I’m excited to have FEY MATTER be a part of this 60+ book and eReader giveaway! The contest is open until July 8th!
Greetings! I’m thrilled to announce OAK SEER, book II of the Fey Matter Gaslamp fantasy series that started with THE LAIRD OF DUNCAIRN, is now for sale!
In this second installment, Effie must overcome her fears as she’s thrust once more into the spotlight–seen as a hero by some and a traitor to fey-kind by others. And if greedy lords and scheming politicians weren’t enough, a madman is on the loose killing fey without regard, while blood-thirsty cults and armed mobs prowl the city streets.
AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
Effie peered through the window of the steam carriage as the village of Langmire came into view. The buildings—crofters’ homes mostly—sagged like slump-backed crones. Grey smoke wafted from blackened chimneys sprouting from thatched roofs. Someone baked fresh bread. She caught it on the wind beneath a perfume of moldy timbers, damp leaves, and rusting iron, all remnants of the heavy spring rains that had flooded the River Teith and left the roads full of boggy ruts and bared stone.
Eager for a warm hearth and a cup of honeyed tea, she licked her parched lips. She’d travelled a full day to reach the village. She’d come because Conall Murray had begged her, because without her an innocent woman would hang.
The thought drew her attention to the heart of the village where a stout oak grew. Muckle Ben, the locals called it, Effie had once heard. They’d carved a Green Man into its bark long ago, during a time when such things held power. Now banners pronouncing some celebration hung from its limbs more often than not, but none remained there currently. Its trunk stood as somber as an undertaker. Chickens picked at worms in the upturned soil near its roots, and a lone hound howled at the rustling leaves as the branches creaked above.
Fergus Alpin hacked into his handkerchief, a wet, miserable noise she’d had to contend with the entire journey from Stirling. The Fey Finder sat across from her in the steam carriage’s tight compartment. His wrinkled face was spotted and thin, and he kept tugging his coat tighter about his frail bones. She tried to avoid his gaze, but nothing adorned the compartment for her to study, and she could only stare out the window for so long before feeling rude.
“I’ll do the speaking,” the man said. “You will remain silent.” The quiver at his lip turned into another fit of hacking, yet she still heard his mumbling. “Send a fey to catch a fey, and one with paps at that!”
The steam carriage rocked and bounced, splashing through the muddy road as if fording a stony riverbed. Effie braced herself against the hard, worn benches, the padding flattened from years of service. A lightly stained wood paneling formed the carriage’s walls, floor, and roof. The boiler at its rear warmed the compartment, but at the expense of the coal smoke that clouded the air.
She shifted to relieve her sore hips. Her eyes narrowed. “The Fey Finder General bade me accompany you, Mr. Alpin, and not so I would stand and do nothing.” She tried to keep the bite from her tongue.
Of Fey Finders, Alpin was a journeyman and not a zealot. At least there was that. He sought not to be bothered rather than possessing the fiery hatred common to his profession.
She pressed her palms into the cushion on either side of her, to steady herself. It still marveled her she could sit so close to a Sniffer, a man the crown tasked with hunting down malevolent fey. Malevolent, as if they knew what the word meant. They hunted all with fey blood, and as a Sithling—one with the ancient blood of the Daoine Sith coursing through her—that included her. But things had changed after Caldwell House, and she had a need to trust where once she dared not. The fierce battle there had forced the lords of the empire to open their eyes. They could not rest on centuries of intolerance any longer. They had to welcome the fey into society’s ranks and accept a permanent treaty. They had witnessed the fate awaiting them if they did not.
Effie’s heart warmed. If the lords of the empire could learn to trust, so could she, and perhaps the Scottish fey would live freely for the first time in millennia.
Alpin’s jaw worked. He’d likely never had someone with paps stand up to him. Most Scots of either gender avoided Sniffers as if they carried the plague. “Look here, Miss Effie,” he snapped. “I’ll not have it. You may dine with the likes of lords, but you’re not in some grand procession here. I know the hearts of these gentle folk better than you ever will, and I will not banter with the mind of a devious hag.”
“When you see one, I’m sure,” said Effie, not knowing whether the man had meant her or the poor Spae Wife they’d come to question.
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Doing a happy dance, as the content edits of OAK SEER, book II of the Fey Matter series, are complete! Now, onward to copyediting …and a cover reveal coming soon!
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I had a great time meeting new fans at the Marion County Fair this past weekend. Thanks for everyone’s support and enthusiasm for THE LAIRD OF DUNCAIRN!
The assassin appeared at her side. He held the crossbar meant to wedge the doors in place, but instead, he heaved the beam at the newcomers. It clattered along the floor at their feet, causing them to slow and jump out of the way.
Lucendes reached into his shirt and plucked out the totem, handing it to her. As Saja felt the cool glass, a shiver went up her arms. The last time she’d seen Tarim, he’d run a hand through her hair as they strolled through the potters bazaar. Would he remember?
“Do it now!” Lucendes said. “As Khouri instructed!”
Saja glanced up. The thugs were almost on top of them. Raising the totem, she hurled it at their feet. She found her voice and shouted, “Tarim, son of Yusri!” The totem shattered, and a flash of white light seared Saja’s eyes, blinding her.
She stumbled backward into the doors. Dark shadows grew solid as her vision returned. All but one.
“Tarim,” she whispered. He was clothed in the fine vest and shirt of one of the Kitame’s guard, with a silk sash of blue wrapped around his waist. Hanging from a belt was a curved sword.
He wasn’t the boy from Saja’s dreams. That Tarim was more solid, somehow more real. The Tarim before her was blurred, as if the details of his face—the glint of his eyes and ridge of his cheeks—weren’t fully formed. Or perhaps they were just hidden from this world.
The augurwraith studied the foyer, taking in the minions of the Horned Man, who’d stopped in horror of their new adversary. It shifted its gaze to Lucendes, and finally, to Saja. Joy swelled in her chest, then dwindled to nothingness.
No recognition showed in its features.
The creature drew its giant blade and snarled. One of the thugs dropped his stave and ran. The augurwraith turned and sprang forward, cleaving a path through the other men. Where its sword met flesh, great rents blossomed. Its movement was a drifting mist, its already blurred features seeming to dissolve and reform with each step.
A man with a short sword hacked at the creature’s back, but the steel slid through the augurwraith like a stick through a spider web, pulling tendrils of mist in its wake. The creature slashed low, and the man clutched at sundered legs as he fell.
The remaining minions bolted for the far reaches of the room, where a pair of doors and a corridor led off to other parts of the storehouse. The augurwraith pursued them, its whirling blade a dark streak of shadow.
Saja trembled, not quite comprehending what she saw. Tarim. And the creature. Existing together, yet not the same. They couldn’t be. She took in the butchery, and something steeled within her gut. No, she thought. This couldn’t be how she remembered him. With a determined step, she strode forward.
Across the foyer, the augurwraith disappeared into the corridor. Saja quickened her stride. She’d reached halfway to the edge of the room, when Lucendes grabbed her shoulders.
“Let it be,” he said. Saja tried to shrug him off, but his grip tightened.
“I have to see him,” she said, “the real Tarim. My Tarim.” She squirmed in his embrace, straining against his wiry arms. Her hand found the knife at her belt, and she drove its butt into his gut.
He shuffled back, releasing her, and they glared at one another. Lucendes’ face was a tense mask, his skin pulled tight around his eyes and lips. Saja knew if he lunged with his dagger, she would die.
But the assassin relaxed and shook his head. “It is foolish to hope such things,” was all he said.
Saja ran. Bodies lined the corridor, leaving a trail easy to follow. She rounded a corner and hurried down a flight of stairs, as a scream echoed from below. Her feet hit dirt, and she leapt toward an open door just as a stout man with graying locks burst through from the other side.
Saja grunted as they collided, and the wind was knocked from her lungs. She was thrown back and landed hard on her rump. The man cursed, staring down at where her knife stuck from his chest. His knees buckled, and he dropped.
Saja blinked, but she had no time to dwell upon what she’d done. Scrambling to her feet, she padded around the man and peered through the door. The augurwraith stood within, stalking a man who already clutched at a flayed hand. Several tables lay overturned and broken, and in the far corner, a trapdoor rested open against the wall.
But it was the form huddled against the near wall that halted Saja’s breath. Her father lay with nothing but a soiled cloth wrapped about his waist. Purple welts covered his body, and caked blood matted in his hair.
She rushed to his side, and the movement brought the creature spinning toward her, sword raised high.
“No!” she roared. “You are Tarim, son of Yusri, not this creature!” Fury burned within her chest. At her father and the guild. At Lucendes and the thieves of Kuthahaar. And at Tarim. The apprentice had wounded her deepest of all. She’d thought to tell him of how much she loved him, but now as she stood before him, she felt only the anger of betrayal.
“You could’ve run,” she said. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and her body shivered. “We could’ve hid from my father and found a life together. But you abandoned me and ripped that life away.”
The augurwraith’s face remained hard, but it lowered its blade. “You are wrong, Saja, daughter of Sukahn,” it said.
A voice gasped in wonder. “Tarim, I dared not truly believe.” Saja’s father gawked at his former apprentice, then racking sobs overtook him. “What have I done?” he cried.
“You did what you thought best,” said Tarim. He turned his gaze to Saja. “As did I, no matter how much it hurt you.” He paused, and the silence seemed to suck the air from the room. “What is done, is done. You must find a way without me.”
“Is that all?” she asked, though she knew Tarim’s words for truth. He’d tried to save her and her father the best way he could, the only way left to an apprentice bound to a penniless drunkard of a master.
The apprentice shimmered as if its shadowy form was suddenly taken by a gust of wind. “Do not seek me again. It only brings me pain.” Tarim’s face grew sorrowful, then began to fade.
As the augurwraith dissipated, Saja felt a void open within her. A great hunk of her old life ripped away, and with it went the false hope she’d tucked deep in her heart, one she’d never admitted existed, even to herself. The hope Tarim would return to her. In that void, Saja realized she would need to forge resolve and strength. He’d given his life for her future, and she meant not to squander that gift. She’d rescued her father once but would need to do so again. She loved him still and would not abandon him the way he’d abandoned her.
Across the room, the remaining minion of the Horned Man stared at Saja in bewilderment, clutching his bloodied hand. “Run, fool! To the Under!” barked Lucendes. The man jumped at the assassin’s command and scampered to the trapdoor, disappearing down a hole in the floor.
“Saja,” said her father, shoulders jerking as he continued to sob. “I ruined us. Who will trade with me now?”
“Don’t worry, papa,” she replied. She helped him to his feet, then grinned at Lucendes. “I am your new apprentice, and I believe the Tanner’s Guild will soon be sending you more work than you can handle. And at a very favorable price.”
The assassin laughed. “Perhaps,” he said. “The Blessed One does take care of his own.”
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer
Despite the sun’s absence, the day’s heat continued to infest the city as if some great hearthstone burned unseen. Saja and Lucendes strode through the alleys of the Tanner’s District, guided by the light of the moon. The streets still held a host of denizens, but the peddlers had gone home and the craft shops had closed. The only hint of commerce remaining came from the jovial chatter spilling from the district’s alehouses, and on occasion, from the moans of pleasure emanating from the shadows.
It’d taken Khouri the afternoon to prepare the summoning totem—a lock of Saja’s hair tied around a garnet-encrusted glass medallion, steeped in an unction of oils—and Lucendes had used the time to set his plan in motion. He’d returned to the augur’s house wearing a loose robe of green over his shirt and trousers. It hid the half-dozen daggers he now carried. To Saja, he’d given a small knife, and its weight at her hip felt strange, like an unwanted reminder of the bond between them.
As they crossed a star-shaped plaza at the convergence of several streets, three men in similar green robes joined them. Saja regarded the men, then peered into the shadows. “Only three?” she asked.
“Our strike needs to be fast,” said Lucendes. “Too much commotion and the Seers will send the city guard. They watch the city from above, like falcons circling, but with Magi enhanced eyes. It is how the Sultan keeps his peace.” He pulled his lips tight, not quite the grin he wore earlier in the day. “But don’t worry, we have all the strength we need.” Saja thought of the totem he’d tucked beneath his shirt, and nodded.
The assassins marched on in silence, each knowing what was expected of them. Saja’s heart battered her ribs so hard, she thought they’d shatter. For her sake, she hoped these other men were as good as Lucendes. She concentrated on taking deep breaths, trying to keep her mind from the bloodletting to come.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long. Two of the assassins peeled off from the group as soon they turned down a narrow street lined with sandstone buildings. They quickly disappeared into the darkness, and when Saja stared after them, Lucendes slapped her rump.
She spun on him, raising a hand to strike him back. But he caught her wrist and wrapped his other arm around her shoulder. Laughing loudly, he leaned into her as if they were an amorous couple returning from an evening out. The remaining assassin dropped back, giving them space.
Saja fumed but went along with the ruse. Lucendes led them down the street in a slow procession, chortling and babbling nonsense. He tapped at Saja’s shoulder as they went, and at first she thought he was trying to get her attention. But then she realized: he’s counting!
They approached a storehouse flanked by a pair of taller buildings. In its center, a pair of double doors stood open, but guarded by a half-dozen men.
Lucendes stopped tapping.
“The lookouts are dead,” he said. “Now it is our turn.” He strode toward the guards, leaving Saja behind. The other assassin joined him, pulling two long knives from his robe. The men at the door started and fell into a line behind a brawny thug. Some of those in back glanced warily up and down the street, but the leader glared at Lucendes.
“The Blessed One sends his greetings,” said the assassin.
The thug spat. He raised a hand, as if to make a threatening gesture. Instead, he gurgled and dropped to his knees, a dagger sprouting from his throat.
Lucendes and his companion rushed forward, blades flashing silver in the night. The minions of the Horned Man recovered from their shock and met the assassins with cudgels and staves.
Wood cracked against stone and metal whooshed through the air. Two of the guards fell before Lucendes, as he spun and stuck with his dancer’s grace. He was not a snake, Saja thought, watching him, he was some sly cat of the desert.
He flung a dagger at another of the guards, catching the man in the thigh, then turned toward Saja. “Come!” he barked.
Saja clamped her teeth together, to keep her gut from spewing out, and hurried forward. By the time she’d reached him, he’d swung shut one of the doors and was pushing hard against the other. His companion battled against the remaining guards, slashing and hacking like a madman, forcing them into the street.
“Get inside,” said Lucendes. Saja ducked into a massive foyer lit by a pair of braziers. Footsteps clapped across the tile floor from the far side, where a score of the Horned Man’s thugs raced toward them.
Lucendes slammed the door shut behind Saja. She opened her mouth to scream, but it’d long since gone dry. “Lucendes,” was all she was able to gasp.
…to be continued
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer