Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday Snippet, February 29, 2008

I thought I'd give the elementals a rest for a bit. This is a piece of story I wrote some time ago---it's very traditional sword and sorcery, and has all the story tropes in place--mage/warrior, evil mage, bar fight---I hope I put enough of a twist on it to make it a little more current. Let me know what you think. Although the story might never find a home. S&S is not selling well now. Most of all, I hope it will be a fun read.

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

In which Quill is sent to deal with Aster, a rogue Sunmaster. Only one Shen warrior protects him. A story about trouble, and lots of it.

Quill let the warmth of the spell build in his left hand enough to heat his flesh—not enough to be seen but enough to thaw out his cold fingers. When his left hand no longer felt numb, he moved to his right hand and gave it the same attention.

He looked over the ship’s rails, but fog prevented him from seeing more than a few feet. The air had turned cold enough to turn the condensation on the metal rails to ice and cover the decking with a thin sheet of slickness, making movement hazardous.

Quill sighed and put his hands on the railing where their heat melted the ice. Moisture dripped and ran from his fingers. He stood on the port side of the Merry Maid. From his vantage, he should be able to see the coastline of Navarr. He eyed the murk. The fancy that nothing existed but the ship and a small area of surrounding water lurked in the back of his mind.

Movement caught his eye. He saw Quen emerge from the gangway that led to passenger quarters below. Sure-footed and solid, she made her way to the captain who stood not far from Quill. Quen said a few low words to the captain, and started for the gangway.

“Ignoring me won’t help anything,” he said to her.

She paused and looked at him with those clear, cold blue eyes. “When I have something to say, Sunmaster, you’ll hear it.”

“Not one word of strategy, Shen warrior? Not one plan of action?”

“My plan of action is simple, Sunmaster. If it breathes, I kill it.”

Quill shook his head at her retreating form. The absolute certainty that force solved every problem echoed in her words. Not all Shen warriors espoused that philosophy—but clearly Quen did.

Not for the first time, he questioned Sunmaster Laketa’s decision to send Quen with him. He thought the idea was to bring Aster to justice, not kill her.

He hoped they made landfall soon. The constant pitch and roll of the ship left his stomach queasy. Even an uncivilized back-country like Navarr appealed by comparison.

Quill rubbed his forehead. The spell that hid the Sun sign on his brow made him itch.


“Two gold? That’s outrageous,” Quill said.

The innkeeper shrugged well-padded shoulders. “Take it or leave it, Varchenian. They’re the best nags in town. I’ll even throw in the tack for that price.”

Quill looked at the horses in the innkeeper’s fenced enclosure. If the sunken-flanked, mean-eyed mares were the best the whole town could offer, that didn’t speak well for the level of clientele in the area.

He gave Quen an uncertain look, but she watched five or six men entering the inn and paid no attention to the business of buying transportation.

Reluctant to part with that much of his stash of gold, Quill handed the innkeeper the two gold. “See that they both receive a good mess of oats before we leave in the morning.”

The innkeeper pocketed the two gold with a speed that rivaled the circulation of the collection plate at the temple. “Nice doing business with you, Varchenian.”

“Why did you tell him we’d be here overnight?” Quen said in a disgruntled tone of voice as they walked toward the inn.

“What’s the problem, Quentina?” Quill asked.

Quen glared at him. “Call me that again and I’ll leave you minus something very important. It’s Quen. And you don’t ever let anyone know when and where you plan to be. Especially in a place like this. And, most especially, after you’ve been flashing gold around.”

“I had to buy the horses!” Quill protested. “Would you have us walk all the way to Blackrock?”

“Keep your voice down!” Quen said.

Quill, angry, entered the inn. The smoky, dim atmosphere lay heavy on his lungs after the crisp outdoor air. Six pairs of eyes found them. Uncomfortable, Quill turned aside to the bar. Quen followed and stood to one side of him, eyes scanning the room. For once, since they left Varchenia, Quen’s presence at his back felt good.

A barmaid stood behind the counter, watching them with interest. She eyed the long sword that hung across Quen’s back within easy reach of the Shen warrior’s right hand.

“Ale,” Quill said.

The barmaid drew his ale without looking away from Quen or her sword.

“That extra?” Quill asked.

The barmaid looked at him, confused.

“The sword,” he clarified. You seem to be staring at it. I’m wondering if we have to pay extra for it to sleep here, too.”

The barmaid flushed, set his ale in front of him, took his coin, and turned away to studiously wipe down the counter. Quill took a drink from his glass.

“Maybe you do,” someone said behind him.

Quill turned, his eyebrow raised, to see that one of the six men in the bar had turned his chair in their direction, a challenging look in his eyes.

“Beg pardon?” Quill said.

The man nodded to the sword. “Maybe you do have to pay extra. Someone who can afford a Shen warrior to guard his back shouldn’t miss a few extra coins.”

Quill couldn’t resist the opportunity to send an ironic glance at Quen. She gave a faint shrug.

“I’m sorry,” Quill told the man. “I didn’t realize you were the owner. You can, of course, set whatever price you want for your rooms.”

“I’m not the owner. But I think you’ll be paying an extra six gold for the sword.”

Quill found himself faced with a choice. He should let this ride. He was after far more important prey than these barheads. Irritation colored his thoughts. Why should he let these small town fish shake him down for his gold?

He barely paused. “I don’t think so. Not to any of you.”

Quill didn’t dare look at Quen. Unless she helped, this would be a real short fight. He had no intention of using his magic to even the odds. He had hidden his Sun sign and stopped doing any magic but the most minimal since stepping on shore. Aster probably knew he was here, but if she didn’t, alerting her of his presence would be stupid.

“I’ll wager six golds you will,” the man said.

“If I win the wager, you pay me six golds?” Quill hazarded.

“No, you just get to keep yours,” the man said.

He got up from his chair. To Quill, it looked as if he kept unfolding parts of himself until he stood as high as the ceiling. He easily overtopped Quill head and shoulders. Quill didn’t much like the odds.

“Try not to kill him, Chase,” one of the others said.

The barmaid ducked behind the bar.

“Don’t try fisticuffs with him, Quill,” Quen said. “His reach is about six inches longer than yours. Try to get him off his feet.”

Quill had time for one horrified look at Quen before Chase rushed him. He ducked under Chase’s swing and slipped out to dance behind the larger man. All right, he was faster. And he would have to be in order to not get his head knocked off.

Chase turned to face him, a set grin on his face. He came at Quill, using his superior arm reach to force the smaller man back, trying to box him in between the counter and the wall. This time, as Quill slipped past, Chase tried to grapple with him. Quill pulled away, leaving part of his clothing in Chase’s hand.

“Don’t let him get you in a hold!” Quen yelled.

Quill gave her a harried, disgusted look before dancing back in time to avoid a meaty fist that would have caved in his face had it connected.

Some of the men yelled out gleeful encouragement.

“Break his face, Chase!”

“Just fall on the little bug, Chase! You outweigh him a hundred pounds!”

Perhaps overly enthused by the coaching, Chase leaped at Quill, arms outstretched. Not sure what to make of Chase’s new strategy, Quill dropped and rolled. Chase smacked the floor so hard dust rose from his clothing. Quill shuddered. That could have been him under there.

For such a big man, Chase could move fast. He was up and Quill, who had stopped to brush the dust off his clothing, found himself neatly boxed into a corner. He attempted to duck but Chase had him by the collar and slung him like a slack of flour. Quill landed onto a table and a set of chairs that splintered to kindling.

Quill floundered in the wreckage and his hand fell on a sizable chunk of wood. He waited for Chase to come for him, aimed the wood, and knocked Chase’s legs out from under him. Chase hit the floor hard again. This time, as he struggled to rise, Quill whacked him on the head with the chunk of wood. Chase collapsed, unconscious, and the fight was over.

Quill climbed to his feet, his panting loud in the sudden background silence. No one said anything or offered to move, so Quill retrieved his drink and waited for Chase to wake up. Quen maintained a silent watchfulness.

The barmaid appeared again, this time staring at Quen and Quill with equal intensity.

Chase groaned and lifted his head, squinting his eyes at his surroundings. Quill offered him a hand. After a moment of consideration, Chase took the hand and allowed Quill to help him to his feet.

“You’ve got spirit, little man, I’ll say that for you,” Chase said as he wiped the blood from the cut on his forehead.

“Do I get to keep my gold?” Quill asked.

“A wager is a wager,” Chase said. “I’ll even throw in some free advice. Get back on the Merry Maid and go back to Varchenia.”


“Go back to Varchenia while you still can, Sunmaster, and take the Shen warrior with you. Blackrock is closed to you both.”

“How did you know who we are?” Quen said, eyes boring a hole in Chase.

“Warning them is not part of the bargain you made, Chase Durin,” the barmaid said.

Quen and Quill turned to see her standing, hands planted on the counter, glaring at the big man.

Chase shrugged. “I agreed to delay them. That I’ve done. He won fair and square, and without using magic. So I warn them. If the witch has issue with me, then let her come and find me.”

“Sunmaster!” the barmaid spat. “And don’t you forget that.”

Chase gave her a hard smile. “I don’t care if she’s the Emperor. She doesn’t rule me.”

Quill felt his head swim. “Wait a minute. I’m less than two hours setting foot on Navarr and Aster already knows I’m here?”

Quen cut to the heart of the matter. “Why were you to delay us?”

Chase considered her for a moment. “She sets her spells to close Blackrock against the assault of an army. Two people won’t stop her, even if one is another Sunmaster and the other is a Shen warrior.”

“Do you know what she plans to do?” Quill asked.

“No. I figured you would.”

Quill had to shake his head.

Chase looked at him with a kind of grim humor. He motioned to the other men and they prepared to leave.

“Best of luck with that, then, Sunmaster.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Friday Snippet, February 22, 2008

Nice to be back, and I actually have something to post.

Quick synopsis. Anabelle Sturgis is the Special Examiner to the King. She's also a Fire Witch. She's named the fire elemental who keeps her company Flicker. She is investigating the murder of a family member of one of the Fifty (the nobility in this world), a Water Witch who has drowned--an impossibility that puzzles Anabelle. A second murder, that of an Earth Master, has only deepened the mystery. Anabelle is making the Gorhams uncomfortable with her questions, and her brother has asked her to break off her investigation.

A soft sound broke the quiet. Anabelle looked up from her book.

“Mary? Is that you?”

Silence met her question.

Beyond the influence of the firelight and her small reading lamp, the dark house crouched like a waiting beast. Anabelle tried to shake off that fancy. She laid the book on the side table near her chair and stood, moving restlessly to the fireplace where Flicker murmured among the coals.

For no reason she could fathom, her nerves jangled and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

A sound like a snigger brought her gaze to the black square of doorway opening onto the hall. With unshakeable certainty, she knew someone stood in the hall just beyond the reach of the light, and she knew it wasn’t Mary.

Flicker hissed with a vicious sound that sent a shudder down her spine. Her gaze snapped back to the fireplace. The elemental stretched from the coals, flames shooting out into the room. Within seconds, the elemental had grown to bonfire size. Red flames reached out like claws and looped back upon themselves. In a sinuous movement, the elemental moved out onto the hearth, and the flames towered toward the ceiling. The roar of displaced air assaulted her ears, and a hot wind plastered Anabelle’s skirt against her legs.

“Flicker!” she shouted, and then tried to draw breath in the oxygen-depleted air.

With a howling and crackling that sounded like maniacal laughter, the elemental turned in her direction. Eyes so hot they glittered like diamonds fixed on her. A bright loop of flame snaked out and snagged her wrist.

Pain. Horrible pain like a thousand knife points digging into her flesh---

Anabelle screamed, high and shrill. A sound like drumbeats filled the room, continuing on past her scream.

Flicker let go of her wrist and subsided into the fireplace. Everything went white and dim, both at once. Anabelle put a hand in front of her dazzled eyes as the afterimage of the monstrous elemental haunted her vision.

The drumming sound resolved into a pounding fist on the front door.

“Anabelle!” Jonathon’s voice, pitched to be heard. “For God’s sake! Open the door before I kick it in! Anabelle!”

Giddy with relief at hearing her husband, Anabelle groped her way by memory alone to the front door, guided by the sound of the thunderous knocking. She released the deadbolts and felt Jonathon seize her in his arms.

“My God, Anabelle! Why did you scream? I heard you from out in the street!”

Still unable to see anything but the afterimage of the elemental, she whispered, “Someone is in the house, Jonathon.”

He didn’t waste any more words. She heard him pull a heavy umbrella from the stand near the door, and heard his cautious footsteps moving deeper into the house.

As Jonathon searched the place, gradually Anabelle’s vision returned. She could distinguish the outlines of furniture in the hallway, and the dim light from the sitting room became itself and not part of her dazzlement. Her wrist hurt with unbelievable sharpness.

Anabelle drew a deep breath. She shored up what remained of her courage and moved back into the room on shaky legs. The fireplace did not contain even a vestige of fire. Black and empty, as if no fire had burned there in hours. Except that heat still roiled in waves from the bricks.

Steeling herself, Anabelle held her wrist close to the reading lamp and examined it. An angry red welt encircled the pale flesh like a fresh brand.

“The window in the pantry is open. Whoever it was is gone now,” Jonathon said from behind her.

She turned and he sucked in a breath.

“Is that a burn? Anabelle, what’s going on?”

She blinked at him. “Flicker did it. But it wasn’t Flicker.”

Flicker did it,” he repeated, shock in his face.

“It looked at me with such evil in its eyes!”

“Wait a minute. Looked at you? Anabelle, you know better than I do that fire elementals don’t have eyes.”

“I know,” she said, forlorn. “That thing wasn’t Flicker, Jonathon. My beautiful fire elemental is gone forever.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

No Friday Snippet this week.

Sorry, out of town helping my mother-in-law move. I'll be posting one next week, but I'll get around to everyone who posted a snippet this week when I return.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Friday Snippet, February 8, 2008

And this post follows directly from the last one. Sorry, Jess, not a whole lot of action, but there is some good interaction--hopefully.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

Quick synopsis. Anabelle Sturgis is the Special Examiner to the King. She's also a Fire Witch. She's named the fire elemental who keeps her company Flicker. She is investigating the murder of a family member of one of the Fifty (the nobility in this world), a Water Witch who has drowned--an impossibility that puzzles Anabelle. She, her ex-husband Jonathon, and Jonathon's brother, Patrick, are attempting to interview Eli Gorham, a Patriarch and father of the murdered Water Witch. Anabelle succeeds in gaining an interview, which doesn't go all that well.

Anabelle seated herself on an uncomfortable settee. The two men settled gingerly on the edge of spindly-legged, brocaded chairs. Now that she had nothing to distract her, Anabelle felt the uneasy grumble from Flicker. She kept her hands and arms prudently away from the fabric of the settee.

“So, how have you been, Jonathon?” Anabelle said at last.

He glowered at her from beneath his thick black brows. “Not eating enough, apparently. I haven’t heard from you in months. I’d like to have a conversation, but not here, and not now, Anabelle. If you would do me the honor of inviting me to the house,” he said with heavy irony.

Anabelle’s lips tightened. “You spent little enough time there when you had the run of the place. Don’t blame me if you no longer feel welcome.”

“If you two are finished sniping at each other, you could call a truce,” Patrick said.

The opening door prevented further conversation along those lines. The butler and another servant came inside.

“His Lordship will see you in the Green Room, Special Examiner. If Sheriff Sturgis and Deputy Sturgis will follow Chartrand, he will assist you in questioning the staff.”

Anabelle followed the butler down the hallway. The Green Room turned out to be a formal affair, decorated as coldly and mausoleum-like as the drawing room. The walls were, indeed, an ugly olive green, and, she supposed, the reason for the name. Eli Gorham, his wife, and a young girl of about fifteen summers sat in the room. Gorham had risen and bowed when the butler had announced her and withdrew.

“Lord and Lady Gorham, Miss Gorham, I thank you for granting me this interview on such short notice.” Anabelle gave them a formal curtsey.

A chilly smile graced Gorham’s face. “Special Examiner. So nice to see manners. One meets so many jumped-up folk in law enforcement these days.”

Anabelle set her teeth at the implied insult, but she said smoothly, “Anabelle, please. I hope to keep this is as painless as possible, my lord.”

“That’s good to hear, Anabelle.” He gestured to nearby seating. “Won’t you sit down?”

She sat down in a chair that could have doubled for a slab of rock. She discreetly surveyed the Gorhams. Lady Mary Gorham had been crying. Her eyes and nose were pink, and her cheeks still blotched. Lord Eli Gorham looked impatient and cold. Miss Elizabeth Gorham’s expression interested Anabelle the most---suppressed excitement, almost glee, as if the girl kept a secret that it pleased her no one else knew.

“First, let me say how sorry I am for Minna’s death. I know this is hard, but to find out what happened to her, I must ask questions. When was the last time any of you saw Minna?”

“My daughter went to bed that night at her usual time,” Gorham said in an acrid voice.

“And that time was…?”

“Eleven o’clock,” he said.

“Did she seem different in any way?” she asked.

Gorham raised a brow. “Different, Anabelle?”

“Upset? Angry?”

Gorham bristled. “What are you implying, Special Examiner?”

Anabelle cocked her head. “Implying, my lord? I’m not implying anything. I’m merely asking after Minna’s state of mind. Anything that might give us a clue as to why she was found in a lake miles away from here in the middle of the night.” With no clothes on. She stopped herself from saying the rest.

Lady Gorham made a soft sound and put a hand to her lips.

Gorham flicked his wife an impatient glance. He turned to pin Anabelle with a hard stare. “Let me make something very clear, Special Examiner. None of us had anything to do with our daughter’s death. She was fine the night she went to bed, and none of us saw or heard anything until one of your people came to our door the next day. I know your type. Pestering us with useless questions while the real perpetrator goes free strikes me as a poor use of your time and my money. Now, unless you have something of interest to relate, please stop upsetting me and my wife and go earn your pay.”

Instant rage blossomed in Anabelle. An uneasy Flicker fueled the emotion until Anabelle felt herself spiral out of control.

“My type?” she said, her voice deadly quiet.

Lady Gorham made an involuntary gesture. Elizabeth Gorham stopped smirking and watched Anabelle with fascination. Gorham paused, apparently having just enough sense to realize he might have made a serious mistake.

When Anabelle continued, she felt as if her words were backed by flames. “My father was just such a man as you---arrogant, hard, unloving. Always sure that he knew best, always ruling his household with an iron fist. Until the day they carted my mother away, and he spent the rest of his miserable life in seclusion, ignoring his own son and daughter as if they didn’t even exist. You and my father could have been twins, Lord Gorham.”

He jumped to his feet, fist clenching. “How dare you speak to me like that!” he snarled.

She stood, feeling the heat emanate from her body, and stared him down. Gorham actually took a step back.

“I am the Special Examiner to the King, and my father was Lord Hollings, Advisor to the former King. I dare.”

She turned and walked out of the room, trying to tamp down on her temper before her clothes, and possibly everything around her, reached incendiary point.