Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Pipe and slippers

Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIFTH: PENNY BLAKE

 

So, here we are, Johnny. You have asked me to put to paper my reasoning in support of my new found pastime. Nevermind that you are as transparent as ever, obviously hoping to glean some marker as to the level of either my sanity or depravity or perhaps in the pompous hope that by attempting to justify myself I will find my own supporting arguments so weak that I will realise my own folly and quit this… what did you call it? …. deplorable habit?

Sorry to disappoint you but, true to your enviably robust character, you have again completely missed the purpose of my endeavours.

But perhaps I am being ungenerous, afterall, despite all we’ve been through together – the giant crabs, the loss of limbs, the zombie hoards, the atrocious dinner theatre… – if you cease the whirlwind and reflect for a moment, you barely know me at all.

Let me enlighten you then and perhaps, if I am really as wicked as everyone says, you’ll see that I am also correct and that your only option, really, is to join me or wash your hands of me completely. I don’t believe you are the sort of man to walk away from any challenge, Johnny, but, lets see, perhaps I don’t know you as well as I think I do either… unlikely but always a possibility…

I must begin with an apology. I’m afraid I have let you believe for some time now that I failed my exams multiple times and was only, eventually, allowed to enter the Collegium because my uncle is head of one of those Towers. How you could have believed such a flagrant twisting of the facts for so long is beyond me, still you will take people at their word won’t you? Another useful character flaw.

The truth is that I passed my exams with merit but my Uncle, who had overseen a large portion of my earlier education, petitioned the Dean repeatedly against my admission. Why would he do such a thing? Why do you think? Because he could already see that my ideas and ambition, my reckless innovation and energetic pursuit of knowledge would be dangerous within those walls.

He guessed, quite correctly, that my passion to enter the wizarding profession had nothing to do with a desire to serve Wiz or learn his petty doctrines and laws of magic, no, all I wanted was access to all those books and ingredients and utensils that were banned everywhere else in Ire. I wanted to get my hands on and into everything related to magic, I wanted to possess it, to become it, to use it to create my own reality and make the world around me dance to my own tune.

You suppose that I accepted Lord Ashton’s commission to create a portal in the aether because of the reward he offered me. I cannot fault you for that, Johnny, it’s exactly what I told you. But really, really, are you honestly that obtuse? To open a portal, whether you believe there is a goddess on the other side of it or not, is to invite new power into our world and that can only increase the power here at our disposal. And what of the world on the other side? A chance for an ambitious wizard to pull the strings on not one, but two realities? I sense your frown already, stop it at once.

 

Perhaps you feel that none of this has anything to do with Hex Slinging, as they call it; that back alley sport of pulling magic, raw and burning, from the aether and using it to rip your opponent to shreds in front of a rabid crowd of gamblers. But my hope is that, being an intelligent fellow, a dread enlightenment of sorts is beginning to awaken at the edges of your consciousness.

I am not, as you are no doubt beginning to realise, frequenting the hex rings of Lancaster in the interests of pleasure, distraction or mere entertainment. The study of magic must be practical, and by observing and imitating these men and women who live and die by the aetherial sinews of the universe, we can learn far more than the fusty towers of wizardry could ever have taught us.

That’s right ; us Johnny, I want you beside me in this as always, our fates are almost inseparably entwined now, even you must see that neither of us can ever go back to Litchfield , so what else can you do? Join your sister in rebuilding the pirate city? Live out your days gutting fish like your father? I think we both know that is not how your story ends.

I am not suggesting, of course, that you join me in the ring ; although I don’t doubt your capabilities in this field, your skills in alchemy are equally as vital to our enterprises and I would not risk you for that reason – you have already made your revulsion at my own scarred and aether-damaged hand quite clear and there is no reason for you to suffer the same.

But nevermind about me, Johnny, I have heard of an underground craftswoman who can replace my prosthetic left hand with a silver one that will conduct both soul and aether and then I will be able to use that instead of continuing to sacrifice the flesh I have on my right.

So, there you have it, my obsession is incurable and I invite you to join me in it at once, if you know me at all, John, you’ll have expected nothing less.

Your friend and associate, Dr. Mercurio Smith

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE THIRD:  by PENNY BLAKE

We wasn’t always called Jack and Marjory. But then again we didn’t always live in Lancaster. We didn’t always own these boots. We didn’t always work for Kitty Flynn.

Kitty’s coffee house, The Angel, is always full, always bustling, always respectable and everything above board.

They serve government standard issue coffee – the lifeblood of the workforce and the would-be well-to-do alike.

Chicory, acorn, dandelion … the great copper pots of brown liquid sit simmering in the seventeen fire places all day long and Kitty’s daughters run to and fro serving it out in pewter tumblers on silver trays.

The rules are framed in mahogany on the white washed wall: no foul language, no char-latin, no anti-royalist, anti-religious or anticlimactical notions, no games of chance, no business dealings, no magic.

Yes indeed, The Angel is a perfectly respectable place. It must be. The patrons run the great societal gamut from the lowliest mill worker, to dockers, street traders  and Sho’vani barge folk; from town Tinkers like The Time Keeper and The Spoon Smiths, to landlords like Montmorency and Clitheroe, even true aristocrats like Lord Ashton and Lady Grace and wizards like that so-called ‘Dr. Smith’…

The Angel is always full, never a spare room in the place. Kitty rents rooms alright but you’d be damned if you could ever get one. Very particular is Kitty Flynn about who she’ll let a room to and once she gets a tenant in, they tend to stay for a very long time.

We, certainly, intend to stay for a very long time.

Because once you’re in, like us, there’s only one way out – and it ain’t pretty. No, indeed, it really ain’t.

There are seventeen chimney’s in The Angel. Seventeen chimneys and each has an inglenook bookcase.

On a certain evening, at a certain time, after the doors are locked and barred and only a few select patrons are still at table – presumably having booked lodgings for the night and enjoying a late supper – Jack and Marjory might suddenly take into our heads the fancy of reading a particular book titled The Winchester Mystery which is located on the seventh shelf of the bookcase in the seventh chimney.

It is a favourite of almost every patron and tenant and no one  bats an eyelid as the whisper of well oiled cogs heralds the opening of a hidden door and we slip through, and down into an entirely different world below.

Here the air is tight, charged with electricity, close with the heat of many bodies and breaths and damp with sweat and mildew. Arachnid threads of green sphagnum and lichen trace along the limestone walls and arched tunnel ceilings and our footsteps echo among the cheers and jeers, shrieks of pain and laughter and flesh hitting stone.

There are rats down here, snails, reptiles, cats and dust but we don’t need them. When you work for Kitty Flynn, you keep things pure. Just the magic, that’s what Kitty wants. That’s what Kitty gets.

Kitty’s house is always full. All the tenants fight down here. It’s how we earn our keep, of course, and more than that as you can see ; no Hex Slingers in Lancaster are togged out finer than us who board at The Angel, well and truly minted is what we are because Kitty looks after her own…

But you knew that already, right? That’s why you came, that’s why you asked if there was a room and when we saw your hands, bandaged up in strips of kid leather to hide the scars and that high collar pulled up close under your chin, when we saw the hunted look in your blood shots eyes, we knew you’d fit right in…

 

 

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

 Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

Tale The Second By LESLIE SOULE

 

“Your writing – I’d like to see it,” he says, hopeful like a child getting candy. I don’t

want to open up that book and show him the horrors of a past I’d care not to remember – most of it I’ve already shared, but that book opens wounds afresh, even though I had to write it, to tear the little imps from my heart, force their tiny legs between the pages and stamp out their pokers onto the sheets of print.

It was part of a healing ritual, a ceremony, and maybe instructions for someone else who needs them. One never knows these things. But all I do is smile, and nod, in the way that you’re supposed to do, when confronted with such gestures of interest.

This fellow is my friend, a banker from the gentrified part of town. He rarely travels downtown. There is no tea, here. Maybe one day I’ll tell him the truth, or he’ll discover it. But for now, the coffee steams between us, and the silence speaks volumes, and I feel disheartened. I don’t want those imps to escape again, and plague my beleaguered heart anymore. It needs a rest.

“So what brings you here?” I ask, adjusting my knitted scarf. I see his eyes trace the tattoos on my hands as we converse.

“I have some business with Montmorency,” Christopher explained, sipping his coffee, and I watch those lips for a fleeting moment, hoping he doesn’t notice. I am reminded of the strange night we spent together, with kisses and cuddles, before he discarded me for getting too close to him emotionally, the way men do – the way they’ve always done, when it comes to me.

I nod, drinking my mocha as though it is the water of life that can save me, and mentally, I am far away, back at the hideout, hanging out with the rebel hex-slingers and talking shop with them.

I’d spent most of yesterday practicing martial arts with Delvan, admiring the bright blue eyes he pinned me with. It was my day off.

I look down at my watch, knowing that I have to be at work by 10am and put in a full shift, transcribing records onto the mega-typewriter in the Office of Records, and file them away into folders, and into drawers, into rooms.

What business can Christopher possibly have with Montmorency? It interests me, but I dare not approach the subject. I knew Montmorency to be a slumlord, directing his army of street-urchins selling their illegal lemonade.

Tea, cake, lemonade – the governments of Lancaster strictly controlled their use and prohibited their sale on the streets.

“Well it’s good to see you again,” I say to Christopher, and that was no lie. It really was good to see him – he tended to keep to himself and to his hobbies of making money and brewing beer. The government Wiz-goons hadn’t outlawed beer…yet. But give them time.

“Have you ever thought about leaving the Office of Records?” Christopher asked. Well I’d certainly considered it – it was boring, repetitive work and not everyone could do this kind of job. But the real reason, was that I’d become addicted to the fights and the resistance, and the feeling of power that I’d get from those late-night street duels. I never fought alone. Eros, my morph corn snake who looked white with pink patches, always joined in, channeling the mystic power that emanated from my hands in neon rays.

No one asked any questions when I walked into the office bleary-eyed, and the Wizards hadn’t yet thought to look for resistance fighters in the Office of Records – and who would? What kind of danger would lurk in such a bland atmosphere?

“Yeah, I’ve considered it.”

***

When I arrived, my desk looked exactly the way I’d left it – pens sitting there in the wooden holder, notebooks stacked off to the right. My co-workers sat patiently at their desks, some of them sipping from mugs of coffee, waiting for the work bell to ring, and indicate the official start of the work day.

“Long night?” asked Erin, my blue-haired, bespectacled co-worker.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

You have no idea.

Last night, I’d found myself cornered in an alley, three Wiz-goons heading my way. One of them wore a pink carnation in his lapel. I wondered at that strange symbolism.

I didn’t kill them. I’m no murderer, though this is a war, and I have no love for the Wiz-goon overlords who rule our lives down to the very foods that we are allowed to eat, or not. And there was something strangely intriguing about that pink carnation – it didn’t belong there, on those smelly, authoritarian streets covered in cold lamplight. It took all I had, to project the aether toward this one and knock him off his feet.

In the end, I followed through, because that was the way of the world – we stood on opposite sides of a battlefield that neither of us created, but both had to fight on, this unfair chess board of life.

“I’ll be alright as soon as I get some coffee from the break room.”

The work bell rang. I seized my timecard and dutifully punched a hole in the correct spot, grabbed my nondescript white coffee mug, issued by the Office, and walked over to the break room. This place ran on coffee – the life-blood of office work, surely as gasoline runs a horseless carriage or water runs a steam turbine. I poured the coffee from its decanter, a feeling of completeness filling my heart as the coffee poured, black as sin, dark as the deepest confessions of my soul.

Armed with it, I walked back to my desk, opening its drawer, to search for a copy of the procedure manual that I’d forgotten to toss out.

Instead, I found a pink carnation, and a small card – From Your Secret Admirer, was scrawled on it, in black ink.

 

LESLIE SOULE Infamous Fantasy Author I am a fantasy/sci-fi author from Sacramento, CA. she has an M.A. in English and is currently working on the final book of her fantasy series, The Fallenwood Chronicles.


Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in those curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIRST : Siggy And Me

 

Sigmund Ignatius Newburger doesn’t hear his full name used often. Smite me down, I never even knew that was his full name until I heard it bellowed through the steam-filled Tiffin Den one Monday afternoon in late September. The fella bawling it was a sight. Mind you, smite me down if Siggy ain’t a sight himself. Guess we all are here though ; handling raw magic takes its toll, any hex slinger will tell you that for nothing, long as you ain’t the law o’ course!

The damage starts with your fingers, for most, just a tingling sensation at first a bit like pins and needles and if you stop then and there I dare say you’ll be alright after a fashion. But we didn’t stop, did we? Siggy and me. And now we have to hide our black veined hands and arms beneath long coat sleeves and leather gauntlets ; one look at that scorched, stained flesh and everyone knows what you are and we can’t have that now, can we?

This fella, anyways, he wasn’t a slinger. I could see his arms right up to his elbows, shirt sleeves rolled up and thumbs stuck in his braces like he meant business. “Sigmund, Ignatious Newburger!” he’s bellowed and Siggy jumped clean out of his seat like he’d just seen a flesh eating Liver Bird through the window.

It didn’t take long, a brief altercation and the fella left looking ‘Most Put Out’ as the Garish Set would say. Plenty of them in the Den that day as well but we don’t mix with that sort, revolution’s all well and good when you’re just spitting daggers about the Queen across the tea table, but smite me down if some of these Theatre Lot aren’t a bit too serious for their own safety, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I got the savvy over a custard tart and a pot of chajo. Clarence is the fella’s name, Clarence Aloysius Newburger and he’s Siggy’s own cousin. Siggy now spills his guts all over our elevenses and it ain’t pretty ; his old man works for Lord Ashton up at the Silk Mills, he’s some sort of overseer there, right high up and fancy which is how they got the coin  to send The Young Sigmund to school and then, later, to the Wizards’ Collegium in Litchfield.

I never knew all this about Sig before but it all makes sense to me as he says it ; there are three sorts of people who end up here in the back-alley hex rings of Lancaster and smite me down if it probably ain’t the same in all the big cities of Ire : there’s those who ran away because this was their dream, and I guess you’ve got me pegged now too coz I’m certainly one them, then there’s those who are down and out anyhow and looking at any way they can to make ends meet, hex slinging can be the end of you, WILL be the end of you if you stick at it, but if you’re good at it, really good, and me and Siggy, smite me down if we ain’t pretty damn good, you can pretty much make your fortune at it. Or so the ring bosses will tell you. Anyhow then there’s the last sort, Siggy’s sort as it now turns out, and that’s the fallen wizards.

When a wizard gets disillusioned or disgraced – I don’t know, maybe he suddenly realises that The Almighty Wiz ain’t as benevolent and loving as all his holy texts make him out to be or maybe he develops a Tiffin habit or a taste for Lemonade, we all have our vices eh? – whatever the reason for him leaving Litchfield he doesn’t have many options open to him; everyone hates magic users and if you ain’t carrying an official licence from the Collegium you can’t legally practice it anyway. Chances are he’ll end up in one of two places; The Gutter Wizards or The Hex Slingers.

We don’t get many of Siggy’s sort down here, as you can imagine.

But I’m getting off the point again. Siggy said he never like Litchfield. He loved magic but he says they don’t teach you real magic up there, only their own limited and feeble understanding of how the world is put together and how a man can influence and exert his limited and feeble will over bits of  it.

Not like us, we stretch our soul out of our fingertips and into the aether, grasp the threads that hold the world together and force them to obey. It’s incredible, raw, adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy and once Siggy tried it( in a back alley behind the Burlington Arcade with a Youth who wore the scarlet leather of the Cameo Libris Scribes and claimed his mother was witch) he knew his Collegium days were over.

He came home to Lancaster but his old man didn’t want to know about it. That’s when he met me and I got him his Beauty and we started this whole lark together.

“Haven’t a friend in the world, Erik,” he kept saying – Erik Wise, that’s me in case you didn’t figure it out – “Haven’t a friend in the world now.” He’s one of those comic-morose types y’know? All Over with the Rueful Smiles and Languid Glances, the Heavy Sighs and such.

So I got him one. In a matchbox. Docklands are crawling with mice you see and they’re good for the fight if you know how to use them. You can use anything to boost your game if you know how, but Siggy likes mice ; smite me down if he can’t stand in a hex ring with Beauty on his shoulder and whistle and every mouse in every garret and gutter will come and swarm on him like a second skin. You can really do a lot with a skill like that and it drives the crowds wild and terrifies the wits out of any newcomers I can tell you.

We always go in for the doubles, Siggy and Me. I like the dust, it listens to me now and I can use it to bring physical form to the magic, which is terrifying in its own right, even without the Myomancer beside me. But we’re a great team and I wouldn’t go solo for any common price.

So this Clarence fella, he’s come to Lancaster looking for help and Siggy’s father won’t give it to him. Clarence is all set to solve his problems some other way when he hears on the ground that Siggy is still in Lancaster and fighting for coin in the hex rings. This suits Clarence’s plan even better ;  seems that some rogue relation – Harvey Hilarius Newburger, whoever he may be – has gotten himself into a scandal and needs to be gotten rid of sharpish before he lands the whole family in hot treacle. Seems Clarence thinks a hex slinger ought to be able to sort this little problem out a treat.

But Siggy’s a decent sort and he won’t have a part in it so old Clarence goes off to do the dirty work for himself and smite me down if I didn’t pity this fella Harvey-Whoever-He-Is on account of the murderous look on Old Clarence’s face as he left the Tiffin Den that day.

We never heard from him again and smite us both if we ain’t glad about it. We’re doing alright, Siggy and Me, we make enough in the rings to keep us in ‘Tops, Tails n Tiffin’ as they say round here. Maybe one day we’ll make that fortune we were promised, or catch the eye of some well to do Patron, then we’d hit the big time and no mistake. But we’re doing alright for now…

 

So there you have it, the first in this little series of snap-shots of Lancastrian street-life.

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe and Slippers: Army Of Brass

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Army Of Brass and marks our last stop on their blog tour…

stories meme base

Army of Brass

Chapter 45

By Phoebe Darqueling

 

The funicular trundled to a stop on the landing, and Jack approached the door release. It hissed open, but Elaina stayed frozen in place, her eyes once again resting on the Baron as he and his men dismembered the fallen automaton. Crashes reverberated from around the bend as more of the giants began to move.

“Focus, Elaina,” Jack pleaded. “We need to go.”

When her eyes met his again, something had changed. The rage and sorrow had drained away, leaving her gaze hollow but determined. Her spine straightened, and her shoulders relaxed as she put the gun back into its holster. Her free hand briefly rested on her shoulder, then the last trace of rage melted from her body as she strode forward.

She passed the Cartographer and went straight to the interior controls, calling over her shoulder, “Are you coming?”

With a smirk, he followed her into the cabin. Elaina moved a dial and a lever, and the funicular rose again from the valley floor before he’d even hit the button to close the door. Apparently, she was taking his plea for speed to heart, but he’d have waited for that particular nicety. They swayed slightly as they rose, and Jack grabbed frantically for one of the leather straps built into the wall to steady himself. He glanced out the open door to see the solid ground creeping away. It felt as though he’d left his stomach behind.

“Vertigo?” Elaina scoffed, taking in his grim expression and white knuckles with a gesture. “You’re an airship captain. How could you possibly be afraid of heights?”

“It’s somewhat of a new development…” he choked, falling back gratefully into a seat across from her.

As they crept upward, more of battle came into view. Several more of the Cartographer fleet had arrived, their mismatched colors and designs a delightful quilt against the cheery blue of the sky. More soldiers poured out of the cavern, bolstered by the air support. At least two of the automatons seemed to be immobilized, but down the line, head after head lifted and turned its attention to the fight.

“Look!” Elaina rushed to the door, pointing frantically. “It’s Aletha!”

One of the automatons reached out with its drill-arm spinning and drove the point into the chest of another metal giant. The whine and the screech of metal rang out over the valley as the thing’s mechanical guts were ripped out.

Another automaton raised a fist and smashed it into the head of Aletha’s giant. The two machines stood frozen for several seconds, then the attacker lowered its arm and turned its attention to another of Bircham’s machines. The two of them ripped off its arms.

“It’s working,” Jack sighed.

“So far,” his companion agreed.

They had only made it about halfway up the mountainside, but the funicular chose that moment to lurch to an unexpected halt. Sweat beaded on Jack’s brow while Elaina calmly looked over the control panel.

Outside the cabin, most of the Cartographer fleet was engaged with the rebel lords, but a few of them had turned their attention to the brass army. A net shot from a massive gun and enveloped the head and shoulders of one of the automatons. It struggled for a moment, and Jack dared to hope it would stumble and fall. Then it reached up a massive hand, grabbing onto the line. His gut heaved as the machine ripped the airship from the sky.

When he couldn’t take her measured silence any longer, he blurted. “What happened? Can you fix it?”

She shrugged and turned toward him. “It’s not a problem from this end. It must be the winch at the top. There could be shrapnel in the mechanism, or Bircham had it disabled. Either way, it’s useless now. We can’t go up or down.”

Jack wheeled back to the door and saw parachutes blooming around the falling ship. One of the Marksmen trained his gun carefully as he sailed toward the ground. With a single, expert shot, he ignited the hydrogen, and the airship burst into a fiery ball. The automaton batted it away, undeterred, only to have one of Aletha’s metal giants punch it in the chest.

He hadn’t realized Elaina had joined him at the door until she murmured, “We can’t stay here, either. It’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by debris, or one of those things notices us.”

“How?” Jack spluttered, though on some level he knew exactly what she was about to propose. “You said it’s broken!”

“We’ll simply need to climb,” she replied. “The cable is intact, and we can use the ties between the tracks like steps.”

“I… don’t think I can…”

She waved away the panic in his voice. “Of course you can. We use those rocks and then go around to the front to grab onto the cable. It’s simple. See?” Elaina vaulted from the open door and scrambled over the jagged stone. Jack’s shock immobilized him until he heard her voice from the front of cab. “Are you coming, Mr. Davenport?”

With far more resolution than he felt, he answered in the affirmative and followed her path. He could feel the wound at his hip reopen as he lunged, and hot blood soaked his bandage by the time he reached her. True to her word, a taut cable ran up the middle of the track, and the evenly-spaced wooden beams would make the climb much easier, but the pain flashed bright, and nausea roiled in his guts. He leaned against the cab to catch his breath and put pressure on the gash in his hip.

“Pull yourself together,” Elaina said. “You’re the one who told me to focus, remember?”

Jack help up his bloody hand. “Ashtan’s handiwork.”

“I can take a look at it once we reach the top, but right now, we have got to move.”

Elaina started up the tracks, hand over steady hand as she progressed up the cable. Jack steeled himself against the pain, then followed. The sounds of the battle echoed all around them, but he resisted the urge to turn around and watch. The cable bit into his palms, giving him something to focus on besides the fact that he was over a hundred feet in the air. He kept his eyes trained on Elaina’s back and tried to match her steady pace until a few stray pebbles got between his boot and the next tie. He kept hold of the cable but landed on his bloody hip with a groan.

“I can’t. My leg—”

“Yes, yes. Your leg hurts. I heard you,” Elaina said, glancing over her shoulder before taking another step. “But honestly, what are you proposing? Will you build a nest and live up here like some sort of great buzzard?”

“This is no time for jokes, Mrs. Gable.” Jack used his good leg to regain his footing and willed himself back to standing.

“Was I joking? I can’t always tell these days,” she said thoughtfully. After another two steps, she called over her shoulder, “What I do know is that I am neither willing nor able to pull you to the top, due to the obvious discrepancy between your bulk and my upper body strength. Ergo, you shall have to climb or find some way to derive sustenance from bare—and might I remind you, toxic—stone.”

Jack frowned at her back, which was getting farther and farther away. He took a deep breath, then another step. A drop of his own blood splattered the wood under his feet, and his vertigo reasserted itself.

“Unless of course you plan to die,” she speculated, now at least ten paces ahead. “It would seem a rather fitting ending for your legend, as long as the details never made it out.”

He shook away the bout of dizziness and resolved not to let the gap between them grow any wider. With teeth gritted against the pain, he finally began to move.

Up ahead, Elaina continued. “Think about it! You lost your ship, the love of Captain Davenport’s life, on a mission to save the king. If you were to die here in the valley, everyone would think you were struck down in the Battle of Brasshaven. Now that would be one for the storybooks,” she said. “Then, of course, this discussion is all academic, and the necessity of your moving from that spot is moot. In which case, could you please let go and stop distracting me from climbing? This last part will be tricky.”

“What has gotten into you?” he marveled.

“Nothing at all. I simply took your advice,” she grunted. “Bircham is the mission. And if I am correct, and I nearly always am, we shall find him at the top of this cliff. I am simply attempting to keep you on task.”

The noise in the valley started to fade. Jack thought at first it was just because they were getting higher, but he risked taking a look. Yet more Marksmen still poured out of the caverns, and he heard the shouts of the smiths better than ever. But he realized in horror that the automatons no longer seemed to be fighting each other. Aletha was losing.

“You should press on without me!” he cried. “I just need a rest, that’s all. You have Rose’s gun, you shouldn’t need more than that.”

“You may proceed with that course of action, but I would advise against it,” she replied, disappearing over the top of the cliff. “Your arms are already shaking. What do you think a few more minutes will do?”

He willed himself to take another step. It couldn’t be more than a few more paces, but his throat was closing in panic. His wound bled freely. The Marksmen were clearly no match for the machines. The Cartographers were outgunned. And now, Aletha was failing. All was lost.

“You know the problem with stories, Jack? They are too… clean. The writers always type ‘The End,’ but it isn’t really, is it? Real endings are far more complicated than the stories make them out to be.”

He concentrated on the sound of her voice and continued his agonized climb.

“Besides,” she continued, “if you do decide to survive, I am sure the Society would be happy to get you back into the air again. Then there would be plenty of time for more adventures.”

Hope wasn’t lost. Hope was waiting just a few feet above his head. All he had to do was reach it. With a defiant cry, he harnessed his pain and took the last three strides to reach the top. At the edge, the cable no longer stood above the ground but instead lay directly against the ties. His tired hands scrabbled at the stone as he got his torso up and over, then he felt Elaina grab his belt and add her strength to his.

Jack spent a moment catching his breath, then struggled out of the pack. He heard Elaina rifling through it as the spots swam out of his vision, then turned over on his back. She held out a canteen. “Perhaps you could take me somewhere, when this is all over. I think we both could use a holiday.”

“Thanks for waiting,” he replied, taking a swig of water.

She smirked and pointed out, “You’ve got my bullet.”

 

And don’t forget, Army of Brass is available now! 21 international writers came together to create this tale of giant automatons, fearless airship captains, and deadly conspiracies.

 

Order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday to celebrate Steampunk’s “31st birthday.” The blog tour continues until May 13, and so does this special price.

 

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

 

Not sure if it’s for you? Read a review, take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1 or read another exclusive excerpt. You can also get to know the character Captain Jack Davenport a little bit better with his interview on Blake & Wight. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and Collaborative Writing Challenge veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.

 

Speaking of giveaways, you can enter to win ebooks from the CWC writers.


Pipe and Slippers: Army Of Brass Book Tour

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  sweet delights. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of the old Green Fairy eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one, not least because the city of Lancaster here has been getting ready for the eagerly anticipated launch of the latest offering from the Collaborative Writing Challenge – Army Of Brass.

 

Steampunk celebrates its 31st birthday on April 27, and Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge invite you to  join in the festivities with their high-flying adventure, Army of Brass.

“Steampunk” began as a literary genre, but has expanded to include fashion, music, art, and live events all over the world. During 2017, in honor of author K.W. Jeter coining the term in 1987, Steampunk Journal editor Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge joined forces to create an amazing work that blurs the line between science and magic. Twenty international authors contributed chapters to this story full of gadgets, romance, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of a fantasy world informed by the culture of the 19th century.
What is Army of Brass About?

 

When the mad conqueror haunting Elaina’s dreams invades her adopted homeland, the real nightmare becomes what she’s willing to do to stop him.

 

The dreaded Hunter Baron has landed on the shores of Mailderet, but Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable believes she has the solution. Giant automatons sit rusting in the valley, waiting for someone with the drive and ingenuity to bring them to life. But the king, swayed by the destruction his ancestors wrought centuries before, harbors a deep-seated fear of the machines. Though he will not allow the alliance of Tinkerers and Smiths to complete the work, Elaina and a famous airship pilot resolve to bring the machines back to life in secret.

 

From the safety of the swamps, a woman with silver skin jealously guards the secrets of the automatons. Though the Silver Woman also wishes the past to remain buried, she must weigh the value of secrecy against the thousands of innocents her hesitation might send to the grave.

 

As they discover the link between the toxic valley and the inner workings of the automatons, Elaina and her allies are drawn into a web of deceit threatening the balance of power across two continents—and proving the truth behind the deadly legends surrounding the Army of Brass.

 

And if that sounds just like your cup of tea… or even your glass of sherry… you can Read Chapter 1 now on Steampunk Journal!

Or even Pre-order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

You are also cordially invited to Join us all on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

Ans speaking of giveaways, they’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from the writers involved

 

Now then, the hour is getting extremely late, I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your parasol is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…

 

 


Pipe And Slippers: With Elen Sentier

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  sweet delights. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of the old Green Fairy eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something, or perhaps my dear friend Elen Sentier here, who is visiting me this evening, will oblige us with a reading from her wonderful book Moonsong?

 

 

Oh marvellous Elen thankyou so much for that! Just the ticket on a night such as this eh?

If you are not already familiar with Elen’s work, she writes paranormal mystery-romance novels. She’s been writing all her life and professionally since 1999. Elen is a wilderness woman, born on Dartmoor, grew up on the edge of Exmoor, and comes from a long line of British cunning folk so she also writes about & teaches British native shamanism. (so it is really no surprise to find her here on a Friday night sharing a bottle with a Lancastrian Ghost!)  She now lives with her husband, cats and a host of wildlife in the wild Welsh Marches of Britain.

 

You can find Elen on the aether web here:   http://www.elensentier.co.uk  @elensentier and  https://www.facebook.com/elensentier

Her latest book is available here; Merlin: once & future wizard, and her  first 2 novels, and all her other books are available on Amazon.

Now then the hour is getting extremely late, I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe And Slippers: With Kara Jorgensen

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Kara Jorgensen’s latest release Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices book 5) and if you haven’t been following the series then I’m sorry but what planet have you been living on? Still, nevermind, you can catch up here: Book 1, The Earl Of Brass 

Now then, are you standing comfortably? No? Then I’ll begin…

Excerpt from Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #5)

by Kara Jorgensen

 

Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it ruffled his sigil for conjuring wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricanes and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results before they could sink beneath the sea of the research piled on his desk. For most of the morning, he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals out of half a dozen books from the museum’s library, but he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.

Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to practice a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup.

“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”

Immanuel jumped and the liquid plummeted into the cup, splashing tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he kicked the door shut and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when Immanuel could scarcely will his fear-frozen body to move. Carefully mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.

“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea?”

“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”

“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliott’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder.” Running out of steam, Peregrine deflated and rested on his heels. “So, have you decided yet? She’s been nagging me to find out.”

A wave of guilt rippled through him as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.

“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”

“For you stop doing magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”

Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”

“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”

“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”

“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel at the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”

The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books and darted down the hall, hoping to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between the director and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. At the bottom of the steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom alone, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, Immanuel wished he knew how to make it stop.

Near the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of accented voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed its operator directions. As Immanuel stepped from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop from fidgeting.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”

Without a word, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the he way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. I will not tolerate forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”

“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”

“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside a man-sized crate hidden beneath a canvas sheet, Sir William scowled. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not to offend our donors.”

The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted, hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peeked out beneath long lashes. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.

“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”

 

 

My goodness! What adventures await Immanuel and Adam this time eh? Well if you wish to find out more you will have to grab a copy of Selkie Cove for yourself …

 

And you can find out more about Kara’s books on her website: www.karajorgensen.com

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe and Slippers: With David Lee Summers

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Amontillado eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from the book Owl Dance, which is the first in the excellent steampunk series Clockwork Legion by David Lee Summers. Are you standing comfortably? Oh I think you can pour a more generous helping than that you know, it is rather chilly down here… a-hem….

 

 

Electric Kachinas

Chapter Two of Owl Dance

David Lee Summers

 

His name was Legion.

 

For millennia, the nanite swarm that was his current form explored galaxies and visited planets populated by thousands of races. He hadn’t always been this way. Many centuries ago he had another name on a planet now nothing more than dust, gradually drifting outward from the exhausted core of a dead star. On that world, he’d possessed a mortal body. The thing called Legion remembered that world, and remembered his old body, and also the first computer he lived in, but he knew such memories meant little in the face of his immortal existence.

 

Unconstrained by a mortal lifetime or the distance he could travel, Legion gathered information about everything he came across. The universe contained so much variety that if he grew bored in one location, he simply moved on to another.

 

Eventually, he found his way to a small cluster containing two spiral galaxies and several dwarf galaxies.  While ambling through one of the spirals, he came across a middle-aged yellow star that supported a handful of planets in stable orbits.

 

Legion was especially interested in the problem of intelligence. How did it evolve? What was its purpose? In all of his travels, he had yet to find a satisfactory answer. This humble solar system looked like one that could nurture life.

 

As he approached one of the inner, rocky worlds of this system, Legion grew excited. The planet contained large bodies of water broken up by landmasses, not unlike the world where he evolved. As he drifted closer, he saw straight lines cut into the ground and regular, geometric patterns of growing things. Not only was there life on this world, but there was life that altered its landscape. That indicated intelligence. Legion decided on a closer look.

 

On the world, he found corporeal beings, similar to the creature he once was. Legion realized these beings might be at the perfect stage to help him answer a few of his questions about the purpose of intelligence. They had developed agriculture and industry. However, they still appeared primitive. All the devices he saw could have been built by hand or through the use of rudimentary machines. The creatures of this planet appeared to be on a path to become as intelligent as he was, yet they were still primitive enough he might be able to glean some understanding of how that intelligence came about.

 

He sought out an intelligent being so he could study its neural structure and attempt to interpret its thoughts with minimal interference or detection. Because of that, he chose to seek out a being in a sparsely inhabited area. He found a river valley he hoped would serve his purpose.

 

It was windy in the valley and Legion allowed his component parts to ride the air currents. The wind came in gusts, propelling him some distance, but then quieting, allowing him to regroup and scan his surroundings. He passed what appeared to be a military fortification near the river and then he saw ruins of much older habitations. Walking among the ruins was a lone creature, who looked around with interest.

 

The being was perfect. He was clearly the same type of creature who had altered the landscape. Moreover, the creature was alone. If Legion affected the creature adversely, detection was unlikely.

 

Before the next gust of wind, Legion drifted over to the creature.

 

The being took a deep breath and some of the components entered its nasal passages. Those components traveled into the being’s lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream where they were carried to the brain, scanning and transmitting information as they went. Other components scanned the ruins and still others, further down the river valley, analyzed patterns of technological development and settlement, then compared that information to data collected from other worlds.

 

<< >>

 

Alberto Mendez belonged to a team of men installing telegraph lines between Santa Fe and El Paso. The team consisted of carpenters, electricians, linesmen, post hole diggers and even lumberjacks. Mendez helped to wire up the electrical equipment at each of the telegraph stops. They had arrived at Fort McRae that afternoon and would begin installing the telegraph station in the morning. The soldiers at the fort told him about some Indian ruins nearby and he decided he would take a hike and have a look before settling in for supper and a night’s sleep.

 

Despite his Spanish name, Mendez was an Indian from the pueblo of Tortugas. His ancestors used to live in the pueblos around Fort McRae. They used to be called the Piro.

 

In 1598, a group of Spaniards emerged from the harsh desert south of the ruins led by a man named Juan de Oñate. The Piro provided food and water to the dying men. The pueblo was a city as grand as anything the Europeans had in Mexico and it was the site of America’s first Thanksgiving. Despite that, the pueblo would be abandoned within the year. Over 250 years of wind and rain had all but erased the pueblo’s existence.

 

Mendez put his hands on his hips and looked around at the low walls that surrounded him–sad reminders of the grand pueblo that used to stand in this place.

 

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few minutes later, as he continued along the path, strange words formed in his mind. They weren’t English, Spanish or even the few words of Piro that were still known, but somehow he understood them just the same–or at least some of them.

 

“…DNA analysis confirms this being is a descendent of creatures that inhabited this site 278 planetary years before…”

 

Somehow Mendez knew that meant he was, in fact, a descendent of the people who once inhabited the pueblo ruins where he now stood.

 

“…archeological evidence, along with memories from this being, suggests two waves of invasion…”

 

After the Spaniards left the Piro Pueblo, they went north and enslaved the other peoples they encountered. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the Spaniards, the Piro refused to join when the other pueblos revolted. Like Oñate and his men, the Piro were driven south, toward El Paso del Norte. Shunned by their own people and abandoned by the Spaniards, the Piro were just as much victims of the invasion as the northern pueblos.

 

Now, there was another group of invaders forcing Indians from their homes. This time the invaders came from the east. Mendez looked over his shoulder at Fort McRae.

 

“…topological and technological analysis indicates a 97% probability this area will be the site of a hydroelectric facility within the next century…”

 

A picture formed in Mendez’s mind of a great wall being built on the Rio Grande. The mighty river would be trapped and the valley where he stood would be flooded, all for the benefit of the newest wave of invaders.

 

Alberto Mendez did not have to think too hard to know where the images were coming from. He was on the land of his ancestors. The wind–a mighty elemental force–whipped through his hair. He must be in the presence of an elemental spirit. His people called such spirits kachinas. Alberto Mendez believed this kachina had selected him for a mission.

 

<< >>

 

Ramon Morales was bone-weary when he finally saw Fort McRae on the opposite side of the Rio Grande. The landscape around the fort was more barren than around Socorro. It was as though the land near the river could not drink enough to grow vegetation. The mountains that bordered the Rio Grande Valley were covered in scrub brush instead of trees and seemed less friendly than they did further north.

 

Washes ran down from the mountains and cut through the flatlands of the valley, but did not actually carry any water this time of year. They left the land looking like a cracked and dried husk. Ramon wondered, not for the first time, if fleeing south had been such a good idea.

 

He took off his hat and wiped gritty sweat from his brow. It had been a long time since he’d spent the better part of a day on horseback. At least it wasn’t windy like it had been a couple of days before.

 

Fatemeh Karimi, who rode in a wagon next to him, also looked bedraggled. Her black dress was coated in a fine layer of dust. Rivulets of sweat etched dirty streaks down Fatemeh’s skin. Strands of wiry, black hair jutted out here and there. “Maybe we should go up to the fort and see if they’ll put us up for the night,” Fatemeh said.

 

“Nah.” Ramon shook his head. “We’ve only got a couple more miles until we get to Palomas Hot Springs. My cousin Eduardo has a small hacienda there. He can put us up and we can get a hot bath.”

 

“That sounds wonderful.” Fatemeh’s smile lit up her face and her green eyes sparkled.

 

Ramon’s heart leapt at the sight of her renewed energy, but a hollow feeling soon formed in the pit of his stomach. He’d just thrown away his job as sheriff of Socorro to help her and yet he didn’t know whether she would stay with him once they reached Las Cruces. He still didn’t know whether she honestly liked him, or if she was merely using him as a protector and guide until they reached their destination.

 

At last, they topped a rise and could see Palomas Hot Springs. It really wasn’t a town as most people would think of one. It was more like a wide spot in the road before entering a bad stretch of desert called Jornada del Muerto–the journey of death. There were a couple of rooming houses, a livery stable and a few meager haciendas. They all traded with the fort a few miles north. There were no stores, saloons or other establishments in Palomas Hot Springs.

 

What really drew people to the area were the hot springs themselves. The Apaches and the pueblo people considered it a holy place and neutral territory where they could trade. Medicine men would use the curative power of the hot springs to heal warriors after a battle. Anglos and Spanish folk were welcome to trade there, too, and the Indians didn’t seem to mind the few settlements.

 

The austere scenery around the area certainly gave it the feeling of a holy place. Sheer cliffs of multi-colored rock walled in the barren valley and there was a dramatic butte, shaped a little like an elephant, near the river itself.

 

As Fatemeh and Ramon rode into Palomas Hot Springs, they caught sight of an Indian sitting on a blanket in the shade of an overhang. He had a wooden crate overflowing with wood and other odds and ends that looked like they could be springs or rolls of wire and tubing of some sort. Surrounding the Indian were little wooden dolls. He seemed to be whittling one of them.

 

Fatemeh pulled on the reins and stopped the wagon. Ramon tried to motion that they should continue on. He was tired and wanted to get to his cousin’s before dark. He really didn’t want to sit around while Fatemeh bartered with an Indian.

 

Either she didn’t see Ramon’s gesticulating or she didn’t care. She climbed off the wagon’s seat and stood before the Indian. He looked up as if noticing her for the first time. Gasping, he reached out as if to collect up the dolls. Ramon rolled his eyes and brought his horse to a stop. After climbing off, he wrapped the horse’s reins around a nearby hitching post.

 

“These are kachina dolls, aren’t they?” asked Fatemeh. “I didn’t know any Pueblo Indians this far south made them.”

 

“All pueblos respect the kachinas,” said the Indian, looking around nervously, as though trying to find an escape.

 

“May I see one?” Fatemeh reached for the nearest doll.

 

The Indian waved his hands. “They are sacred.”

 

Fatemeh knelt and nodded, solemnly. “I know they are.  That’s why I’m interested.” As she took hold of the kachina doll, her eyes went wide and she gasped. She quickly released the doll and brought herself to her feet. “What was that?!”

 

“The kachinas are displeased,” said the Indian. Ramon watched as he carefully reached out, took a doll by its head and hefted it into the box. The little wooden doll was apparently heavier than it looked at first sight. “First the Spanish came and caused this land to be taken from my people. Now the Anglos are coming and taking it from the Spanish. When will it stop?” He hefted another doll into the box. “Mark my words, great flood waters will come and destroy the land.”

 

“I’m neither Spanish nor Anglo,” said Fatemeh. “I’m Persian.”

 

“Perhaps your people will be the next wave of invaders.” The Indian grabbed the last kachina doll. “You must face the truth of the kachina’s displeasure and leave, or you will face consequences. Mark my words.” The Indian stood, gathered up his blanket and placed it in the box. With a heave he picked up the box and started waddling down the road.

 

Fatemeh looked at Ramon with wide eyes.

 

“What happened when you grabbed that doll?”

 

“It’s hard to describe,” she said with a shrug. “It was a tingle like my hand fell asleep, but it was also like a bite.” She climbed back up on her wagon.

 

Ramon’s brow creased as he considered what might have caused the sensation Fatemeh described, but nothing came to mind. Too tired, hungry, and saddle sore to consider the matter further, he gathered the reins and mounted his horse. Besides, Eduardo might already know something about this Indian and his kachina dolls.

 

A few minutes later, Ramon and Fatemeh found themselves in front of Eduardo’s small adobe hacienda. Eduardo came outside and greeted them with a warm smile. He looked much like Ramon would without glasses. He was a little taller, thinner, and–if one were to judge by the girls who fawned over him when he was younger–more handsome.

 

Ramon led his horse to a watering trough, then helped Fatemeh unhitch her two horses. Once the animals were tended, Eduardo ushered Ramon and Fatemeh into the kitchen, all the time casting sly glances between them. The former sheriff did his best to explain the events of the past two weeks in Socorro.

 

“Ah, Búho.” Eduardo winked. “I always knew your desire to do the right thing would get you in trouble with someone.”

 

“All I ask tonight is a meal and a couple of rooms,” Ramon said.

 

“And a hot bath,” interjected Fatemeh.

 

“Of course.” Eduardo grinned. “Alicia is making a big caldo de rez this afternoon. You may stay as long as you like. This is a place to rest and recover before moving on.”

 

“So, Ed, why haven’t you moved on?”

 

He held his arms out wide. “I haven’t finished resting and recovering!”

 

Later that evening, Eduardo’s wife Alicia prepared a beautiful supper for Ramon and Fatemeh. Alicia was a little shorter than Ramon and wore her hair tied back in a neat bun. Ramon noticed she was a little heavier than when he’d last seen her. In her clean, blue dress, she looked a lot like his aunt. Her appearance was a stark contrast to Fatemeh’s now-wild hair, rumpled black dress and fiery green eyes. As they ate, Ramon thought about how he had tried to catch Alicia’s eye when they were younger, but she pursued Eduardo instead, as though she had been under his spell. Casting a glance toward Fatemeh, Ramon felt drawn to her, but he was concerned she didn’t reciprocate his feelings.

 

After supper, Fatemeh decided it was time to have a bath. A short walk behind Eduardo’s house was a place where water bubbled up from the ground. Eduardo had stacked rocks around the spring to give the bather some privacy. While Fatemeh availed herself of the natural spring, Ramon went to his room to unpack a few things. Finally he took a towel from a dresser drawer and found a bench just outside the backdoor to wait for Fatemeh to finish. The sun was setting and the rocks had taken on a deep red hue. There was enough of a chill breeze that a dip in the hot spring would feel very good to a hot and dusty traveler.

 

Ramon looked up and saw Fatemeh as she stepped from the rock enclosure. She wore a clean, modest black dress, but it clung to her skin because of the moisture. Her feminine curves were very apparent. Ramon watched, mesmerized as she stepped over and sat down next to him.

 

“You should close your mouth,” she said. “There are mosquitoes.”

 

Ramon quickly apologized, but she laughed lightly without any hint of mockery and told him not to worry about it.

 

Ramon took a deep breath, and then looked her in the eye. “Fatemeh, there’s something I want…”

 

Eduardo stepped around the corner carrying an armload of firewood. “When you guys came into town, did you see that Indian with the kachina dolls?”

 

“Yes.” Ramon nodded. “I wanted to ask about him.”

 

Eduardo let the firewood tumble to his feet. Ramon stood and helped him neatly stack it behind the backdoor. “He showed up about the time a group of telegraph workers arrived at Fort McRae. He keeps moving around with that big box of his.” He looked over his shoulder. “He’s camped out a little ways down from the house. I wish I could find out what he keeps in that box.”

 

“So do I.” Fatemeh whistled a few short notes. Ramon looked up and noticed the silhouette of a burrowing owl perched atop the rock enclosure around the hot spring. She whistled again and the owl did a little dance and then flew from the wall to the ground near Fatemeh’s feet. “I might even have a way to distract him so we can find out.”

 

<< >>

 

A short time later, Ramon found himself hunkered down behind a watering trough in front of Eduardo’s house watching the Indian work beside his campfire. He asked Eduardo why they couldn’t wait until the Indian was asleep and just sneak a peek in his box.

 

“He never sleeps as far as I can tell,” whispered Ramon’s cousin.

 

The little owl Fatemeh summoned flew over and perched on the edge of the Indian’s box. The Indian shooed it away, but the owl returned and started pecking around in the box. The Indian shooed at it again, but this time the owl had something in its beak. When the Indian noticed, he scooted after the owl.

 

Ramon ran to the box and grabbed one of the kachina dolls–careful not to touch anything other than the head, as he’d seen the Indian do earlier. The thing was a lot heavier than Ramon expected from a little wooden doll. He hauled it back to his hiding place behind the water trough. He looked up in time to see the Indian return to the campfire, holding something that looked like a wire. The Indian dropped the wire back in the box. The owl returned to the box and looked as if he was going to dig for the wire again when Fatemeh whistled. The owl’s head turned, seeking the sound’s source. It did its little dance and then flew away.

 

Once the owl was gone, the Indian returned to his work. Ramon grabbed the kachina doll by the head and carried it inside where he found Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia already gathered at the table. In the light of the kitchen lamp Ramon could see a piece of metal sticking out of each side of the doll. “What are these?” He reached for one of the metal pieces.

 

“Careful.” Fatemeh batted his finger away. “I think I grabbed those when I touched the doll before.”

 

Being careful not to touch the two pieces of metal, Eduardo picked up the kachina doll and examined it closely. There was something round and metal on the bottom. He set the doll down and reached for it, but Alicia stopped him. “We don’t know what it’ll do,” she said.

 

“What’s for certain is that there’s something inside the thing,” Ramon said. Before someone could say anything else, Ramon reached out, grabbed the doll by the head and brought it down hard on the table. Fatemeh gasped in shock. The soft wood of the doll shattered, revealing a metal cylinder inside. The two pieces of metal that stuck out the side of the doll were connected to the cylinder by copper wire. “What the hell?” asked Ramon.

 

“I’m not positive,” said Fatemeh, “but I think that’s a dry cell battery.”

 

“Of course!” said Eduardo. “They use them in the telegraph equipment.”

 

“That Indian must be loco,” declared Alicia. “Why would he put batteries inside kachina dolls?”

 

“Maybe he wants people to believe kachina spirits really inhabit the dolls,” Fatemeh said. “It almost convinced me when I grabbed one and it felt like it was alive.”

 

Ramon shook his head. Things didn’t add up. “If he’s trying to scare people with his dolls, why does he pack them up and run away whenever someone comes near?” The former sheriff stepped out the front door. The Indian’s campfire was out and he was nowhere to be seen. Ramon took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he considered the questions that ran through his mind. The Indian must want to power something with the batteries in the kachina dolls, but what? He hadn’t seen anything besides dolls and wires in the box. The only thing he knew of in the area that required electric power was the telegraph, but then why hide the batteries in kachina dolls?

 

The door creaked open behind him. Fatemeh stepped up next to Ramon, so close he could feel the heat of her skin. He put his glasses back on and swallowed hard as he tried to turn his mind from the problem of the Indian to the questions he had about the nature of their relationship. He took a deep breath and formed a question.

 

Just as he was about to reach out and take Fatemeh’s hand, Eduardo appeared in the doorway. “Where’d that Indian go?”

 

Ramon blinked a few times and sighed. “It’s getting late, Cuz. I think I’m going to go have my bath and call it a night.”

 

<< >>

 

The dip in the hot spring after a long day of riding let Ramon sleep very well, but he still woke up sore the next morning. He dragged himself out of bed, washed his face in the basin of water that was in the room and dressed. Ramon could smell coffee and something else, a blending of chocolate and cinnamon he hadn’t smelled in many years. He followed the smells and sat down at the kitchen table. Alicia placed a bowl of chocolate and cinnamon-spiced atole in front of Ramon along with a cup of coffee. “I haven’t had atole since I was a kid,” he said as he dug in. “I’m not going to want to leave.”

 

Fatemeh stepped into the kitchen. “Is there any reason to leave right away?” She offered to help Alicia, who instead told her to sit and then placed a bowl of atole in front of her.

 

“Well, I don’t want to wear out Eduardo and Alicia’s hospitality.”

 

“Don’t worry about that, Búho,” said Eduardo as he entered the kitchen. “I already told you, you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Besides, they’re having a big shindig up at Fort McRae this afternoon.”

 

“What’s the occasion?” Ramon inclined his head.

 

Eduardo leaned forward. “They’re testing the telegraph.”

 

Alicia turned around, wide-eyed. “That’s exciting.”

 

Fatemeh smiled. “It sounds fascinating. I’d like to go.”

 

Ramon turned to his bowl of atole so he wouldn’t have to face her. It didn’t matter whether he was a bodyguard or a suitor. She hadn’t asked what he wanted to do, or even what he advised, and it stung his pride.  He wasn’t certain whether she noticed his silence or if it was just good manners, but she finally asked, “What would you like to do, Ramon?”

 

Ramon took another bite of atole and let the chocolate and cinnamon dance on his tongue a moment. He thought about his saddle-sore backside and how good another dip in the hot spring would feel. Finally he took a sip of coffee to wash down the atole. “Yeah, I’m game for a trip to the fort.”

 

That afternoon, Ramon, Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia rode north and then crossed the river to Fort McRae. Like many forts in the West, it wasn’t purely a military installation. It also served as a trading post and stopping point for travelers on the road between El Paso and Santa Fe. The installation was a series of adobe buildings hunkered behind a wall. Just inside the gate was a dusty courtyard that could be used as an assembly point or parade ground of sorts. At the center of the courtyard, a brass band played. Several of their notes went flat, but no one seemed to mind.

 

Next to the band, several people gathered around a canopy. From the distance, Ramon couldn’t make out what they were looking at, but he guessed that would be the place the telegraph was set up. The arrival of the telegraph meant the fort could send dispatches, wire for supplies, or receive news from around the country. Ramon presumed that after the ceremony, the telegraph would be moved inside one of the buildings.

 

Big pots of steaming food stood at one side of the courtyard. Ramon detected the earthy smell of corn mixed with chile. Perhaps someone was steaming tamales, cooking posole, or both. Despite his breakfast of atole, Ramon’s stomach rumbled.

 

Fatemeh turned toward the other side of the courtyard where several people had games set up. Ramon watched as a boy pitched a ball toward some bottles and missed. Next to the stacked bottles, there was a dartboard set up on the fort’s outer wall. An Indian came up and paid a penny. His first dart hit the bull’s eye and the man running the game produced a string of glass beads. The Indian scowled at the beads, but took them anyway.

 

Ramon heard a round fired from a six-gun. “They must have a shooting range set up. Let’s go see.” The former sheriff wasn’t confident in his ability to throw a ball or a dart, but he knew he could win a prize at a shooting competition.

 

As Ramon tried to follow the sound of gunfire, he tripped and fell flat on his face. Fatemeh helped him to his feet as he cursed about not seeing the thing he fell over. That’s when Ramon realized that what he tripped over was very hard to see–a pair of wires partially buried in the dust. He looked a question at Fatemeh. She shrugged.

 

The former sheriff wasn’t a half-bad tracker, so he turned his attention to the ground and followed the hidden wires to find out where they went. Fatemeh followed. They soon found themselves facing the canopy where the telegraph key was on display.

 

“Maybe the wires you tripped over are how they connected the telegraph to the outside lines,” Fatemeh said.

 

Ramon shook his head and pointed to a pair of wires that ran from the telegraph to a pole just inside the fort’s outer wall. He turned and followed the wires back the other direction. The wires led well away from the main activity and ran parallel to a row of identical adobe structures. Ramon assumed they must be the barracks.

 

Eventually, the wires disappeared under the dirt, but unless they turned, they went to a door that was guarded by two men who looked at once stern and disappointed that they were not taking part in the festivities. A sign on the door read: “Dangerous! Explosives!”

 

Without thinking too much about it, Ramon stepped up to one of the guards. “Hello, I’m Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro County and I’ve just seen something suspicious.” Ramon figured there was no way for the guard to know he was no longer sheriff and his gut told him something was very wrong. The possible danger outweighed any scruples he had about lying. “Is there a reason there would be telegraph wires running into this building?”

 

The guard looked at him dumbfounded. “No, sir,” he said. “No reason that I can think of.”

 

“Do you mind opening the door and letting me have a look inside?”

 

The first guard looked to his companion and they both shrugged. One of the guards stood right next to Ramon while the other opened the door. Inside, as Ramon expected, was a stockpile of dynamite and blasting powder. However, what really surprised him were the kachina dolls stacked all around–one connected to a pair of copper wires that came up from the ground. The other dolls were connected to the first by still more wires.

 

“That doesn’t look normal, does it?” Ramon asked.

 

Both guards shook their heads.

 

Ramon looked at Fatemeh. “I think we better find the guys who installed the telegraph and ask them what this is all about.”

 

They ran back to the telegraph pavilion. A few high-ranking officers and some other men had gathered. Ramon figured those other men must be some of the telegraph crew. He caught his breath and said, “Do you know you’ve got some extra wires coming out of the key?”

 

One of the men, who wasn’t in uniform, looked at Ramon like he was wasting his time. “What extra wires?”

 

The former sheriff stepped forward and lifted the covering from the table where the telegraph key sat. The man knelt down and blinked at the wires. He looked up. “Harvey, there should only be one ground wire,” he said. “Why are there two down here?”

 

“That’s because I changed the wiring, Mr. Hinkley.” The strange Indian had suddenly appeared next to the table. “The truth has been revealed by the kachinas. The invaders keep coming and coming. Now, the time has come to face the consequences.”

 

The man called Mr. Hinkley shook his head. “Alberto, where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you. What are you talking about? Truth? Consequences?”

 

Alberto reached out. “It is time for the consequences.”

 

“Stop him!” Ramon called. “He’s got the telegraph key wired up to the dynamite–some kind of detonator or something.”

 

The soldiers, though confused about everything happening at once, reacted to the former sheriff’s authoritative voice. They grabbed the Indian, but he struggled. Fatemeh whistled and Ramon wondered if she’d seen Eduardo and Alicia and was trying to warn them to get away. Ramon rushed around the table to try to help the soldiers–to calm things down enough so he could explain what was going on.

 

Alberto broke free and pushed the telegraph key. Ramon closed his eyes and winced but nothing happened. When he opened his eyes, he saw a little burrowing owl perched on the table. It had plucked one of the power supply wires off the key and still held it in its mouth. It dropped the wire and flew off.

 

One of the officers summoned more soldiers and Alberto was taken away for questioning. The fort’s commander, Major Johnson, stepped up and introduced himself. Ramon led Major Johnson and Mr. Hinkley back to the dynamite shack to show them what he’d discovered. On the way, Hinkley explained that Alberto Mendez was part of their crew. He’d gone missing the day they arrived at Fort McRae and no one was quite sure what had happened to him.

 

Major Johnson whistled when he saw kachina dolls stacked around the dynamite. “That’s quite a detonator setup he had.”

 

Mr. Hinkley pointed out that another set of wires ran toward the armory.

 

“He could have blown up the entire fort,” said the major.

 

“And himself, too,” Hinkley said. “He must have really gone loony in the head.”

 

Ramon saw that as a good time to make his exit. The soldiers had the evidence they needed and could question Alberto Mendez further. Ramon didn’t want to stick around so they could find out he wasn’t still sheriff of Socorro County.

 

Ramon made his way back to the pavilion, where he found Fatemeh leaning against a nearby building.

 

“Thanks for calling that little hooty owl,” he said. “He saved all of our lives.”

 

“What makes you think I can summon owls?” she asked with a cagey smile.

 

Ramon took her hands in his and brought her close.

 

Just then, Eduardo showed up. “Where have you two been? I’ve been looking all over for you! One of the vendors has empanadas!”

 

Ramon ignored him and kissed Fatemeh anyway.

 

<< >>

 

Over the millennia, Legion had known a few creatures that could sense the communications among the component nanites of his swarm. This was the first time he’d seen such a creature react so badly to the data and pictures the nanites sent.

 

Several of his component parts argued he should have terminated connection to avoid interference. However, most of his components were fascinated by the being’s way of relating the physical world to an unseen spiritual realm. Legion sensed these humans did hold answers to the meaning of life that had eluded him before. Moreover, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility the human called Alberto Mendez had simply been unstable. Observing the humans called Fatemeh Karimi and Ramon Morales further bolstered his supposition more rational humans existed.

 

Legion decided he would try to communicate with another human before giving up on the species. Before making the attempt, he would spend time observing the humans and their activities from a distance to gain more clues about their behavior. At the very least, these humans weren’t boring.

 

 

So! There you have it, an excellent introduction to the series and if you would like to hear more I do very much suggest that you procure yourself a copy…

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Or find out more about the series and David’s writing here:  http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least preparing for a parasol duel with a Lambethian Rat Queen ….  Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…