Archeology 101: Chapter 5

“Okay…”  Bridget took several deep breaths.  Then she took several more.  Then she got a drink of water, drank it, and took several more deep breaths.  Only then did she turn to look at Khait.  “Let’s set a few more ground rules.”

“Sharks.”  Abigail was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall as though shell-shocked.

“I am uncertain —”  Khait started shaking his head.

“One…”  Bridget held up a hand to stop him from talking.  “Street lights.  Do not alter them in any way.”

“Yes, mistress.”  He nodded.

“Two…”  She took a deep breath.  “When I say I wish someone would go away, it is a rhetorical statement.  Do…”  She exhaled.  “Not teleport them anywhere.  Especially not anywhere they may be endangered.”

“Even if they attempt to take liberties with your person?”  Khait raised an eyebrow.

“He grabbed my ass.”  She shook her head.  “That’s the kind of thing you punch someone for.  Teleporting them to the arctic circle is not okay.”  She hesitated a moment, then sighed.  “Even if it was a little bit funny.”  She shook her head.  “It’s still not okay.”

“I…”  Khait shrugged.  “Yes, mistress.”

“Three.  Do not change my grades.”

“You wanted an A.”

“Bridget, don’t you think your priorities are a little —”

“I will get to it, Abigail.”  Bridget sighed.  “I wanted an A.  But it’s my responsibility to get one.  I don’t learn anything when you go in and change my grades.  Don’t do it.”  She glanced at Abigail.  “Don’t change Abigail’s either.”

“Bitch.”

“Yes, mistress.”

“Four…”  Bridget stood there a moment, trying to put the words together properly.  Then she just started shaking her head.  “Why the hell did you put sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s a shark.  Swimming pool.  People swim in pools so they don’t have to worry about sharks.  If they wanted to swim with sharks here is an ocean like twenty miles that way —”  She pointed.

“It is that way.”  Khait pointed in a different direction.

“Irrelevant!  You don’t put sharks in pools!”  She stared at him.  “Why did you put the sharks in the pool?”

“The little girl wanted to see them.  She gave me ice cream.”

“You…”  Bridget blinked.  “What?”

“Ice cream.  It is a frozen dairy thing with sugar and —”

“I know what ice cream is!”

“Oh.”  Khait nodded.  “She was too small to go in the cage to see sharks, and it made her very sad.  She likes sharks.”

“So you put sharks in the pool so a little girl could see them.”  Bridget ran a hand down her face.

“She gave me ice cream.”  Khait nodded.

“That is simultaneously one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen…”  Abigail was trying not to laugh.  “And the worse nightmare I’ve ever experienced.”

“No sharks in pools.”  Bridget felt her own lips trying to twitch into a smile.

“Yes, mistress.”

“You know, you could have gone with smaller sharks.”  Abigail leaned back.  “Like nurse sharks or something.  That way she could have touched them.”

“Abigail…”  Bridget all but growled her friend’s name.

“Those wouldn’t have eaten her stepfather.”  Khait shrugged.  “Bull sharks are —”

“Wait.”  Bridget held up a hand.  “What’s this about eating a stepfather?”

“Khait…”  Abigail was staring at him in horror.  “Did the sharks actually eat someone?”

“Well, no.”  Khait frowned.

“Okay, good.”

“He got out of the pool too fast.  I had to get a tiger.”

“What?”

Continue reading Archeology 101: Chapter 5

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

Escapade: Chapter 5

He picked the phone up and set it back down again three times before finally dialing the number.  She answered on the third ring.  “You’re checking up on me.”

“I am simply calling to ask how the tour went.”  Michaels glared in the general direction of San Francisco.  Liar.  You’re calling to check up.  Rather than sit around and worry about her, he’d taken Diana up on her offer to have a nice quiet week at her uncle’s cabin.

“Liar.”  Laura snickered.

There was background noise.  Way more background noise than should be present in a quiet hotel room.  “What are you up to?”

“I ran into an assassin and we kidnapped me an academic adviser and drove him out of the city so we could find some magical paraphernalia that used to belong to Merlin’s girlfriend Nimue.”

“Uh-huh.”  He rubbed his forehead and hit the speaker phone button.

“Except we ran into werewolves but that’s okay because my new partner can turn into a gorilla and he just beat the shit out of the alpha and took over the pack.

“Did he now?”  He sat down next to Diana and rolled his eyes.

“And it was awesome.  Only, it turns out that the werewolves were just after the same artifacts we were and somebody else stole them first, so I went to a history lecture and it was actually pretty interesting.  While I was doing that we learned there was a vampire tailing the professor, so we kidnapped him again and stuck him in a five-star hotel suite.”

“I see.”  He saw Diana cover her mouth and try not to giggle.

“So now I’m just kicking back doing karaoke with a hit man while we wait for the vampires’ base to open.”

“Right.”  He nodded.  “You’ll be back at your hotel by midnight, right?”

“Hell no.  The five-star place has a jacuzzi on the balcony and I am so gonna try that thing out.”

“Midnight.”  He narrowed his eyes.

“We probably won’t even be done killing vampires until like one AM.  You and Diana enjoy the cabin and make kissy faces at each other.”  Or better yet, get the handcuffs out again.

Diana laughed.  “I really hope she’s majoring in creative writing.”

“Yeah…”  Michaels stared at the phone for a second.  Then he dialed again.  What are you doing?

The phone was answered on the second ring, but it was Ted’s voice on the other end.  “Michaels, is something wrong?.”

“Yep.”  He exhaled.  “I’m going to need you to tell Gabe to get to San Francisco.”  Hey, I’ve got the situation under control!  And he was the Queen of fucking Sheba.  “Laura’s found herself some trouble.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 5

Escapade: Chapter 1

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

Michaels and Gabriel both ducked reflexively before looking at Ted.  Ted chuckled.  “I think she found the —”

“I’m perfect!”  Laura came flying through the door waving a sheet of paper.  She shoved the paper into Micheals’ chest.  “Perfect perfect perfect perfect perfect.”  She spun around in a ballet twirl before throwing herself into Gabriel’s arms in a swoon.  He caught her, rolling his eyes as he did so.  “I’m perfect!”  She grinned up at him.

“Holy shit.”  Michaels looked down at the paper.  “She’s uh…”  He chuckled.  “Not kidding.”

“I could use a little context.”  Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

“SATs.”  Laura straightened.  “Perfect score.  1600, bitches.”

Which means our little girl is going to college, Erilon’s voice echoed around them.

“Wait.”  Laura blinked.  “What?”

“Pretty much any college she wants.”  Michaels nodded.

“But uh…”  Laura shifted her weight.  “College costs um…”

“You let me worry about the costs.”  Ted immediately shook his head.

Pfft.  Give me five minutes and it won’t cost you anything.

“We want to keep things legal, Erilon.”  Ted sighed.

It’ll be legal.  Ish.

“No.  Totally legal.”  Michaels folded his arms.  “I don’t want any problems cropping up during her presidential campaign.”

Oooh, running one of those sounds like fun.

“Let’s start small.”  Laura grinned.  “I’m gonna be mayor of this place first.”

“I’m…”  Gabriel exhaled.  “A little scared.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 1

The Signal: Chapter 5

Lidia stepped back, took a look, fussed with the drape again, then stepped back and took another look.  Then she exhaled and made herself stop messing with it.  Like it or not, it was finished.  She took a deep breath, and stepped further back to get a look at the whole.  “My dear girl…”  The voice behind her made her turn.  Mr. Ishi was looking around with a smile on his face.  “You’ve done marvelous work.”

She smiled.  “Really?”  She shifted from foot to foot.  “You don’t think it’s a little cheesy?”

“Darling, this is Las Vegas.”  Mr. Ishi laughed.

“Good point.”  She turned to look at the chair.  It was fashioned to look like a tree stump, with part of the tree remaining and spreading out into branches over the walls and along the book shelves, with fake leaves interspersed with actual plants.  “I’m just worried it’s creeping into Limburger territory.”

“I don’t think it goes beyond a nice cheddar.”  He turned to the gentleman standing next to him.  “What do you think?”

“Could use more nymphs.”  The other man’s voice was surprisingly rich and deep, with an accent that sounded Welsh.  “Are these original Beatrix Potters’?”  He gestured at the artwork.

The grove was the transition point from the small children’s art museum into a play area, and once she’d learned Mr. Ishi was willing to let her have her way on the design, she’d gone with a full on fairy-tale theme.  “Four of them.”  She indicated the work.  “There are more in the museum itself, but I thought the rabbits suited better here.”

“I saw the museum.  Excellent taste for most of it.”  He made a grumbling sound.  “Could have done without that garish St. George one by the window.”

“Oh, get over it already.”  Mr. Ishi rolled his eyes at his companion.  “Mrs. Wu, this is Mr. Emrys, an old friend of mine.  With your permission, I would like to introduce him and a few other friends to Coraline.  There is a small matter she may be able to assist with.”

When Mr. Ishi gave her a slight reassuring nod, she smiled.  “She should be here in the next half hour or so.  She’s been helping.”  Coraline’s control of her powers had improved over the past year, and the braided climbing roses around the museum’s entrance had been her work.  Twenty years of growth in a few minutes.  Lidia gave a small frown.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Emrys.  I think I’ve heard your name before but at the moment I can’t recall where.”

“Quite alright.  Many get the name wrong anyway.”  He extended his hand, but when she offered her own instead of shaking it he kissed the back.  “Myrddin Emrys.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.  I…”  She stopped.  Then she stared at him as realization dawned, and she glanced at Mr. Ishi.  He nodded, a bit of mischief in his eyes.  She looked back at the man in front of her.  He was tall, with brilliant blue eyes and black hair threaded with silver.  Like Mr. Ishi, he wore an elegant tailored suit that was just a little old-fashioned.  “Old friend…”

“Yes.”

“You’re Merlin.”  She stared, her mouth falling open.  “You’re Merlin.”

He turned, and gave Mr. Ishi a look that was more than a little bit smug.  Mr. Ishi rolled his eyes.  “We are in the West.  Come to Japan, and see which of us is recognized.”

“I told you, you should have kept the name Jin.  It suited you far better.”  Mr. Emrys turned back to Lidia.  “Thank you for allowing us to speak with your daughter.”

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 5

The Signal: Chapter 4

Mr. Ishi had definitely made an impression on her mother.  For the first time since James had been murdered, Coraline was allowed to be off by herself.  For a short time, with a cell phone, and in a strictly limited range.  While her mother discussed taking a job in the casino’s small art museum, she was allowed to be in its arcade.  That the arcade itself was dragon-themed amused her just a little.

With freedom so new, it took her a bit of time to work up her nerve.  She took a few deep breaths before slipping out of the gaming area and toward the operations area of the hotel casino.  She got past the first level by stating she was there to see her mother, but the second level simply told her to take a seat and asked her for her mother’s name.  “Actually, I need to speak with Mr. Ishi.”

The receptionist gave her a look of amusement and skepticism.  “Right.”

“Look, just let him know Coraline Wu would like to speak to him and it might be important.”

After a moment, the receptionist rolled his eyes and got on the phone to pass the word back.  She sat there for a few minutes with him occasionally looking up from his work to smirk in her direction.  A tall, elegant looking black woman came out of the door behind the receptionist’s desk.  “Miss Wu?”

Something about the woman unnerved her just a little.  She had to take a deep breath before replying.  “Yes.”

“Mr. Ishi will see you now.”

It was all she could do not to poke her tongue out at the receptionist as she followed the woman back.  The look on his face was comical.  When the door closed behind her, however, she felt trepidation.  Rather than give in to the desire to turn and walk back the way she’d come, she looked at the hallway.  The walls were painted with Japanese style artwork, featuring elegantly rendered natural disasters of various sorts.  She’d expected to see more works depicting dragons.

His office was large and elegant, but oddly asymmetrical.  “Miss Wu.”  Mr. Ishi gave her a concerned look.  “Is everything alright?”

“I…”  She had to take a couple deep breaths.  When she glanced at the woman nervously, Mr. Ishi gestured and the woman inclined her head before turning to leave.  “I don’t know.”

“Please, sit.”  He indicated the chair across from him.  “Would you like something to drink?”

“No, I…”  She went to the chair.  “I think there is something you need to know.  I’m not sure if…”

“Miss Wu, I assure you whatever it is you tell me will go no further than this room without your permission.”  The smile he gave her was warm, and rather grandfatherly.

“That’s not…”  She reached into her purse and grabbed the item she’d brought with her, setting it on his desk.  He raised an eyebrow at the small pot and seedling.  “I’m just not sure if it’s going to work.  It doesn’t, not all the time, but…”  She put her hand around the pot, and concentrated.  Most of the time, it seemed to only work by accident, and with him watching she was sure it wouldn’t…  The seedling suddenly started growing, spurting up in height and spreading as though weeks were passing in seconds.  She took her hand away, then looked up at him as he stared down at the lavender plant on his desk.

“You’ve a gift, Miss Wu.”  He slowly nodded.  Then he rose and walked over to a small cupboard.  She blinked as he set a slice of cheesecake in front of her.  When she gave him a surprised look, he smiled again, gently.  “Magic uses your own energy.  I’ve never known any witch who would turn down food.”

“That Cabal wanted me because they thought I could do magic.”  She took a bite of the cheesecake, chewing and swallowing before continuing to speak.  “What happens if they find out I really can?”

“The woman who escorted you to my office…”  He sat back in his chair.  “Her name is Ahit.  And she is no more human than I am.  There are others here.  Some like you.  I even have a few werewolves and a vampire on staff.  They are all under my protection.  That does come with a few restrictions.  I expect you to be discrete with your usage of magic.  It is in the vested interest of all that our world remain less than visible to the world at large.  I also will expect you to refrain from using your powers to harm innocents.  As long as you meet those expectations…”  His eyes caught hold of hers.  “You will be safe.”

“I used to have this t-shirt.  Adam got it for me.  It showed a knight with smoke coming out of his armor, and said ‘do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you —’”

“Are crunchy, and go well with ketchup.”  He smiled.  “There are several variations on that theme for sale in my gift shops.”

A small laugh escaped her.  “I just, uh…”  She finished the cheesecake, then set the fork down.  “I thought it was something you needed to know.”

“You indicated your control remains a work in progress?”

Coraline modded.  “Sometimes nothing happens.  Sometimes parts of the plant grow at different rates, like the roots sort of explode but the leaves don’t come in, and uh…”  She winced.  “I’ve had some mishaps with fruit.”

“Mishaps?”

“Applesauce.”

“Ah.”  He nodded.  “I can arrange a teacher, if you would like.”

“Mr. Ishi…”

“You may call me Ryuu.”

“Then you can call me Coraline.”  She nodded.  “I, uh…”  She took a deep breath.  “Can I help?”

“Help?”

“I mean, if I could shoot fireballs or something I could go help Stasya kick all the asses.  But it seems like…”  She shook her head.  “I mean, Spiderman said it best.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I’m just not sure how great this power is.”

For a moment, he was silent.  Then he opened the laptop on his desk, and typed for a moment.  He turned the screen toward her.  “This plant here is known as dwarf wheat.  It is the creation of a man called Norman Borlaug.  And it is a creation on par with the invention of penicillin.  Without it, billions would have starved.  Entire cultures would have died out.  This single, humble plant, my dear girl, saved the world.”

“I…”  She stared at the image on the screen, then looked up at him.  “I want to help.”

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 4

The Signal: Chapter 2

Adam’s message had been enough to compel their cooperation thus far, but that window had clearly closed.  Still, they were in the wind for now.  She’d sent Adam a text message letting him know they were safe before destroying that phone.  There was no longer a direct method of contact.  Patrick had trained Adam well.

“I don’t understand why you aren’t taking us to Adam.”  Lidia folded her arms.  “My son is alive and…”  She took a ragged breath.

“His instructions were to keep you safe.”  Stasya shook her head.

“He’s my son.”  Lidia squared her shoulder.  “We should be with him.”

“Yes.”  Stasya nodded.  “On that, we agree.”  She should be watching his back, fighting at his side.  “Is not possible.”  Wren had forced Adam to kill Patrick.  She’d seen the pain in his eyes when he’d come to her.  If Wren learned any of this…  “If we go to Adam, we put him in danger.  This I will not do.  If I take you to Adam, I put people he loves in danger.  This I will not do.”

“If I could just talk to him…”  Tears were visible on Lidia’s cheeks.  “You can’t understand…”

“I too, lost son.”  Stasya met her eyes.  “He was taken from me.  I tried to get him back, and found only corpse.”  She exhaled.  “I met Adam, and for a time, it was like having my son once more.  I do understand, Mrs. Wu.”

Slowly, Lidia nodded.  “Is he safe?”  She swallowed.  “Is he…”

“He is good man.  He is brave man.  He is strong man.”  She smiled.  “He is fighting good fight.”

“What happened?”  She turned at the sound of Sean’s voice.  Adam’s father looked like an older version of Adam, though with less delicate features.  “Who killed James?”

“That…”  Stasya sighed.  “Will be a hard story for you to believe.”  Adam had magic.  Strong magic.  The reason the Cabal had taken an interest in Coraline was because of the chance she had something similar.  It stood to reason that one or the other of Adam’s parents might have magic of their own.  “Or perhaps it will not be.”  She straightened.  “James was killed by a witch.”

“What?”  Coraline stared from where she was sitting on the side of the bed.

Stasya looked at Adam’s parents, then shrugged.  “You might want to sit down for this.”  She waited until they had complied, then took a deep breath.

Then she started telling them of the other world.

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 2

The Signal: Chapter 1

Her hands shook a little as she started unwrapping the box.  Then she stopped, and took a few deep breaths.  For a moment, she almost tucked it away again.  Her eyes closed.  He’d bought this there in town, hiding the bag and actually blushing a little when she’d caught him at it.  Told her not to go peeking, that she’d spoil the surprise.

Slowly, she unwrapped the box.  A note slid out when she opened it, followed by a small black box.  With trembling fingers, she opened the note.

I know it’s early.  Maybe too early.  Maybe I’m an idiot.  But I’ve watched too many things go by, and I don’t want you to be one of them.  I don’t want this to be a fling, Stasya.  Just think about it, alright? 

Love,

Patrick.

Tears fell as she read it over and over again.  Then she folded it in half again, and gently put it back in the box.  It took her three tries to work up the nerve to open the small black box.

Inside was a necklace.  Silver with a green stone, delicately wrought on an intricate chain.  It was, quite possibly, the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.  Stasya fastened it around her neck, then tucked the little black box back into the larger box along with the carefully folded wrapping paper, and placed all of it back into her case.

One more deep breath, and then she squared her shoulders.  She had a job to do.  Stasya glanced one more time at the envelope sitting in the passenger seat, then she started the car.

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 1

Learning Photoshop: Day 19 – Progress report

Today is a day to throw everything together and see what we get.  I’ve done a little bit of compositing, focusing on the foreground to make three different images color match and blend together.  To do so, I used layer masks, the clone tool, and a bunch of other shit I’ve picked up from the tutorials thus far.

The background comes from some stuff I did with the space things I learned, but as you can see, I still need to work on learning about lighting and shadows.

Space-scene

Stock from deviant art –

Clouds

Jurassic Valley

Heaven is a place on earth

Castle Stock 12

And the planet is mine.

Learning Photoshop: Day 9 – Under the Sea

Alright, today I decided to try using photo composites to make a scene, and went with an underwater theme.  I decided on this tutorial.

After multiple attempts, I was unsuccessful at adding a human person to the picture.  I will say that has as much to do with my lack of suitable stock as it does my lack of suitable skills, and I’ll try again at some point in the future.  The stock I used for the castle is courtesy of a fine photographer over at DeviantArt and I encourage you to go give her gallery a look.  Don’t worry, I’ve already apologized for what I did to her image.

My results?

The Duchess: Chapter 5

He rubbed at his wrists, then exhaled before letting Gian take one to sooth the ointment into it.  His ankles had been left shackled together and secured to the chain on the floor.  Gian gave him a concerned look.  “The ropes are nicer if you don’t fight them, my lord.”

Simply fleeing would do him no good.  He might have gotten away with killing Durante, but there was the duchess to consider.  The king’s niece.  Killing her would make him an outlaw if he wasn’t simply executed, and alive her word was worth far more than his own.  She’d laid the trap clearly, and he’d still stepped inside.  “Fighting them seems to amuse her.”

“Oh, yes, my lord.”  Gian nodded.  “She was praising you at breakfast, telling all who would listen how she had to put you in irons.  She feared you’d break the ropes.”  Gian soothed the ointment into his other wrist.  “She’s instructed special restraints be made for you my lord.  Something that can hold her magnificent beast.”  He gave Ruarc a shy smile.  “You frightened me a little when you threw Durante off the bed.  I thought you were going to break free and I’d be punished for not tying you well enough.”

“If…”  Ruarc took a deep breath.  “You’d be punished if I broke free?”

“Of course, my lord.”  Gian gave him a confused look.  “Or if the ropes injure you.  It means I did not perform my duty adequately.”  Gian stood.  “Do you have other injuries, my lord?”

“I’m fine.”  Ruarc nodded.

Gian shifted from foot to foot.  “Are you certain, my lord?”

Ruarc looked up at him.  “I’m fine.”

“I…”  Gian hesitated.  “Are you certain, my lord?”

“Gian…”  He exhaled.  “What concerns you?”

“My lord, Durante did not prepare you before he took you.”

“Prepare…”  He caught on to what Gian was saying and felt his skin start to burn.  “I’m fine, Gian.”

“If my lord would like, I can prepare you before they wish to use you again.”

“I don’t…”  Ruarc shook his head.  “I don’t even know what you mean by that.”

“Oh.”  Gian started nodding.  “I can put oil on my fingers and —”

“Gian.”  Ruarc stared at him and then started shaking his head.  “No, I don’t want you to —”

“My lord.”  Gian put a hand on Ruarc’s shoulder, then crouched slightly so they were eye level.  “If you are not prepared, you could tear, or…”  Gian took a deep breath.  “It is a very painful injury to have, my lord.”

“I…”  Ruarc frowned.  “You know this from experience.”

“Yes, my lord.”  He nodded.  “I would have to prepare well if I were to take you, my lord.  You are bigger than Durante.”

“I won’t be taking you, Gian.”  Ruarc shook his head.  “I have no interest in either defiling you or doing you harm.”

“I…”  Gian smiled at him.  “I wouldn’t mind, my lord.  I like you.”

“Just…”  Ruarc took a deep breath.  Then another.  He had to take a third before he could speak.  “Tell me if you think I am going to need to be…”  He winced.  “Prepared, and I will consider your offer.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 5

The Duchess: Chapter 2

He wanted to grab the key and storm from the room.  Ruarc could feel his face burning from humiliation.  And yet, if he left empty-handed, his brother was a dead man.  A whore, she’d called him.  Worst part was she was right.  He took a couple deep breaths, and then took his seat once more.

The maid who’d stripped him brought in the meal.  He started to open his mouth, then caught himself.  She hadn’t given him permission to speak yet.  Ruarc looked up to see her giving him a pleased smile.  “Now, as to terms…”  She looked down at her plate, her voice prim.  “I will first go over what is in this offer for you, and what is not.  You will not be given access to my fortune.  I will, however, purchase the markers for your family’s debts.  Your estates, and your brother’s recent mistakes.  Additionally, I will provide your family members with suitable stipends.  I will also see to the repairs on the estate itself.”

Ruarc went still, as she laid out everything he wanted and more.  He took a sip of the wine, and noted his hand was trembling just a little.  The duchess must have noticed as well, because she smiled again.  “You can, of course, refuse.  In fact, you may walk away at any time.  Your sisters are pretty, no doubt they can find work in a brothel.  You could support your mother and your youngest sibling by returning to the life of a soldier, at least as long as you escape injury.  Your brother…”  She shrugged, then waved a hand.  “You may speak.”

“You’ve made your point, Your Grace.”  He was surprised to find his voice steady.  “Perhaps you should explain what it is you want from me.”

“In public, you will play the role of my adoring and devoted husband.  You will, if necessary, defend my honor and other such matters.  Should I bear a child, you will claim the child as yours and defend the child’s honor as well.”  She speared a bit of meat on her fork.  “In public.”

A show.  A pretense, so she could avoid having a husband with sufficient power to interfere with her.  And yet if that were all she wanted, there were plenty of weak dandies about for her to choose from.  Fools who had to have six servants before they could dress themselves.  “In public.”  He slowly nodded.  “And in private?”

“You will assume no control over my standing or finances.  You will assume no power over me at all.  You will do as I tell you, and submit yourself to my will.”  Her smile became predatory.  “I have no interest in you as a husband, Ruarc.  But as a plaything?”  She looked him over.  “I think I will enjoy you thoroughly.”

It was all he could do not to flinch.  A whore was exactly what she’d make of him, if he agreed to this.  And a cuckold beside.  “My sisters will require dowries.”

“Their needs will be met, as long as you keep your end.”  She speared herself another bite of food.  “Displease me, and their stipends will be cut off until you submit to whatever punishment I deem satisfactory.”

“Not courting a husband…”  He gave a bitter shake of his head.  “You’re buying a slave.”

“Precisely.”  She bit into the meat.

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 2

Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Reluctantly, Bastien stepped back as ordered.  They did need answers from Lammert.  Lammert, for his part, seemed fairly calm about having two crossbows pointed at him.  “First question.”  Rien tilted his head.  “Where is Mikaere?”

“Handling another matter.”  Lammert waved a hand.

“He’s hiding it, isn’t he?”  Maela shifted the crossbow slightly.  “Answer yes or no.  Is he hiding the scepter?”

“Yes.”  Lammert nodded.

“Why is…”  Bastien started to frown, then his eyes widened.  He saw Rien’s eyes do the same thing.

“How does one kill a dessicated corpse?”  Rachel narrowed her eyes.

“After it got back up for the third time…”  Lammert shrugged.  “I stabbed it with the scepter.”

“Blood and ashes…”  Rien started to stand but sank back into the chair.  “Blood and ashes, that’s how…”

“Yes or no.”  Maela stood.  “Did you put the keystone in the manticore’s den for Master Rien to find?”

“Yes.”

Bastien fumbled for a chair before falling backward into it.  “That’s how you knew to arrange a spear ahead of time and…”

“How you could tell the baron exactly when and where we would be.”  Rien shook his head.

“Find a dragon you couldn’t have known…”  Bastien stared.

“But…”  Rien rubbed his eyes.  “The bearer of the scepter can’t lie.  You lie all the time.  I mean, you lied about poisoning Ludo.”

“Did I?”

“He didn’t.”  Rachel shook her head.  “Every word he said was true.”

“It’s the way he said them that’s the lie.”  Maela glared.  “He didn’t say he didn’t poison Ludo.  He asked how he could possibly have done it and let that serve as a denial.”

“Clever girls.”  Lammert nodded to them.

“You can…”  Bastien took a deep breath.  “You can see the future.  You know what is going to happen.”

“I know what will happen if certain factors do not change.  I do not always know what will occur once I change them.”  Lammert shook his head.  “I am in no way omniscient, or we would never have reached this point in the first place.”

“How long ago did you arrange Rien’s pardon?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Twenty-two years ago, though that was more Jurgen’s doing than mine.”  Lammert leaned forward.  “We helped him rescue his son.”

“Did Jurgen know of your…”  Rien’s voice was quiet.

“Yes.”

“Then why…”  Rien’s eyes were dark.  “Is he dead?”

“I’ve seen all of you die a thousand times, Marinus.  There are nights I watch everyone I love be torn apart, watch the world turn to chaos and destruction.  As a boy, I used to wake screaming from the things I saw when I closed my eyes.  I don’t choose what I see, and I have learned, very much the hard way, what things I can change…”  Lammert looked away.  “And what things I cannot.  Sometimes…”  His voice thickened a little.  “I have to choose who I can save.”

“You chose wrong.”  Rien leapt to his feet.  “You chose wrong.  Jurgen was ten times the man I am.”

“And he made me promise that if I ever had to choose between him and you that…”  Lammert gave a short, bitter laugh.  “He chose you, Marinus.”

Rien looked as though he’d been run through.  Rachel set her crossbow aside, and went to him.  He pulled her into his arms, and buried his face in her hair.  The big man was shaking.

“If you knew…”  Maela frowned.  “To be in the market when Bast was being hurt…”  She adjusted the aim of her crossbow slightly.  “Why did you let him be hurt in the first place?”

“Because I know what would have happened if I had not.  The time he spent recovering kept him out of the way of another attempt by Rutger to eliminate him.  Phillip wanted Sir Bastien dead for thwarting his earlier plans.”  Lammert turned toward Bastien.  “You would have survived the second attempt.  Maela would not have.”

“You…”  He glanced at Maela.  “Made the right choice.  Put the crossbow down, Maela.”  He waited until she obeyed.  He glanced at Rien, and saw tears on the man’s face.  Bastien swallowed.  “We can…”  He exhaled.  “Continue this conversation another time.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Dragonlord: Chapter 38

Aurel folded his arms and shook his head.  He should have known that message and its offer was too good to be true.  When the king arrived, he’d be lucky if he managed to escape with nothing more than being stripped of his new title.  Two sons of the Dragon Queen, and he’d not only let one get away he’d obliged himself to protect the other.  Though it would have changed nothing if he hadn’t agreed to the deal.  There was still Bastien to protect.  “He called you his friend.”

“Father?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Marinus.  He called you his friend.”  Aurel turned to face his son.  “Are you his friend?”

“I…”  Bastien shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  It’s…”  He rubbed the back of his head.  “It’s a lot harder to hate him than it should be.  He’s not evil, he’s just…”  Bastien shook his head.  “Kinda stupid.  I’m guessing that’s why Lammert didn’t argue with you putting him in a cell.  Whatever Lammert is doing, he wanted Rien out of the way while he took care of it, and that…”

“Is a troublesome notion.”  Aurel frowned.  “He didn’t call himself Lammert in the message he sent.  He used the name Liam.”  He sighed.  “Alright, Marinus said he’ll abide by what terms you set, so I suggest you come up with —”

“My lord?”  A servant stepped into the room.  The man’s face was red, and he couldn’t quite look at them.  “We have a…”  He winced.  “Situation.  With the prisoner.”

“What kind of situation?”  Aurel narrowed his eyes.

“Well, the woman brought him a book as instructed, but…”  The servant turned even redder.

“But?”  Aurel stopped himself from tapping his foot.

“Oh for…”  Bastien ran a hand down his face.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 38