Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Heir Reluctant – in edit

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find the right environment for work, which leads to delays. But, despite the demands of normal life (as much as I can be said to have one - see earlier posts and interviews and such), The Heir Reluctant is finished and now in edit, which is a process that can take a while in itself. I would guess that it won't see release until the new year, judging from past experience, and that no shot in the arm for December sales.

The Heir Reluctant is the working title and may yet change. The story is set in the same universe as The King's Ward – an Urban Fantasy world where fey derive their power from psi abilities, where the strongest fey can create small worlds of their own. The King's Ward focused on Albion, and The Heir Reluctant takes a look at Nifflheim, with a couple of other worlds visited along the way. Nifflheim has passed through Ragnarok and is slowly dying in an extended period of Fimbulwinter - I'm taking liberties with the mythological sequence of events, and many other things; the fey, after all, are not exactly mythological beings.

In Other News

The audio book of Evolving Environment is now available to buy in all the usual places. It has taken a good while to find a narrator that I'm happy with. Matt Franklin did a good job and the result is attracting some attention, which is good.

The Last King's Amulet is the next project we are working on together and the release for that audio book is looking for for early next year. I know a few people have been waiting for this and I'm glad to be able to report that progress is being made.

The less good news is that the next Sumto book is not progressing as fast as we would all like. It will happen, though. Right now I'm still writing a few thousand words and then deleting; at some point I will write the correct few thousand words and the story will work – at which point, with luck, the story will fly.

Break Time

It's the holiday season, and I'm spending it in the normal way. Not much work will be done until the new year. Probably. Unless I'm possessed by a muse or something.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Kelly Smith Reviews - The King's Ward

Thought I would share this with you. As reviews go, this one is pretty hard to beat. Just as well, perhaps, that I am in the closing stages of finishing the sequel.

Below is just a snippet. I recommend a visit to Kelly Smith's site for the rest and other cool reviews.


Chris Northern’s YA fantasy novel The King’s Ward is a delight to the mind. Full of vivid scenes, strong emotions and strong, young characters.

But it’s not just for teens. I think many adults will love this strange, unique story just as much as their kids!
It’s about loneliness, abandonment and finding oneself, but doesn’t sound at all as psychological as I just described. It’s a fantasy journey of magic and supernatural abilities.

While I read this, the world melted away and all I saw was the land of Albion and its inhabitants. This story will linger with you long after you’ve finished it

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Writers To Watch – A Writer's Choice #2 Just One Damned Thing After Another

The General Idea of Writers to Watch

To begin with, I am only selecting what I myself believe to be the best of what I myself have read. Seems clear enough to me. If you are an indie writer and don't appear here there is every chance that it is because I have not read any of your work. It happens. It may also be that I have and for one reason or another, have decided not to include it, or have you on my list to include as I go along. I only plan to do this every now and again, after all. I'll number them in the title.

What I am primarily aiming at doing there is bringing to the attention of readers work I myself think readers will enjoy. The criteria are exactly what you would expect: a good story written with skill. These are books that I think publishers would be wise – or perhaps would have been wise – to pick up if and when they were available. These are writers to watch. Writers who can do the gig, have the skills, have stories to tell that are – in my own opinion – original and fun. I will only recommend books that I have absolutely no reservations about.

If the books I list here are free then it is a fair bet that other books by the same author are not free, and I would encourage you to buy at least one book from the same author if you enjoy the book I recommend here. Encouraging good work is always a worthwhile thing to do. The gratitude of the author may never be expressed directly to you but will be real and sincere. Writers do need paying if they are to continue to write. The better paid they are, the more they will write, which sounds like a win/win to me. So, with all that in mind, here's the next offering.

This book is a delight. Nicely whimsical, pleasantly engaging, eccentric, charming characters and locations. The story never falters as the delightful Madeleine "investigates major historical events in contemporary time."

The opening of the book leads fairly swiftly to Madeline interviewing for a job at as a Historian at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a position her mentor recommends. We already have a feel for her character; she is smart, eccentric, and wryly funny.

No surprises that she gets, and swiftly enters training for the job as Historian; a Historian being someone who travels in history, commissioned to get the story straight. More fun and games and the first hints at the underlying plot

It isn't all fun and games. There are some pretty dark moments, but Madeline is resilient and bolstered by being in her element for what seems to be the first time in her life. Friends and enemies develop and change, all nicely paced and well drawn. Madeleine belongs to St. Mary's, and if you feel inclined to trust me, Just One Damn Thing After Another belongs on your reading list.

Quote: ‘Don’t panic,’ said Sussman . ‘Why would they fail you for something so trivial? They’ve invested hugely in us. And it’s not as if you actually set her on fire, which is what I would have done. You put her out. Don’t expect any gratitude from the rest of the human race.’
     And so we came to the dreaded Outdoor Survival, appropriately scheduled for Friday and all over the weekend. It was November! It was freezing! It was pissing down! I was going to die!
     I had already made some plans . Actually, I’d been making provisions since they first told us. We would be dropped off separately and make our way back somehow, to arrive before Sunday lunchtime. That wasn’t going to be a problem because I planned not to leave the building in the first place.
     I acquired (!) a black jumpsuit, one of Barclay’s. She was such a Grade A bitch that I had no qualms at all. People see what they expect to see. Take away the greys and I was no longer a trainee. If I put on a techie-style baseball cap, grabbed a clipboard, slipped my scratchpad in my knee pocket, and looked as if I knew what I was doing, then I might just get away with it.

Taylor, Jodi (2013-11-21). Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary's) (Kindle Locations 501-510). Accent Press. Kindle Edition.

I love this book. I am glad I read it. It is my belief that you will also be glad to have read it. I recommend it.

I would have wanted to include a brief interview here but sadly time is pressing and my schedule full to bursting.

From The Cover

“History is just one damned thing after another” - Arnold Toynbee

A mapcap new slant on history that seems to be everyone's cup of tea...

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process.

But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake ...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The King's Ward - 99cent Promo Day

The title says it all, really. For the 5th July, bleeding into the 6th probably, The King's Ward is discounted. A drop by to Kindle Books & Tips, linked below, is worth the effort to see a few more new releases that have seen a price drop today.


Byron and Calista are fey, a branch of humanity with parapsychic powers who have lived alongside humanity since earliest times. Fey do not nurture. Fey children have one defence mechanism to help them survive to adulthood - people do not readily notice them, easily forget them, they walk like ghosts through their own lives... until their powers begin to stir. Until they meet. Until their powers are triggered by a touch.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Dark Moon Rising - On Hold (unless you say otherwise)

Twilight was deepening to full dark as Kachire lead his limping horse to the edge of the village that lay just six miles west of Lindsfaran and the coast. He did not know the name of the village and did not care.

He stopped on the road, alone, and waited for the Dark Moon to rise.

The air was still and cooling fast. The early stars twinkled bright in the empty sky as the fading light failed before the onslaught of the night. His breath misted feint tendrils as he spoke the dirge of his people, a curse for the empty hourglass, and a prayer to the bound power he served still.

The dark moon, both embodiment and symbol of the binding of the dark powers of the world, rose before he was done. He drew the sword that was the focus of his calling. As he came to the last lines he gave salute to the Dark Moon. He laid the blade against his forearm and allowed it to cut him, an acknowledgement of a covenant still in force between him and the first sword, which he alone knew he bore, a relic of the bound power he served.

Once, before the binding, any sword might be dedicated to the service of his fell master, but now the power resided only here.

“I fulfilled my contract,” he said aloud, speaking in the human tongue, knowing it made no difference which language he used, “and the last of those committed to your glory and honour are now dead. Only I remain.”

His head bowed with the weight of his words.

Now I am truly alone. He directed the thought to the sword he held.

The bronze blade seemed to stir restlessly in his hand. Bound to this one blade, the power struggled endlessly and in vein for the freedom that had once been.

“I am the last mercenary,” he told the sword, sadly. “Almost the last Orc. When I am dead, who will serve you?” Who will I curse with the gift of you? He asked himself, silently.

Black flames flickered fitfully along the edge of the blade and consumed the few drops of the blood he had sacrificed. Kachire knew a minute fraction of his soul was also consumed. He could feel it, a lingering discomfort in his mind, heart and body.

He hissed a sigh.

Well, he thought as he had so many times before, my soul will grow back. It is not as though I am dying of the wound.

A dog barked and his mount shied away from the sound. He snatched hard on the reins, to bring the beast to heel. At the same time he looked up and scanned the quiet village, a single row of houses with a few scattered cottages behind. An inn on the opposite side of the road. And a church to the empty hourglass, the god of stability.

Gone are the days of change, he thought. Long gone. “Strange how stability feels so much like decline.”

The horse stamped a hoof and snorted in rebuke for his harsh treatment, but it had obeyed. The blade stirred once more in his hand, dissatisfied by his seeming lack of purpose.

He sheathed the blade, careful to keep his curse from his lips. I will seek another contract soon, he thought. Maybe the last. And maybe that was not such a terrible thing.

He stepped forward on the cold, deeply rutted road and lead his limping horse into the village under the darkening sky and the rising of the dark moon.
Without haste, he brought the horse to the back of the inn and tied it to a hitching post. The sounds within were only those expected, tired conversation and forced good cheer. He ignored it as he methodically stripped the beast of saddle, which he dumped on the back stoop. He pulled the blanket from the beasts back and sniffed the exposed hide. He smelled no infected sores and decided that was good enough. The beast would carry him tomorrow as far as he needed to go, and that was all it needed to do. If it died on the last step it matter nothing to him.

The back door of the inn opened and a boy came out into the square of light that made Kachire half close his eyes and curse under his breath. His night vision was excellent but the transitions were always slow and painful.

The boy stood gaping and Kachire glared back at him through slitted lids. “What?” He growled.

The boy stood rigid, eyes wide and face pale. He stammered as he spoke. “Sorry to stare, sir. It's just I never thought to see an Orc,” he dropped his gaze and flushed crimson.

“Well, you'll likely never seen another,” Kachire told him without malice. The battle in the north was won but it had cost him the last of his followers. Save only himself, the Mercenary Nidus had none left to give sacrifice, further diminishing it's already limited influence. Only his wife and son remained, estranged though they were; she dedicated to another waned power and the boy too young to be dedicated.

“The horse needs tending,” he threw the blanket to his shoulder and grabbed the saddle as he took the steps up to the stoop where the boy almost fell in his anxious attempt to move aside as Kachire set himself to walk through the boy of he did not move. “And the beast has thrown a shoe,” he said as he passed. “Make arrangement for that, also.”

The boy edged away as Kachire passed him. “I will.”

Of course you will, Kachire thought as he crossed the threshold. That is your purpose, just as mine to fight in other peoples wars to no gain save coin. We do what we do, and I've no doubt you have the best of that.

The common room of the inn was poorly lit. Two lamps hung from the ceiling and tallow candles burned at each occupied table.

Farmers, Kachire thought with contempt as he scanned the crowd. The room was more empty than full, the humans clustered near the fire or the bar, each depending on what they considered their greatest need. Every eye was on him, each man and woman curious as to see the rare traveller and hope for some sport from the outsider. The talk about the inn stuttered to a stop. A curse fell on his ear in the moment before a maid gasped and skittered back, her skirts flying, the tankers she carried slopping beer to the floor.

Face set, Kachire swept the room with a long glance as he took in each face and found none he considered a meaningful threat until his attention came to rest on a grey robe that bore the empty hourglass stitched upon its breast. Kachire was not the only one whose attention rested there. The priest was the natural spokesman of the village of browbeaten peasants.

“Orc,” the priest spat the word. “What is your business here?”

“Priest,” Kachire matched the other's tone, “I travel under the emperors peace, late from his generals army in the north beyond the wall.”

A muttering sprang up all around, the enmity for the messenger swamped by eagerness to hear the message.

The priest looked around him, judging the mood.

Kachire's lips thinned. Despite the ancient edict of the first emperor, supported by every successor, he was well used to the prejudice of humans. He had soaked up their hatred and despite for a lifetime, even as he fought in their wars. It was his nature to fight, and theirs to be ungrateful.

Once, when the Dark Lord was manifest in the world, we slaughtered your kind in untold numbers. He fought back a small smile. And by your request, he thought, we continued to do so, and were paid for it.

The urge to smile faded as he remembered the recent dead, and all the rest before. In all the empire only three remained. Himself, she who had been wife, and his son.

“As you stand here,” the priest spoke, commanding the attention of the room, “the war is either won or you are a deserter. Which is it?”

Kachire gave a snort of derision and strode toward the bar. Men shifted to make way for him.

“Your war is won,” he told the priest, “to great slaughter of the northmen. The general marches south along the west coast,” he went on as he pointed to a barrel, reminding the barman of his duty, “and it is his plan to leave the isles and take with him one division of the three that were stationed here.”

“The sands preserve us,” the innkeeper muttered, his low voice all but drowned by the hissing intakes of breath and subdued mutters of the rest.

Kachire drank in their discomfort like a fine wine. The emperor's man had come with five divisions. He had gathered the three stationed here, and what men he could raise, and had put down the enemy in the north. But now the war was done, he would leave the isles less well defended than they had been before.

The innkeeper put a full tankard on the bar and Kachire took it up, gave it a testing sniff, and took a deep swallow.

“And is he taking the rest of your kind with him?” The priest inquired, his tone torn between contempt and hope.

Kachire swallowed. “My people were in the thick of the fighting, as we always are,” he remembered the human reserves holding off until he and his were nearly overwhelmed. “I am the last.”

“Praise the invisible sands,” the preist intoned, “that creatures of cursed magic pass more from the world.”

Kachire snorted. “Except the elves,” he muttered, knowing that truth would burn the priest almost as much as it enraged him.

“Their immortality is an affront to the invisible sands,” the priest sputtered, almost purple with rage.

“And to me,” Kachire muttered into his drink.

When light and dark had battled in the world, before the binding of all powers, the elves had always been for the light. And my kind for the dark, Kachire thought, his blood stirring with primitive delight at the carnage wrought in the ancient Dark Lord's name.

If only those times would come again, he thought as he turned to survey the crowd of humans and their mealy mouth spokesman. I would joyfully draw my sacred blade and slaughter every man woman and child here. His blood sang and he felt the blade stir to the borders of wakefulness in his own mind.

It was an effort of will to force his rising blood to discipline.

No coin has changed hands, he thought, his words as much to himself as the bound mind of the blade. We are not hired to let blood. He took control of himself with an iron grip. No contract is made, no cause adopted. He felt himself return to calm. No humans will die by your edge today. Or by my hand.

“I will need a room,” he said.

“No rooms free,” the innkeeper said, too quickly, “but you can lie down in the barn with the beasts if you've a mind to.”

The other beasts, Kachire thought, saying to himself what the innkeeper was to much of a coward to say.

In the almost mythical past, it was said the Dark Lord paid the best coin. No wonder we followed him, Kachire's resentful thoughts flowed on. The Dark Lord did not discriminate. He would take any who obeyed him.

And I, Kachire thought as he downed the ale, will follow anyone who pays.

He turned and glared a challenge at the innkeeper. “And do you suddenly find you have run out of food?”

The barkeep flushed angrily and met Kachire's glare with one of his own. “I obey the emperors law,” he spoke between compressed lips, “and won't have it said I don't.”

“Of course,” Kachire grinned. “We are all good citizens who obey the emperor's laws.”

There was no need to speak of price. The prices of everything were fixed across length and breadth the empire and known to all. The innkeeper would charge five tokens because to charge more brought the death penalty for both seller and buyer.

Kachire took another beer and moved to stand at the end of the bar where he could watch the food prepared through the open door in the kitchen beyond. He did this to avoid the indignity of eating human spit added to the food without his knowledge. It would be thin and flavourless enough without that. He ran his tongue of pointed teeth and swallowed saliva of his own, anticipating the food as the scents of it's preparation filled the air. It might be cooked where he would prefer raw, but the meat was still meat and his hunger would still be sated.

As he waited, the talk in the bar resumed. Men drifted further away from the bar. The woman left, taking their half grown brats with them, each with a subservient word for the priest as they headed for the door.

“By the empty hourglass,” Kachire heard one man mutter from across the room, “I'll not stay her and drink with a filthy Orc.”

Kachire judged that the man spoke softly enough that he was no supposed to hear. The emperor's peace bound them all, and the priest was here as witness. Aside from which, Kachire thought fiercly, the emperor's laws permit a citizen such as myself the liberty of self defence. He cleared his throat, caught the eye the man who had spoken. Kachire leaned forward and deliberately spat on the floor.

“At the battle of Shensar's Crossing, I was in the thick of the fighting,” he said aloud, as though relating news still. “I slew sixty three men of the north in the hours of the battle.” He grinned. “I counted.” And dedicated each soul to the blade I bare and so that they might feed the bound power it represents, he thought but did not say. “It was a mighty battle and the emperor's general was victorious,” he raised his tankard high, “will you not drink with me to the health of the emperor and his victorious general?”

Kachire grinned to display the teeth of a carnivore and watched the reluctance to drink with him war with the knowledge that not to drink the health of the emperor was treason. Reluctantly they all raised their glasses. The chorus came out as a subdued mutter. “To the emperor,” they said, each trying to speak more softly than the next, each trying to take a smaller sip than his fellow.

Kachire took a good deep draft of his beer, warmed by the disharmony he had sowed.

He ignored the glares and mutterings as men drank up and left in two's and threes, paying attention only to the food that was brought to him.

Only the innkeeper, the priest and he remained in the room while he ate. He wolfed the food down, not bothering to chew the stewed meat and trying to ignored the sliced vegetables that tainted the stew.

The priest grew increasingly uncomfortable, but at last pushed out the words that he had been debating. “You are not remaining here.”

Kachire interpreted his words, knowing they were in themselves meaningless. Of course he was not staying here. He was an Orc, a mercenary by definition. He would hardly seek work for his blade in a village. So what the priest meant, Kachire reasoned, was to ask where he was going.

“I travel to Lindsfaran,” he gave the truth simply to expedite matters. “Why do you ask?”

The priest bore down on his distaste to have his intent be shown to be so transparent. “Dare I trust you with a message?”

Kachire snorted his contempt. “Pay me as a messenger and I will take your message.” Though if someone paid me to sever your head from your body I would more gladly do that.

“I will write a letter tonight then, and have it brought to you.”

Kachire shrugged. “And who am I to deliver this message to?”

The priest frowned as though reluctant to give that information. “There is a Rangian trader in the port at Lindsfaran,” he said. “I hear rumour that he holds relics that belong to the church. I inquire about them,” he stood as he spoke, “nothing more.”

Kachire stared at the back of the priest as the old man walked stiffly to the door. You, he thought, are lying. And I can't help wondering why. Six miles is not far to send a message and anyone who travelled that way would bare it. And there ae priests at Lindsfaran who would have hear the rumour before you and already acted on it.

He resisted the urge to spit on the floor again. Instead he turned his back and drained his ale, taking his time so that when he was done the priest was gone.

The innkeeper feigned to be busy about his tasks so that he would not have to talk.

Kachire gave a soft snort of disgust as he counted out the tokens and left them on the bar.

Without a word spoken, he headed for the door, snagged his saddle and bags as he went.

Alone, he crossed the yard to the barn and went in to find a place to sleep among the beasts.

The other beasts, he amended with a savage grin. Well, in some ways they were not wrong about that.

#3000 – night, message (you're a mercenary (The Merc', you might call me the King of the mercs if you've a mind to be blasphemous, which is why I only say you might call me that.

Kachire slept in the hay loft, almost full after the harvest and offering little room for him. He woke without need three times in the night. He slept with a warrior's ease. Asleep in moments and fully awake in an instant, without vexation at the interruption. In an unfamiliar place there were more unexpected noises to bring to wakefulness. Better that than that he not awaken at need.

The forth time his eyes opened, he cast around for what had woken him and found the creak of a door in recent memory.

He held himself still and listened. A slight smile creased is face as he heard the nervous whispering.

Boys, he thought. It was always the boys, who had not yet learned true fear, who dared each other to brave an encounter with the frightening Orc, scourge of the eastern empire, embodiment of stories out of a nightmare past and a distant present. Kachire had a boy child of his own and had been a child himself. He knew what they wanted; to be frightened. Well, he was happy to oblige, though he would have been happier to be truly and briefly terrifying.

He listened to the noises of the barn. The mule and cart horses and his own mount move and shift in their stalls. He timed his small movements to blend with theirs. Cooled muscles still supple, rested joints still agile, he shifted bit by bit until he came to his feet.

As he moved he kept awareness focused on the twittering whispers of the boys below. He picked out the odd phrase. Go on, one said. He's not here, whispered another.

He looked down. The barn door was open, pale light from the natural moon splashed through the entrance and he picked out the five small bodies effortlessly, his eyes fully adjusted to the dark. It might as well have been just a few moments before dawn for all the dark could hide things from him.

He shifted along a wooden beam, closing on a position above the open door. The boys milled hesitantly, edging further into what they surely saw as a darkened space.

“You lied,” one hissed. “He was never here.”

“Swear by the empty hourglass,” one hissed back. “Priest gave me a message for him to take to town.”

Another snorted in derision, but softly, keeping his voice to a whisper. “You made that up too. What call would priest have to do that? Plenty of real people to take a message.”

Why indeed? Kachire though as he eased a knife from his belt. Not the sword. He successfully fought that temptation. To release the sword was the promise of a sacrament, and not to deliver would be a betrayal that would later be repaid in full.

Kachire grinned, shifted another foot and then dropped into the doorway.

He landed solidly after a twenty foot fall. A man's legs might likely break but he was more powerful than any man. His feet hit the ground with a jarring thump that stung the soles of his feet. He bent his legs, powerful muscles absorbing the energy of the impact.

“Why do you disturb my sleep?” he growled, but kept his voice low enough not to carry too far.

The boys screamed, yelped, or gasped, each according his own nature, and scattered, running blindly. But none came his way and there was nowhere to run too. One ran full tilt into a wall, another tripped over a broken open bale of hay and fell sprawling. Another stopped after a few paces and grabbed a pitchfork.

Kachire straightened, threw back his head and laughed. Seemingly of it's own accord, his hand returned the knife to it's sheath at his waist as he stepped back to be fully into the doorway. “Behold,” he intoned, “the scary Orc of ancient nightmares!”.

The horses and the donkey had all woken and taken fright. Kachire strode into the barn. “Brave lad,” he said as he passed the only boy who had not scattered with the rest. “Help me calm these beasts before we wake the whole village and bring your parents down on us.”

His own mount jumped and kicked in it's stall and he worried it would hurt itself and become useless. He had money to buy another but not a horse that would be willingly parted with for the price law required.

He ignored the boys as they gathered their composure. He knew what they felt. A cold rush and relief as they saw he intended them no harm, and true fear as they realised what peril they would be in if he did.

Well, he thought, be glad no one is paying me. Else I'd slit your throats a soon as look at you.

His attention was mostly focused on the animals as he calmed them. The wild barking of a dog he could do nothing about, but dogs barked in the night and no one who woke would likely think much of it, save it's owner perhaps. Even though his attention was elsewhere, he did not miss the boys who fled, their bellies light with fear and their minds full enough of adventure for one night.

Only one remained to help him. The boy who had not fled. He did his part and helped him calm the animals, and when they were done and peace had returned to the a barn, Kachire turned to the boy and waited until he had his attention.

“You have a message for me, I guess,” he said, “for you alone had legitimate reason to be here and that kept you from panic.”

The boy nodded, eyes wide and face expressionless.

“Give me the message then,” Kachire held out his hand, “and the tokens for payment.”

Edging closer, the boy held out a letter. “It's for Hingvist the Rangian to be found at southgate.”

Kachire glanced at the folded and sealed paper and read the same message there. “So I see,” he said. “Your priest makes many assumptions.” Among them that Orcs cannot read, and are stupid enough to believe any lie.

“Is it true you are a mercenary?”

Kachire snorted softly. “The Mercenary, now, and King of the Mercenaries if you like, though that would be blasphemy, which is why I say only if you like and not that it is so. That,” Kachire said, “is a technicality, but I don't doubt your priest would assume I'd know not the word, any more, as an ignorant Orc who cannot read, would I know any history.”

The boys eyes widened. “You know about the time before the binding of the powers?”

Kachire grinned. There wasn't a boy alive who wouldn't want to hear about the time of the Dark Lord and the great wars that swept across the lands and the powers of light fought a losing battle against the Dark Lord.

“Before the end of history? Before the rise of the empire? Before the Empty Hourglass and it's empty preaching?”

The boy gasped. “That's sacrilege,” he whispered, enthralled.

“Don't tell me your instincts don't put the lie to their teaching. The sun rises and sets, the seasons change, the corn ripens and is reaped. Change is not only part of life. Change is life. Even a rock is worn away by the rain, broken by frost. Even mountains are slowly reduced to silt in rivers and sands on the shore of the seas. Don't grow, don't change, don't act lest you disturb the delicate balance and once more fill the empty hourglass with dangerous change.” Kachire shrugged, saw the boys eyes wide with the fear of hope. “Only a fool would believe such ideals possible. So, if you want my advice, grow as fast and as big as you can with every experience you can grasp, because one day the covenant will be broken and the powers released to bring forth a sea of change.”

“Chaos,” the boy whispered, fearfully.

“There is nothing so certain as change,” Kachire told him, growing bored. “It is when things don't change that we wilt and weaken and despair. The priests doctrine is one of the endless dark prison from which there is no release save death. Worse than a doctrine of death, it is one of no life first. Peace,” he spat in disgust, “you can have my share and welcome to it. Now give me the tokens owed and go tell the priest his message will be delivered, and remember that if you speak else to him it will be sacrilege coming from your own lips and you will be scourged.”

The boy twitched a nod of his head and handed over the tokens, his hand trembling.

Kachire took the coins and headed for the ladder that led into the loft. He paid no attention as the boy stole reluctantly away.

A wasted effort, he thought as he settled himself again to sleep. Still, who knew who the boy would grow to be? If the covenant was to be broken, there must be those willing to seek it's breaking.

Kachire closed his eyes and drifted fast to sleep with one last thought.

Sow seeds wherever you may. And reap likewise.


It was mid morning before he rode out of the village, glad to put it behind him.

The smith had done a half-arsed job of the new shoe and Kachire had growled at him angry disgust, even knowing it was only half the ma's fault. The laws set the price and the price was no more than the iron and the heat of the forge cost. And the laws forbade him to abandon his profitless trade because tools needed making and horses needed new shoes. Calling himself a smith was a legal fiction. Kachire had seen the well tended field behind the forge and knew the man spent more time there than at the forge.

The road was empty of all but local traffic. Why trade when the law as much as forbade profit? What would a trader work for? Fun? The love of his fellow man? Kachire leaned out of the saddle and spat on the road. He'd meant what he'd said to the boy. The cult of Empty Hourglass was a religion of death and worse than death, embraced by successive emperors, to the detriment of all within the empire.

The glory of the empire faded as barbarians migrated across her borders, pushing deep into the civilized lands. Only Kachire knew the truth. The empire had already become an empire of barbarians. People migrated from towns to grow their own food, as that was the only way to survive. Wealth declined, debt increased, trade faded, taxes fell increasingly on the wealthy, turning them into paupers in their turn. The empire failed and faded and would effectively die a suicides death.

As an outsider, Kachire saw everything with more clarity than those who struggled to keep an old dream alive without knowing what it was that powered the dream.

“Well,” he spoke aloud to fill the silence of the road, “let the barbarians come, as many as will, so long as the Emperor can hire me and...” he cut the sentence off, his thoughts turned bleak. He rode on in silence and held the finished thought in his mind where it must haunt him. Me and mine, he had thought to say, once more forgetting that he had lost the last of his kind.

Now there is only me. And Rial, if I can persuade her from her chosen path and have her join me once more. He still struggled to accept that she had left him. Still wrestled with the impossibility that she had taken up a focus of the light and bonded with it as he had bonded with the sword at his side.

“If nothing else,” he muttered, “I must persuade her to let me have my son.” There must be someone to inherit the blade when he died. So long as the first sellsword could sup a sacrificed soul or two then there was hope that the Dark Lord might one day break free from the Dark Moon and rise again. Hope for our kind, he thought, who if things continued as they were would one day be nothing more than a memory.

Kachire found himself growling deep in his throat, his teeth gritted against his anger and his eyes narrowed against more than the bright light of the rising sun. “One day we will rise again,” he whispered fiercely, “and the empires of men will wither and fade to dust beneath our conquering feet. The Dark Lord our glory and our saviour will lead us to greatness and a resurgence of our kind that will shake the earth to it's foundations.”

His vision cleared and his anger calmed as the dream soothed him. Not far ahead a rickety bridge crossed a narrow river and he decided to stop and drink and let the horse drink. The animal needed plenty for water if it was to keep a healthy gut.

He sneered at the mundane thoughts that had briefly occupied him. One day we will rise like a forest fire and lay waste the lands of men. Until then, he thought, I am hired by men to kill men.

Well, things could be worse.

He slid easily from the saddle and lead the horse to the river so it could drink. As soon as the animal was settled, he wandered a few paces away and sat himself down in the shade of a tree. Some things were best done in shadow, and with that in mind he drew the Sellsword and laid it across his knees. Then he pulled the letter from the priest from the small leather satchel tied to his belt. Three small pouches of tokens rested there, but these he already understood. The letter was a mystery, a lie of sorts, and he would know the truth of it, though the knowledge would cost him.

Pain, he thought. I know all about pain. All kinds and all degrees and all combinations.

This pain will be nothing special.

He turned the blade for ease of access to the edge and let it cut him. The blood burned and consumed a fraction of his soul. But this time he would use the power released for his own ends. And that would bring pain.

He shifted his hand into the flames of the burning blood and drew them back into his body.

He let out a low moan as the flames ran through him, burning every cell of his body and sweeping pain throughout his mind. Fighting to concentrate, he held up the letter and demanded clarity of vision, demanded the message hidden within reveal itself. Sweat beaded his brow and his body began to shiver with the effort of drawing the power through the blade fuelled with his blood and soul. For an unknown time he struggled and fought the resisting distant power to respond, pain washing though his mind and body and muscles and mind trembling with the effort. He gasped deep breaths as though he had fought endless foes to his own exhaustion. His body trembled and weakened. And still the pain, the endless pain burning. His resolve began to waver and for a moment he thought he might fail as he had once before. The idea was intolerable and his anger held him focused to the demand, the demand that the message become clear and visible to is sight even as his vision dimmed as he began to edge toward unconsciousness.

A brief flash of ethereal flame danced across the surface of the paper and was gone.

He released the blade at once and the pain faded away in moments. His breathing eased and his muscles slowly relaxed. Hot sweat abruptly cooled as the breeze washed over him. He fixed the message in his memory in the moments before his mind slipped away from his control and he fell into welcome unconsciousness.


This is a snippet from a fairly advanced draft, but this book is on hold for now, while I struggle with the next Sumto book (the word count rises and falls daily and is not yet advanced enough that I dare guess at a release date) and while I struggle with promotion of the newly released The King's Ward and other works. No one ever bought a book they didn't know existed.

I have this story, but worry that it is going to be very dark indeed. Anyone who has read Prison of Power knows that I can do dark, but this one is going to be seriously grim. I'm not sure about the market for that. In any case, it is on hold for the reasons states... unless lots of readers say otherwise. Feel free to have your say in comments.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Writers To Watch – A Writer's Choice #1 Brood of Bones

The General Idea of Writers to Watch

To begin with, I am only selecting what I myself believe to be the best of what I myself have read. Seems clear enough to me. If you are an indie writer and don't appear here there is every chance that it is because I have not read any of your work. It happens. It may also be that I have and for one reason or another, have decided not to include it, or have you on my list to include as I go along. I only plan to do this every now and again, after all. I'll number them in the title.

What I am primarily aiming at doing there is bringing to the attention of readers work I myself think readers will enjoy. The criteria are exactly what you would expect: a good story written with skill. These are books that I think publishers would be wise – or perhaps would have been wise – to pick up if and when they were available. These are writers to watch. Writers who can do the gig, have the skills, have stories to tell that are – in my own opinion – original and fun. I will only recommend books that I have absolutely no reservations about.

If the books I list here are free then it is a fair bet that other books by the same author are not free, and I would encourage you to buy at least one book from the same author if you enjoy the book I recommend here. Encouraging good work is always a worthwhile thing to do. The gratitude of the author may never be expressed directly to you but will be real and sincere. Writers do need paying if they are to continue to write. The better paid they are, the more they will write, which sounds like a win/win to me. So, with all that in mind, here's the first offering.

Brood of Bones - A E Marling, A Writer to Watch, Chris Northern's Choice # 1

Originality is the most significant problem any writer faces. AE Marling's ideas are new, fresh and original. We are far away from the usual 'roughly Europe and roughly medieval' fare of most fantasy. It is clear from the start that this is a world with it's own rules and society, somewhat reminiscent of Northern India, perhaps.

The opening scene is crisp and clear. Though the first few paragraphs there is a very slight stutter in my attention and - quite terrifyingly - here is where I nearly put the book down. I am very glad I did not do so. I have read this book several times since and will doubtless pick it up again some time in the future.

As soon as I have a feel for the protagonist, Hiresha, I am sold on her. I love the originality displayed here. An enchantress who can barely stay awake; an enchantress who can only work her enchantments when dreaming. What a superb duel image, and what a delightful hook for the plot. This, from a writers point of view, is a joy. The desired structure for the story is actually required by the duel nature of the character and so becomes almost effortless, and a real pleasure to read.

Hiresha arrives in Morimound from the Mindvault Acadamy in the opening scene, having been summoned to aid a friend without being told why. She is at once confronted by the friend who she finds in a deplorable condition, slowly becoming aware that this condition is prevalent and the main source of the conflict which must be resolved.

Quote: I never learned the knack for waking. Consciousness hung over me like a sodden rag, weighing on my eyelids and muffling my ears, yet even my stifled senses did not spare me the indignity of hearing my name screamed across a public place. “Hiresha!” The reckless shout could not refer to me, I decided. Another lady of the same name must peruse the Bazaar, someone who would consider replying to the immodesty of a raised voice. Why, I was not even in view but safe behind curtains.

Marling, A.E. (2011-09-28). Brood of Bones (p. 1). . Kindle Edition.

Brood of Bones is primarily a detective story, with our heroine as a sleepy Holmes and her ally-to-be as a fiendish Moriarty with motives of his own. Their alliance and entanglement is a delight in itself.

Every step of the story is logical. It all hangs together. The development is a joy to watch. Previous entanglements are woven neatly into the main story. The villain, when revealed, is suddenly and amazingly no surprise at all, which is a neat trick. It is all very well done and the writing better than merely fair.

Quote: Whether or not the Soultrapper had understood what I had done, he would likely sense the loss of one of his unchildren. He must realize he had erred in infecting me, as not only had I developed an enchantment to annul a Bone Orb, but I also knew that the Soultrapper had touched me. Now, he could not escape. Only ten people had touched me in Morimound, and the Soultrapper was one of them.

Marling, A.E. (2011-09-28). Brood of Bones (p. 246). . Kindle Edition.

I love this book. I am glad I read it. It is my belief that you will also be glad to have read it. I recommend it.

I would have wanted to include a brief interview here but sadly my plea for such went unheeded for long enough for me to abandon the idea.


From the Cover

One unexpected pregnancy is a drama; fifty thousand is citywide hysteria.

Cursed with endless drowsiness, Enchantress Hiresha sleeps more than she lives. Since she never has had a chance to raise a family, she sometimes feels like every woman is pregnant except for her.  This time, she is right. From virgin to grandmother, all the women in her city have conceived.

A lurking sorcerer drains power from the unnatural pregnancies, and Hiresha must track him by his magic.  Unfortunately, her cultured education in enchantment ill equips her to understand his spellcraft, which is decidedly less than proper.  The only person uncivilized enough to help is the Lord of the Feast, a dangerous yet charming illusionist.  Associating with him may imperil Hiresha's city, yet refusing his help will allow the sorcerer to leech godlike power from the mass births.


Thank you for reading Brood of Bones, a tale told of the Lands of Loam.
Become a patron of independent storytelling by recommending the book to a friend and reviewing it online.
Enchantress Hiresha would love to share her jewels with you on twitter: @LadyofGems
Whatever you do, do not follow @Tethiel.
Meet the humble scribe: http://aemarling.com/ or on Twitter: @AEMarling

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The King's Ward - Covers


The king's Ward has been in edit for a while and is now ready to go. Covers have also taken a while, but I'm getting some nice results now from Keith Draws, who I am very happy ot have as artist for the cover art. We've been throwing ideas back and forth and I thought you might like to see a couple of versions. I think we are pretty much there.

I love this one; the central figures are exactly what I had in mind. Keith is a genius. But I thought the image in the mirror might be a bit too SF for an Urban Fantasy novel.

This is the scene the reflected image is based on, so you can see it isn't really quite there...

# Calista #

The furious scream made me jump and gasp as I lifted my hands to cover my ears.
“What?” Matholwch looked up, “Now? Dammit,” he glanced at me, appraising. “Well it has to be some time, I suppose. There's no escaping it. Go look, then,” he said, “while I deal with this challenge. I'll find you when I'm done, never fear,” he smiled and winked, then rose powerfully into the air, Gáe Bulg appearing in his hand.
I watched him only for a moment, catching a glimpse of a dark cloud bearing two figures as it rapidly descended, then I stepped through the open doorway of the Keep. I knew I had to find the King's Ward for him, and I knew I could not resist. But I knew it was not here, and commanded to find it, I could also flee from him, pass through the gate back into the outside world.
If I could find the gate.
The room within the tower lay bare before me. There was only one feature. Broad steps that lead straight down, so down them I went.
But slowly. My mind and body were bruised and battered and pained me. The steps seemed endless and steep and if I fell I would roll and bounce forever on the hard stone steps. I touched one palm to the cold, rough wall and took one step at a time, my knees threatening to give way and my legs shaky and weak.
I kept my eyes down at my feet and concentrated on each step. One at a time, each with care. Slowly the light changed but it was not until I was at the very bottom, the intricate mosaic floor of a corridor stretched out before me and the pale green light surrounding me, that I looked up. And gasped.
The Keep under the Lake, Abarta had called it, but he could have called it the Castle of Glass and would have conveyed the truth better. In fact, it was both. The walls and ceilings were glass. The clear waters of the lake surrounded me, the lake bottom just beyond the walls, sand and rock, kelp and fish, clearly visible. Not so far away, a room with tables and chairs just visible through clear glass walls. I turned this way and that in wonder. Many rooms hung above and around me at varying depths and distance. Stairs and corridors and rooms were all picked out by their opaque floors, and sometimes walls, of colored glass. Wall hangings obscured some, and many were translucent, like the nearest room, furniture seeming suspended in water.
Magic lights, like I had seen in the hall of Gwalchmi's keep, brightened every room so that even where the room was distant and particles suspended in the water would have made them invisible, I could still see the suspended room as a brightly colored gem suspended in the murk of distant water.
It was breathtaking and I stood for several seconds, alone in the corridor, simply gazing about me, picking out detail after detail, following schools of fish, watching kelp shift with unseen currents, gazing at a bright blue hall as big as Gwalchmi's hall where shields and weapons hung on the walls about a great table and a hundred chairs.
High above, at the surface, light flashed here and there and I was reminded that Matholwch was nor far away and that above me in the land intelligent horses fought for their lives against monsters from other lands. And I was not here as a tourist, but a deeply involved though unwilling participant.

This is where we are now. I have to say, I like it fine, but the harsh highlights on the face of the girl reflected just bother me. The window, of course, has to be there. It's Urban Fantasy and takes place partly in another world.
Release is literally any day soon - could be tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The King's Ward - Released

# Calista #

I shift from side to side, admiring myself in the changing room mirror.

Well, admiring the good bits anyway. Straight auburn hair, small button nose, kind of cute. The freckles are minimal and I like them well enough, though I have to be careful not to get too much sun on me. Eyes, green freckled some with other colors that don't stand out too much. Body's nice, I think. Rounded and womanly but not big anywhere.

It's the expression on my face that distresses me, and always does when I look in a mirror or even think about it. If you could imagine a facial expression that was lonely, this would be it. I fell it deep through to my core and it grows by another layer every day.

No one notices me. No one talks to me unless I talk first and then it's just surprise that I'm there. If I fall silent, so do they, even if I'm sitting right opposite. A slow fade of attention and I know they don't see me any more. When I give up and go there is a start of surprise and it's just like they've seen me for the fist time.

Try getting though a whole interview for a job when as soon as you fall silent or stay still for even a couple of seconds the interviewer is looking for the next applicant, having forgotten that you exist. Try working at anything when people don't see you.

But to go with the losses there are bonuses that make life possible.

I like the white jumpsuit, I decide, finally. It's one item, and that's a plus. Less to carry.

I change back into my old clothes, looking somewhat worn because I don't change them too often. I can't carry much with me on the move all the time. I change clothes when I need to, discarding old things and keeping new. I travel light and I never stop travelling.

I'm careful winding my way back through the store to the checkout. It's not so bad when I'm moving but still people will walk into me if I pause to look at something. “I'm sorry, I didn't see you there.” Sometimes I think I'll just punch the next person who has cause to say that, or scream “Why? Why didn't you see me?!”

I've done that. It's pointless. You can't keep yelling forever and as soon as you stop...

Not today, though. Today I'm reasonably in control. Today is my birthday. I'm seventeen. I've been alone for four years. On the move. Searching for someone I may never find, someone who has answers.

My mother was useless. You're under someone's nose all day every day they can't help but know you exist, or so you would think. I guess she picked me up and fed or cleaned me when I cried. I guess she noticed me then. When I was old enough to know what that blank look meant when she first saw me after I'd been out of her sight for a while, I asked her if she even knew who I was.

“Do you even know who I am?” I screamed, actually.

“Why of course I do, dear,” she said, as bleary eyed as a forgetful drunk, which she mostly was for reasons of her own, “you're...” and I swear she hesitated, looked vaguely around until her eye caught a picture of me – and getting that picture taken had been a marathon effort. I'd had to fidget so the photographer knew I was there. “Calista.”

“Your daughter,” with the dumb name, “Calista,” angry. It was my birthday then, too. She'd forgotten again.

“Of course, dear, I know. No need to sound like that.”

She'd looked away and I'd stood still. When she looked back she didn't see me. After a while she looked puzzled, like she wondered why she was standing there doing nothing, then wonder away to some household chore or another. I forget what.

At least I only forget things that don't matter.

Like paying.

Well, I didn't have any money on me and it didn't matter. I walked behind the counter and used the machine to get rid of the security tab.

“Hey,” The shop assistant saw me, “you're not supposed to be here.”

Mentally I just sighed and stood still. Not reacting has become a habit. Someone is mad at you, just stand still for a bit. It doesn't take long.

The slow confused what-was-I-doing look steals over her face and then a customer comes up to the desk and she turns automatically with a smile and a greeting. As she checks out the items, I take hold of a bag and take a slow step back out of her peripheral field of view. The customer sees me but is incurious. I step out from behind the counter, slip the nice white jumpsuit into the bag and walk slowly away.

It's a small boutique. The small stores are best. There are cameras but no security watching, no security guard on the door. Small but not too expensive, that's the secret. No one sees me as I walk out the door and onto the street.

Milelake is a small town in New York State. It only has one thing I'm interested in, and I'll check that in a while and be disappointed again. It can wait. I've been here less than an hour and only have a few impressions of a small town, one high street, a square with a few shops, another street with more sedate businesses and offices, and as the bus drove into town, a commercial district on the long road into town.

I'd paid for the bus ticket. It's too much trouble not to. I make some money doing the statue gig, all dressed up. People don't even see me unless I move, the shock lasts a few moments, long enough to laugh and think what a great statue I make and put some money down. And then they don't see me any more, and move on, looking puzzled and wondering what they had stopped for.

It's a depressing way to make money, though. Sometimes I'll steal the money instead. Later on, I'll do just that as I'm a little short and not in the mood to dress up. It's the wrong time of day in any case. It's late afternoon, sun almost gone, people home from most places of work. Only a few shoppers on the streets. I decide to go and have a shower so I feel okay to change into my new clothes.

The motel is on the edge of town, back the way the bus drove in. It isn't a big town so it isn't far to walk.

On the way I passed the diner and fished out the photo.

Might as well be now as later, I thought. After all, I'm right here and I can always goof off until the morning and ride right out of town to the next one. There are 320 in the chain of diners in different towns all across the country. I average one a week. None is the right one.

The picture is of a man. He is tall and charismatic looking. Strong chin and high cheekbones, dark hair with a hint of color in it, just the merest hint of auburn. He stands in front of the big picture window, just like every other diner in every other state, and is just about to get into a car. There is nothing to show which diner this is. It could be any of them. Mostly sky is reflected in the window. But there is, if you look real close and careful, the corner of a sign and the bottom of two letters. An a and an l.

I hold up the picture and line it up. I have to move several times before I'm standing in the right place. I used to look around first and try and guess, but in the end I began to put off the disappointment as long as possible by trying to get what I was looking for by looking in the big picture window in just the right place...


...it's just a glimpse but my heart thumps.

I lose it and look around. I don't see it in the street around me. It's not like I know exactly what I'm looking for. A sign of some sort ending in... and there it is. Centennial. It's a street name.

I look back at the picture and see it's right. I've found it. At last.

I don't know what to do next; not right away.

I think the man in the photograph is my father. And I need to find him because I believe he has some answers for me, answers that I desperately need.

Who am I? Why do people not see me? Why weren't you there for me?

Questions. But no one to ask. Not yet.


I waited in the lot close to the office until a middle-aged couple pulled up in the lot and walked in. I followed them. They were not aware of me. I took an extra few paces to the end of the desk away from the door. The desk guy saw me but they were talking already so he looked away and forgot me. As soon as the desk guy was engaged, I just sidled round the corner bit by bit. Then I waited while they went through the transaction. When the desk guy took down their key and took the two steps he needed to pass it to them, he didn't see me. I had my eye on the key I wanted, having spent a few moments looking at the map. The old couple turned away. Everyone with their backs to me. I reached out and took my key, turned and nipped down a short corridor to the little crappy restaurant this place had.

I pushed into the girl’s restroom and took a barely needed pee, then strolled out unchallenged and went to find my room.

I always pick the room that's right on the edge of things. No one has ever caught me. Mostly they don't even notice a key is missing without a tenant listed for the room.

At the far end of the lot, I find the room and unlock the door. It's small and fairly dingy. A cheap room. Not well used or often selected. It's clean enough. Just a bed and a TV in one room and bathroom with a shower in the other.

I close the door and dump my small pack on the bed.

I need the shower. I want the hot relaxing water that will strip me of stress as well as the grime of the day. Then I'll try and sleep. Maybe watch some TV first, sound low. I'll talk to the people on the TV, maybe I'll find something I know so I can say one character's lines and hear myself answered. Like they are talking to me. Like I exist.

Now clothes for the morning, I think, and the thought cheers me. The next step in my personal, possibly hopeless quest.

My mother didn't have any answers for me. I don't know, but only hope that my father does.

If I can find him.


“Do you recognise this guy?” Getting people's attention is work. I have to walk up bold, talk loud, keep moving like I'm some kind of fidget or they lose me.

The middle-aged waitress holds the picture but I don't let her take it. It helps keep me in her mind if I keep some pressure on the picture she's holding. If I let her have it she might just absently put it in her apron pocket and wander away.

She looks at the picture. “Why sure, honey.” Then she looks up from the picture and changes her mind. “No, I guess not. No, I don't know him. Why are you looking for him?”

She's curled her hair in a perm and dyed it, not the right color but not too far off, either. Not a fool, then. She feels cautious, yes, but more curious than anything. Looking for gossip, maybe, or a story to tell herself and elaborate on.

“He did me a favor, is all. Picked up a hitchhiker down on her luck, bought her a meal and gave her a few dollars. She said she'd pay him back but he said no need.” I smiled, I'd been moving the whole time. I pointed to the picture. “Wouldn't give a name so I took a snap and hoped when I was passing again and have the money...” I let it go, no need to elaborate. She'd either buy it or she wouldn't.

“He lives here?” She looks thoughtful, still a little confused. “You're sure?”

I pull the picture out of her hands and walk away. I don't bother saying thanks. It's not like she will think of me again, ever. If I talk to her again she might remember me, sort of, but not vivid, not unless I remind her of details to stir her memory of me to the surface.

“Why, you're welcome,” she says, starting indignant and fading through sarcastic and sliding into vague before she finishes.

Already forgotten, I leave the restaurant.

# Byron #

I've finished my free breakfast and drinking free coffee when I notice her and everything changes.

Breakfast is free because when I decide to go I'll just take the check and go to the bathroom. By the time I walk back through the diner, no one will remember I owe anything. If they see me at all, it will be like seeing me for the first time. Unless I make a point of it, no one will pay me any attention at all. You get used to it. There are benefits.

Seeing it happen to someone else is a first, though.

Auburn hair, white jumpsuit, pretty in an unusual and interesting kind of way. I don't look at her directly, or do anything to attract her attention; ground in habits. But behind the bar is a long mirror and I can see her clearly in it without even turning my head or shifting my eyes more than a fraction. I know how I look, long hair and brooding expression. I look annoyed all the time, even when I'm not. I can't pin down her expression, though. Something settled and fixed by constant use, but not easily read.

The girl shifts her balance and moves in an unnatural, deliberate sequence as she talks to the older waitress. I can see Janet reacting the way she does to me when I want to talk. Her attention fading away and snapping back and fading away until I give up and stay still and she looks around, annoyed that her mind has wandered and she's been doing nothing she remembers in a busy grill.

They are both holding a picture, both leaning over the counter to see it.

I can't hear from here. Not now. The girl had spoken loudly enough when she had pushed herself into Janet's awareness. She'd picked her moment, appeared seemingly from nowhere, though she must have been standing right there the whole time, and demanded attention.

She'd held out the picture. “Do you recognise...” and that's where I'd lost her as her voice wound down to a more normal pitch.

What I'd done next had been automatic. I'd focused my mind on her, imagined myself closing the distance in a silent rush, imagined looking at the world through her eyes and listened for what she was saying.

And I'd heard nothing at all.

# This is a YA adventure novel, corrently complete and in edit. I'll releases as soon as this process is complete and the cover image is ready. #