leaned in. “It’ll hurt, but keep your eyes open a little it you can during the flight. Sometimes residue from the Nothing seeps out, and it’s right beautiful.” He was upright before Anton could ask for clarification, clapping a wool-lined leather cap down onto his head. “Tie it tight over your ears, sir,” he said with a grin. “And don’t forget the top flap to cover your face.” He bounded away, leaving Anton to stare after him, wondering what the hell kind of residue nothing could leave behind.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Six, Part Two

Notes: A clue, a dash of gentleness, and the introduction of...not the tank of the title, but something just as cool!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Six, Part Two


Chapter Six, Part Two

This was the second time Anton had seen Camille march into a perilous situation and take it over completely, and to say the man had a knack for it would be ludicrously minimalist. He presented himself to Anton’s party—Dr. Grable, at least, had met him during the incident at the university and therefore didn’t put up the fuss he otherwise might have—and showed them all his credentials. “While my presence among you is purely coincidental, I was aware of your group’s presence on the train and have already taken the liberty of supplying a new mode of transportation that should be here within the hour,” he continued, looking at everyone but Anton. “I understand you’re headed for L’Institut D’Ingénierie Technologique.”

“How did you come to understand that, young man?” Cardinal Proulx asked, his voice somehow thunderous and mild at the same time.

“Your Eminence, I am a lumière working under the aegis of the emperor himself,” Camille replied dryly. “There is very little that goes on in this Empire that I do not understand.”

“This is a nightmare,” Monsieur Deschamps whimpered, one hand clutching the amulet around his neck as he stared at Camille. “It must be a nightmare. I’ve fallen into a dream I can’t wake up from.”

“You should consider yourself lucky to have convinced the late Lord Voclain that you were qualified for whatever if was he asked of you.” Anton had never heard that particular tone from Camille before, something so cold and contemptuous it made him want to shiver secondhand. “I suggest you take the time between now and our vessel’s arrival to quiet your nerves.

“Dr. Grable,” he continued, dismissing Monsieur Deschamps entirely, “the rest of this journey is going to be somewhat trying for a man with a broken leg. Would you prefer to be carried to the nearest village with the rest of the train’s passengers and continue after you’ve recovered a bit?”

“Whatever happens next can’t be more trying than an ambush by a lot of ruddy cowards in the middle of the mountains,” Dr. Grable replied with a grimace. “I’ll manage.”

“Very well. I suggest you have your assistant—” and even now he didn’t look at Anton, just spoke of him in the third person as though he were an abstract concept instead of a living being “—retrieve your belongings and place them to the side of that clearing over there. When our transport does arrive, speed will be of the essence.” Now he did glance over, but it was the same look he might have given any porter. “Perhaps you can do the same for the rest of your party as well, since you seem to be the only hale young man of the bunch.”

It felt like a dismissal—hell, it was a dismissal, but that didn’t mean that Camille wasn’t correct. Between Caroline and the now-deceased Voclain alone, there was probably half a ton of baggage. The Vicomte hadn’t believed in traveling light. “Of course,” Anton said, feeling quite subdued, and walked toward their overturned car in a bit of a daze.

It was getting colder by the minute. Thankfully, a relief crew had arrived a few minutes earlier, and the survivors were either walking toward the closest village or being carried there by hardy volunteers. The dead were left behind, held inside one of the overturned cars. It was cold enough that they would last the night, at least.

Anton was grateful to have something to do that kept his hands busy and his brain occupied, however briefly. It kept him from thinking too much about Camille. He had made a mistake, voicing his half-formed concerns the way he had, but was it really too much to ask for a hint of understanding? He’d just been thrown from a train car and nearly shot by a man in black—a bit of rattled thinking was a clear and unavoidable consequence of that. But now his lover was giving him the cold shoulder, it was more important than ever that Caroline keep her distance from him, and his mentor—and, indeed, his direct employer—Dr. Grable had a broken leg. What would that mean for their work in Paris? Would Anton be expected to step in and demonstrate combat spells in the doctor’s place? The only outcome of that would be utter disaster.

He lifted, stepped, and stacked, over and over again, ignoring the pain in his ribs and the occasional furtive glances from the rest of the company in his direction as he moved every case, trunk and carton to the clearing some yards apart from the wreck. By the time he was nearly done inside the train car, where there were fortunately no bodies to deal with thanks to the Cardinal’s efforts to get them blessed and removed, Anton felt nearly incapable of thought, much less speech. The whole of his world had narrowed down to basic movements, and it was only the silvery glint of the buttons on the leather strap of the tiny holster that led him to notice it at all. He crawled toward the gleam, reached around the seat that nearly obscured it, and pulled out the holster.

What kind of gun goes into this? It was tiny—whatever weapon it held could not hold more than five shots, at best. The leather holster had delicate silver scrollwork on it, in addition to the brilliance of the buttons. Anton lifted it to his nose and sniffed—fresh oil, and a hint of gunpowder. This was no ornamental keepsake, then.

Could it be… Such a holster was dainty enough to hold a gun that would perfectly fit a lady’s hand. Had Caroline or her companion been the ones to carry it? If so, where was the gun? And could it possibly have been the gun that fired the fatal round into the vicomte’s chest?

Oh, God. More clues, more secrets, more things that Anton wanted nothing to do with and yet was dragged headlong into regardless. He stiffly placed the supple little thing inside his vest and sat there, his mind whirring even as his body broke out in shivers that Anton barely felt. What the hell was Caroline playing at? Or was this even hers? A gun this small could easily be stored inside a set of robes as ornate as the cardinal’s, for example.

Oh, don’t be an idiot. Why would a man of the church turn to murder? Then again, why did anyone turn to murder? Anton ought to give the holster directly to Camille, but… now it was even more imperative that he do his utmost to guard Caroline against additional scrutiny from the Lord Lumière. Camille was devilishly insightful, he didn’t need any more ammunition than he already had.

But then Anton was potentially obstructing an official, Imperial investigation. If he was found to be withholding evidence, if—

 “Anton.” A quiet voice in his ear pulled him out of his daze. He turned blearily to see Camille, down on his knees in the wreckage beside him. Anton was shaking so hard he could barely stay upright.

“God, look at you.” Camille pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes for a moment. “You’re but a minute away from shock. What did you injure in the crash?”

“Nothing,” Anton protested numbly. “Nothing serious.”

Nothing serious, he says.” Camille shook his head. “You’re done in here,” he declared. “I’ll have Deschamps gather the rest, I need a respite from his bellyaching. Come outside and sit down. Our transport should nearly be here.”

“You must know him,” Anton said, turning awkwardly on his knees in preparation to crawl out of the car again. Oh, ouch—perhaps the tree he’d hit had done a little more damage than he’d thought.

“Know who?” Camille reached a hand out to steady him but didn’t quite make contact.

“Monsieur Deschamps. You’d never speak of him so—” contemptuously “—familiarly if you didn’t.”

“I have the dubious honor of a prior knowledge of the man, yes.”

“God, I hope he wasn’t a friend before you decided to hate him.” It fell out of Anton’s mouth before he could take it back. Camille looked at him sharply.

“He wasn’t,” he said, quiet but firm. “And nothing about Deschamps can compare in any way at all to our own situation. Now.” He finally extended his hand. “You need to get up and get ready. Our new transport has arrived.”

Anton took Camille’s hand and let him pull him up to his feet, then forced himself to let go as he looked around outside. “Where? I don’t see any horses, or…”

“Not on the ground,” Camille corrected. “Look up.”

Anton did so, and saw a silver speck growing larger and larger as it sailed through the sky at breakneck speed over the nearest mountain range. “What is that?” he asked, gaping.

Camille looked pleased. “Our ride.”