@ShadowhunterBooks posed some questions to me this weekend via Twitter that I knew I couldn’t answer in 140 characters, so I decided it was timer to return to much much-neglected blog.
The first question was whether witches existed in my Ravensblood series and how they differed from mages. Witches, AKA Wiccans, do exist in the alternate-universe world I’ve created for that urban fantasy series. Those familiar with the series will recall that I have imagined three coexisting and co-mingling communities: Art, Craft, and Mundane. Mundanes have either no aptitude for or interest in magic. Art is High Magic, magic for magic’s sake, and tends to be flashier and in some senses more powerful, and its practitioners are mages. Craft encompasses more spiritual, often more nature-based magical traditions. Craft would include Wiccans, shamanic practitioners, and (more rarely) certain more mystical sects of Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions. Mother Crone is a Wiccan, and she and other Craft practitioners helped hide Raven while he was clearing his name during the second book of the series. Art and Craft seldom mix, although there have been instances of the two being blended, and we will see that happen again in later books in the series.
@ShadowhunterBooks also asked for advice on how to incorporated magical beings and pirates into fiction written in a contemporary setting. You see a lot of examples of different approaches to adding in magical beings in urban fantasy and paranormal novels. It’s really not too tricky. You just need to decide what the parameters are during your world-building stage and make certain that you stay consistent. Some questions to ask yourself: Are your magical beings widely known to exist, or are most humans completely unaware? If the former, is this a recent development (as in Charlaine Harris’s vampire novels), or have people always known (as in my Werewolves and Gaslight series—okay, Victorian and not contemporary but the same principle)? Each choice you make has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Pirates are a bit trickier. I’m assuming you want romantic, swashbuckling pirates a la Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp, not modern Somali cutthroats. Since the swashbuckler is so necessarily tied to a certain era and technology level, you have your work cut out for you. Some possibilities that spring to mind: Time-travel of one form or another? Ghost pirates that exist to modern-day? Maybe members of a theatrical troupe that are magically turned into their roles? Immortal former swashbucklers now playing a pirate role at a Renn Faire? Beings from another world or dimension that have a pirate obsession and take cosplay too far?
I’m curious to see what @ShadowhunterBooks comes up with. I do love my pirates.
Joyous Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah—whatever you celebrate, have a good one.
It’s been a little less than half a year since I dig a blog post (confession time: I forgot my password). In that time, A Hunt by Moonlight (first novel in the new Werewolves and Gaslight series) spent some time in the top 100 for steampunk on Amazon, We Don’t Serve Your Kind (an old release, but one of my favorites) hit the #2 spot for science fiction and fantasy short reads during a special promotion week, and Ravensblood spent some time in the Featured Author section at Powell’s City of Books.
I’ve been working on the latest book in the Ravensblood universe. I’m a bit behind due to some Real World challenges, but hopefully you can look for Raven’s Vow sometime this spring and the next Werewolves and Gaslight book in the autumn.
Meantime, for any of you who have not yet picked up Ravensblood for Kindle, it’s free on Amazon from now through Christmas. Raven’s Wing and Raven’s Heart are on sale for .99 during that period. Tell all your friends!
The biggest news is that A Hunt by Moonlight, the first book in my Werewolves and Gaslight mystery series witl be available on Amazon on August 27. Preorder now!
About the book:
Something more deadly than werewolves is stalking the gaslit streets of London. Inspector Royston Jones, unacknowledged bastard of a high-born family, is determined to track the killer before more young women fall to his knife. But his investigation puts him in the way of a lord who is a clandestine werewolf and the man’s fiancée , a woman alchemist with attitude and a secret of her own. Will they destroy Royston to protect their covert identities, or will they join with him to hunt the hunter?
Book Launch Party!
For local fans, or anyone in the mood for a road trip, there will be a Victorian Tea and Book Launch.
There will be live music by Otter Crossing Music and refreshments catered by the amazing Ebon Morse. I will be reading from the new novel and signing any of my books. (There will, of course, be books for sale!) No cover. (There will be an extra teapot for strictly optional cash donations to cover food costs.)
Free raffle for door prizes.
Period costumes admired but not required!
I would love to see you there!
Join the Thunderclap to support the launch!
OK, this has got to be the easiest, most painless way ever to support an author, but it can make *such* a difference! I’m sure most of you have heard me prattling on about my upcoming release.
A Hunt by Moonlight is the first novel of my new Werewolves and Gaslight mystery series. My first series (the ongoing Ravensblood urban fantasy series) and my two stand-alone novels have won awards and gotten great reviews and slowly increasing sales, but my editor thinks A Hunt By Moonlight could be my breakout novel. . .if I can get those all-important early sales.
No money involved, and you don’t even have to write your own tweet or remember when to post it! Sign up, and on release day Thunderclap will send out the tweet, Facebook and/or Tumblr message for you.
The catch is, Thunderclap won’t send out any tweets at all unless at least 100 people sign up. Please consider giving this novel a howl of support!
Just click below any time between now and launch day to
Raffle for Launch-day purchasers!
Since first-day sales are so important to Amazon rankings, I am running a special raffle for people who purchase through Amazon on launch day(8/27) (or who have pre-ordered). Simply send me a screen capture of your Amazon purchase (or, if you prefer, forward your purchase confirmation email) to mail(at)ShawnaReppert.com
Winner will receive his/her choice of a signed copy of any of my novels except The Stolen Luck (because that one is not available in paperback. Although it you would prefer that one in Kindle or audio format, I can do that, too. I’m flexible.)
Void where prohibited; will ship within the US only unless winner agrees to pay shipping costs.
Global Ebook Award success!!!
My other bit of news, second only to the launch of the new series: I am pleased and proud to announce that Raven’s Heart won a gold medal in the Global Ebook awards in the category of contemporary fantasy and Where Light Meets Shadow won a silver!
I ran this originally as part of last year’s Here Be Magic Valentine’s Day celebration. But for those of you who missed it (or who want to read it again and forgot to bookmark it), this is the letter that Raven never sent from Australia during the events of Raven’s Wing.
My dearest Cassandra,
I never thought it possible to miss someone so much that it became a physical pain. It is, perhaps, one of the reasons I yielded when you refused to renounce me, though I know I could drive you away if I truly wanted to. The truth is, I could not bear it, even though it is in your best interests. I love you, and in that love I am far more selfish than ever I was in my days as a soulless dark mage.
I love you. Though I do not say it often, I trust that you know me well enough to know that it is simple truth. Even though I will never post this letter, with its ridiculous, maudlin sentiment.
I know that you have not given up on a life together, and your hope keeps me sane even when I cannot share it.
If I do not speak the words, it is only because I find them inadequate.
So excited! The third book in my award-winning Raven’s Heart series is launching Saturday, 2/6! And there’s going to be not one , but two
book launch parties!
The live party will be at Fanno Creek Brewpub because we all had such a great time there on the last two launches. (Note the time change. The party will be from 7-9 rather than 6-8).
Details of live event: Saturday, February 6, from 7-9 PM
Fanno Creek Brew Pub 12562 SW Main St, Tigard, Oregon 97223
The last two were so much fun. we’re doing another one! Local author Shawna Reppert will be reading from Raven’s Heart, the newest novel in her award-winning Ravensblood series! Urban fantasy set in an alternate-universe version of the Pacific Northwest!
Book signing! Meet the author! Free raffle for great door prizes! Plus live Irish trad/classical fusion tunes from Otter Crossing Music!
No-host bar and food. Fanno Creek is once again giving us the use of their meeting room for free, so please patronize them. (Plus it’s tasty pub food at good prices.)
Note this is a public event, so bring anyone you want and let all your friends know!
Link to the online party: https://www.facebook.com/events/810402112330029/ Again, this is open to all, so spread the word! There will also be fun games and prizes, including copies of my books and books from other fantasy authors, and an Android HD tablet! Amazon best-selling urban fantasy author R L King will be dropping in sometime in the first half of the party. Authors Angela Korra’ti and E. M. Prazeman will keep things lively during the hours when the online party overlaps with the ‘live’ version.
Hope you will join me at one or both events!
And let me tell you, I understand neglect. She says it’ll get better after the book launch. Yeah, like we haven’t all heard that one before!
So, speaking of the book launch, writer-person would probably like me to let you know that you can pre-order Raven’s Heart here. Her editor thinks it may be the best book of the series so far. I have to agree–it has the most ‘screen time’ devoted to a cat of any of her novels. Could be more still, but definitely she’s moving in the right direction. So let’s encourage her with lots of pre-orders, OK?
Here’s some of the stuff she was getting up to while she was neglecting us:
(in no particular order)
A podcast interview and reading from her novel Where Light Meets Shadow.
A fiction snippet from the Ravensblood universe, set just after Ravernsblood and a good bit before Raven’s Wing. Readers get to see the awkward beginning when Raven and Cassandra try to put their relationship back together after mutual betrayals and years of separation, followed by the tumultuous events of the first book.
A Boosting the Signal piece for the Here Be Magic anthology: Raven’s thoughts just before the beginning of Raven’s Song.
With the other 7 authors, talking about the best-selling Here Be Magic anthology.
Interviewed on the blog of fellow author E. M. Prazeman.
And, finally, a slightly updated version of her post on attractive villains, also appearing on the blog of E. M. Prazeman.
So you can see how precious little time she has had for her poor kitty! And then she goes off gallivanting with her musician friends, leaving a poor, unappreciated cat with no company but a laptop.
It’s Boxing Day in Britain, a day for family and celebrations. Celebration, to me, usually means music. So what better day to run a blog on music by a fellow writer whose work I love?
The writer’s soundtrack.
It can be inspiring. It can enhance the writing experience, and if shared with readers, add depth to the world within the book.
Or it can fall as flat as that mix you got from that person who you sort of like but not in that way and oh man, are you not into that kind of music. At all.
Music is powerful, demanding, and an unforgiving medium. So is writing prose, and poetry. They are all different forms with different rules. There are plenty of great songs that have lyrics that barely qualify as poetry, and it’s often lousy poetry at that. There are plenty of incredible poems that will never work as songs, too, though that doesn’t stop some musicians from trying, and often failing, to set them to music. A warning to the wise: if it’s already a wonderful poem, could you really improve it by adding music? If not, leave it the hell alone. Thank you. Do not jazz up my Shakespeare. (Rap might be okay if the Shakespeare is included in very small doses, enhancing rather than forming the foundation of the music, IMHO.)
But I digress (only slightly – we’ll come back to tastes in music).
When I was about nine years old my father told me I needed to pick out an instrument. My first choice (after silently discarding the piano and the harp because I knew they were dreadfully expensive and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be smart enough to learn to manage them) I, for no real reason, felt a strong desire to learn the cello. I think my father was incredibly proud, but he also wanted me to have a fighting chance to be a bit social so he suggested maybe I might want something more portable, like a guitar? I cut the difference and chose the violin.
Ah, youthful innocence. Stringed instruments are hard enough. Sure, pick a fret-free instrument as a nine year old. But, it was the right age to start a difficult instrument. My father purchased a full-sized violin, knowing I’d quickly grow into it, and I began my musical education with my small hand wrapped around the elegant neck of an instrument with a distinguished history and a reputation for driving parents insane.
As a result of many years slaving away, often failing and never practicing enough, I’ve developed an appreciation for hearing the layers and structure in music.
Check this out: stories have layers and structure too.
Layers: there’s the setting, the plot, and the character, and each of these things have layers within them. For example, the setting isn’t just a location, but it’s a mood, a time, and it can be a character in its own right.
In music, there are the various instruments, which are often grouped (rhythm, bass, lead, etc) and there may be lyrics, and harmonies.
Structure: Music is usually written in a key that often sets the mood through the usage of some notes to the exclusion of others, with a rhythm framework often called a meter signature (for example, a waltz is ¾ ‘time’ and most rock is 4/4 time) where the top number represents how many beats there are in a measure, and the bottom number tells a musician what kind of beat note is the one being counted (in both of the examples, it’s the quarter note. For more info, employ your Google-fu!)
Stories also are written in a ‘key’. For example, horror stories are dark and full of menace, suspense, and terror. Writers will set the mood through the usage of certain words and the exclusion of others. They’ll also pace the story to advantage. Some stories linger in rooms and admire the settings and characters, while others race along and barely pause long enough for us to catch our breath. (allegrissimo 6/8 time, anyone?)
A lot of these writing factors are chosen or utilized subconsciously. In my case it must remain unconscious until the work is through its first draft, otherwise I spend way too much time sanding and polishing and way too little time sculpting the shape of the thing. Not only does it take longer, but the final product looks awkward and blocky. Oh hey, there are lots of sculpting and painting comparisons that can be made here, but let’s move on.
When it comes time to edit the work? Oh yeah, then I can start really refining it. Word choice, sentence length, chapter length, themes, harmonies, bridges –
Whoa whoa whoa, some of you may thinking at this point. If you’re going to list a bunch of musical terms you’d better start explaining and get down to the nitty gritty as to how these relate to prose so I can figure all this out, or I’m outta here.
Sorry, I get excited. The musical terms and their equivalents in writing aren’t as important to completely understand as the idea that yes, the two art forms relate, and can inform and enrich each other.
I wish I’d known all that when I started writing. I’d be a lot farther along as a writer today.
If you’re a writer and you use a soundtrack to deepen your writing, or at least to get into the mood of a scene, or you’re a reader who appreciates the music that can enhance a book or a movie-buff who knows that a good score can make or break a movie, you already have some appreciation for the relationship between storytelling and music. Actually, I think it’s more like story-seeing than telling, or better yet story-feeling. Music makes us feel stuff, just like stories make us feel stuff, and paintings make us feel stuff. It’s all about the feels.
And now I find myself back to the beginning, about how some music reaches us and some doesn’t, how I can love the story you find tedious and you can love the story I find cliché and lacking in flavor. Like music, prose is a demanding, unforgiving medium that has great power when it connects with someone who appreciates the style in which it is written and the soul of the musician, er, writer who expresses him or herself through words. Music. Words and music. The hidden music of prose; the silent rhythm of words as they pass through the mind.
Because the number of readers who love a certain kind of prose (X) and the number of readers who love a certain kind of music (Y) might not be the same people and in fact may not overlap very much, it makes the creation of soundtracks for stories complicated and fraught with peril. We knew this at the beginning, and we know this at the end. The writer’s soundtrack. It can fill you with inspiration, or make you cringe and fast forward past that witchy rock band scene in the Harry Potter movie where you really, really wanted it to be good but it wasn’t. Quite. Right. But when it all comes together? You click on play and scenes from Dr. Who flow by in perfect time to “Geronimo” by Sheppard. You get more and more excited and then it comes to the bridge where they sing “I’m just a boy with a broken toy” and you think about the TARDIS and Dr. Who and …
So maybe the next time you listen to music while you read, or write, or watch a movie with a great soundtrack, you can analyze how and why they work together (or don’t work together) for you. You might learn something, and appreciate when it’s done well all the more. And you might even understand that it’s natural for stories and music to go together, because at their core, they’re created using similar components in similar ways.
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Chapter 2 of my upcoming novel Raven’s Heart. Chapter 1 is in a preceding post.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cass saw a light flashing red in the living room. Her message crystal, and red meant urgent. She returned the paper to the table and tapped the crystal to activate it.
“Cass, have you and Raven seen the papers?”
Sherlock, Cass’s boss. Given name Abigail Andrews. Her crisp Anglan accent always became more pronounced when she was stressed. By the sound of it, something big was going down.
“Just now. We haven’t made it much past the headline.”
“It wasn’t Josiah,” she said. “The local Guardians managed to reach him. He thinks it must be the clerk who closed for him Saturday, but they won’t know for sure until the dental records come back.”
Cass breathed a little easier. The news was still horrible, but her job called for a certain objectivity about death. Had the victim been the quiet, little Mundane bookseller who had stood by them through the whole recent debacle with the Archmage, she would have lost that objectivity. As it was, the murder of one of Josiah’s employees in the bookstore where Raven spent so much time hit a little close to home.
“Anyway, the locals asked for you specifically. You and Raven. If this was William or one of his people, there’s a chance Raven might recognize the magical signature from the old days.”
From the old days, when Raven was William’s right hand.
“Raven’s here, too,” Cass said, feeling rather than seeing her lover moving to stand behind her. “Do they have reason to suspect William’s involvement?”
“The corpse was standing behind the counter, posed by stasis magic.”
William’s calling card. Raven swore softly.
“Who’s on the case from the locals?” Cass asked.
Though it made sense to bring Raven in, Guardians were seldom sensible when it came to Raven. Too much history. Nor were they particularly fond of bringing Guardian International Investigations in on what they considered to be their turf. She had not forgotten the time they had called Raven in, only to set him up for an arrest. She swore that would never happen to him again, not if she had anything to do with it.
“Rafe Ramirez,” Sherlock said.
Behind her, Raven let out the breath he’d been holding.
Not too long ago, Ramirez on the case would only have made them worry more. He was, after all, the one who had tried to arrest Raven at the Council building, and for a crime he knew Raven hadn’t committed. But he was one of those rare men who could admit when he’d made a mistake. He and Raven would never be friends, but they’d come to an understanding.
Ramirez was the only one beside the two of them who knew that Raven held the Ravensblood. Knew it because he’d, of his own initiative, smuggled the thing out of the evidence room and given it to Raven. She’d been in the hospital at the time, and Raven hadn’t talked about the circumstances beyond the barest of facts.
He’d also not mentioned the legal bills on his desk, the ones for Ramirez’s defense against corruption charges stemming from the Archmage affair. She knew them both well enough to know that, whatever passed between them, it had not been quid pro quo.
“We’ll be there,” Raven said. “Give me a minute to dress.”
It wouldn’t take him much more than that. While Raven normally tended toward slow, indolent mornings, he could be as quick and efficient as any Guardian when the situation demanded.
They teleported to the scene. Raven spent enough time in the bookstore to take himself to its doors as easily as to his own home, and Cass used him as an anchor to follow.
Rafe stood outside the shop, collar of his fashionably cut black leather jacket turned up against the wind.
“Ravenscroft,” he greeted as Raven approached.
Her lover stiffened for a moment, then smiled with false sweetness. “Raphael.”
Rafe Ramirez hated his full first name as much as Raven hated being addressed by his surname. Ramirez’s eyes narrowed a moment, but then he nodded in rueful acknowledgement of the touché.
Cass shook her head. Boys.
“You know what we have?’ Rafe asked both of them.
“Sherlock briefed us,” Cass said.
“Best get to it, then,” the Guardian said. “It’s pretty grim, but I know you’ve both seen a lot.”
He raised the yellow police tape for them to duck under, then opened the door to the shop.
The bell on the shop door jangled merrily, a sound Raven had heard so many times before. The unmistakable smell of burnt flesh hit him like a wall. Perhaps he should have been prepared for the scent, but nothing could have prepared for his body’s visceral reaction to it. His stomach lurched, and he had to grab a nearby bookshelf for support.
Gods, what was wrong with him? It was hardly his first time faced with a corpse immolated by magic. Times past, he’d been present for the deaths, heard the screams. Had he shown this sort of weakness before William, he’d have been the next victim.
Sympathy came from an unusual place. “It can hit you like that,” Ramirez said from beside him, “when it’s closer to home.”
And that was it, he realized. The juxtaposition of the worst of his old life with a place he associated with the contentment and safety of the new.
He nodded acknowledgement of Ramirez’s statement. Cassandra’s hand was on his arm in mute support.
“All right,” he said after a moment. “Let’s get this bastard.”
Ramirez led him forward, and he saw it. Horribly burned, flesh a mass of charred black and red. Posed by stasis magic behind the counter as if waiting to serve the next customer.
Raven shut down the thought that he might well have bought books from this very clerk on one of those rare days when Josiah had been away from the store. He focused instead on the reason he had been called in. The MO was very much William’s, but another had used it before to throw the Guardians off the track. He closed his eyes and felt for the magical signature. It was one he was well-familiar with.
“Bloody Eric,” he told Cassandra and Ramirez.
William’s cousin, and, with Raven’s defection, probably his right-hand man.
There would be only one reason for them to target a small, independent bookseller in the Nob Hill district. They knew about Josiah’s friendship with him.
“I want the bastard,” Raven ground out.
Cassandra leaned closer. “Can you sense a teleport trail?”
She was right to be discreet. With this much time passed, sensing the teleport trail should have been impossible, even for him. And it would have been—were it not for the Ravensblood.
He closed his eyes, pushed away his rage and his horror, and focused.
“Faintly,” he said when he opened his eyes. “Local, I’m sure of it. It doesn’t have the feel of a long-distance teleport.”
“Can you get a fix on an end point?” Ramirez pressed.
Raven focused harder. Almost he had it. Almost. There—no.
“East of here, is all I can say. No further south, I think. Pearl District, maybe? “
“Is it that the trail has faded,” Cassandra asked, “or is the end-point warded?”
An important question. Bloody Eric might be powerful, even clever in his own, twisted way. But he was also reckless and impatient, and therefore less-skilled with wards. William, however, was paranoid and patient enough when it suited his needs. A master at ward-building.
“Warded, I think.” Raven shook his head in frustration. “Though I can’t swear to it. Not at this distance, and not with so much time passed.”
“All right,” Ramirez said. “That’s more than we had before, anyway.”
“Hopefully, no one will question how you got the information,” Raven said in a low voice.
“I doubt they will,” Ramirez said. “And if they do, I can drop your name without bringing the Ravensblood into it. Honestly, none of us over at the local Guardians really have a good fix on what you can and can’t do on your own.”
“Remember, it’s my neck as well as yours if they find out you have the Ravensblood,” Ramirez said.
True. For that reason, if no other, Raven had to trust his intent. Trusting his analysis was another matter.
He looked over to Cassandra, who shrugged. “It’s as safe as anything in our world.”
With nothing more to be done, Raven returned with Cassandra to their home. Breakfast no longer seemed appetizing. He borrowed the cell phone Cassandra kept for work to try to reach Josiah—Raven hated the things, but his of course Mundane friend could not use a message crystal. Chuckie, Cassandra’s work partner, had taught him how to use one during that debacle with the Archmage, and he had reluctantly used the skill a time or two since that crisis had resolved.
There was no answer. Josiah was either too busy, or too distraught to answer the phone. The book store was a small operation, and as Josiah had never married and had no children, his employees were like family to him.
Raven tried to recall who worked there, the polite young people who took his money and bagged his purchases when Josiah wasn’t about. There was the one with the goatee, the one with the earring, and the one with the ponytail. He didn’t even know their names, wasn’t sure which one of them had been killed. If he had been Cassandra or Chuckie, he would doubtless know their names, their favorite colors, and the names of their pets.
At his feet, Nuisance mewed and bit at his pants leg, demanding attention. With a sigh, he scooped her up and sat down with her, holding her against his chest to feel the rumble of her purr.
Cassandra had put water on to boil and was getting the tea things out. A behavior she had learned from her aunt Ana; when all else fails, make tea.
“I was so relieved when I found out it wasn’t Josiah,” he said, stroking a thumb over the kitten’s fur. “Does that make me a bad person?”
Cassandra left off fussing with tea to turn and give him her full attention. “Why would it?”
“Someone is dead. Someone who doubtless had friends and loved ones. Does it make it any better that it’s not my friend?”
“No, not better.” Cass came to stand behind him, and started rubbing his shoulders. “But it’s natural to be glad that the ones closest to us are safe.”
Watching Nuisance trying to burrow her nose into Raven’s chest, Cass reflected how much her lover had changed. Once, such a question would never have crossed his mind, let alone troubled it.
“You realize,” Raven said in that carefully controlled voice that meant that he was hiding emotion he wasn’t ready to admit to, “That the targeting of Josiah’s shop was unlikely to be coincidence.”
She wished she could spout some reassuring nonsense, but she was a Guardian, and he would not respect her for pretending to be stupid. “I know.” She ached for him, wishing she could take at least some of the pain away.
He took a deep breath, and then another. “Josiah and his employees are Mundanes. They have no defense against magical attack. I should have realized. . .I never thought that by befriending Josiah, I was putting him and his staff in danger.”
It was Josiah who had befriended Raven, mostly by inching up to him sideways so he hadn’t seen it coming. She would always love the bookseller for that.
The sight of the store clerk’s charred body, the stench of burned flesh, had brought to the front of her mind too-vivid memories of finding Johnny Campos’s burned body on the porch, and the smell that seemed to linger for days.
She was so damned sick of innocent people dying! With Bloody Eric behind it, and most likely William as well, the body count would continue to rise until the bastards were stopped.
Later that afternoon, Josiah rang her cell, returning Raven’s call. The bookseller’s voice sounded thick, as though he had been crying. After offering her own condolences, she handed the phone to Raven. Though she could only hear his end of the conversation, she could guess the whole of it, Josiah accepting Raven’s condolences and assuring him that he was not to blame. Insisting that their friendship would not end over this.
Before the conversation had ended, the message crystal flashed urgent red. Her boss, Sherlock, calling her and Raven into a roundtable meeting on the renewed hunt for Bloody Eric and William. Though it was officially her day off, she expected the call. Likely they had given her that few hours’ respite only because she had been working the conference all last week.
No matter, she wanted the bastards; if only her body would allow her to go without sleep or food entirely until they were jailed or dead, she would do so gladly.
By the look in Raven’s eye and the set of his jaw, he felt the same.
They faded in just outside the teleportation barrier outside the offices of GII. As they strode through the lobby, seasoned agents who had survived countless firefights saw Raven’s expression and backed away, no doubt thanking the gods that he was now on their side. She took the stairs at a jog, Raven just behind her. They didn’t slow until they reached the Cascades Conference Room. It was, in fact, the same conference room they had used the day the theft of the Ravensblood had been discovered. Raven had not been an official consultant then, and the night had ended with him being accused of the theft and fleeing arrest. If he had made the connection, he didn’t show it.
“Cass, Raven, thanks for coming.” Ramirez looked up as they entered. “Ms. Andrews stepped out on another emergency, but she should be back soon.”
Cass wondered how long he would persist in calling Sherlock by her legal name. Ah, but then he’d never seen her boss with her pipe. It really did complete the image begun by the tweed and the Anglan accent.
If the murder had been discovered late last night, Ramirez was running on less rest and less real food than she was, but she didn’t think that was the sole reason for the pallor beneath his golden-tan coloring. That the local Guardians had voluntarily requested the aid of GII meant that they were desperate indeed.
“I’m not sure if you’ve met Brad Donovan, my partner,” Ramirez continued.
Donovan looked in even worse shape although that could be because his orangey-red hair highlighted the grayness of the skin below. His shoulders stiffened when his gaze fell on Raven behind her.
Too bad, friend. He’s on contract with GII. If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.
Ramirez pushed the half-empty Voodoo Doughnuts box her way. She selected one shaped like a voodoo doll, stabbed it with its pretzel stick, and watched the red jelly ooze out before decapitating it in a neat bite. Raven stared at her in vague horror.
“There’s normal ones, too,” she encouraged. “”The lemon crullers are quite good.”
He eyed the box with suspicion. “Thank you, no.” He turned to Ramirez. “Do we have anything more to go on?”
“Not much. The stasis spell used to pose the corpse may keep the magical signature of the magefire from fading, but it makes time of death damned hard to determine, as I’m sure you know.”
Once, that last bit would have been spoken as insinuation, if not outright accusation, but now it was mere fact, one that Raven dipped his head to acknowledge.
She didn’t know how many deaths he had been responsible for in his days as William’s right hand, nor if he had any involvement in the placement of William’s grisly calling cards. Nor did she want to know. Ever.
“Since the clerk was still in the store, and since there was no sign of forced entry, we have to assume the attack came during normal store hours,” Ramirez continued.
“Josiah’s stays open two hours longer than any of the neighboring stores on Friday nights,” Raven said.
“Yes, thank you, I do know how to do preliminary research,” Ramirez snapped.
“Indeed,” Raven said, unruffled. “Go on.”
It was not an apology, but neither was it a counter-attack.
“Given that nobody in the stores on either side reported noticing anything unusual, it most likely happened in those last two hours.”
“Obviously,” Raven drawled.
Cass kicked him under the table, reminding him to behave. “How was the body discovered?”
“Mundane police cruiser was passing through the neighborhood, saw lights on where there shouldn’t be, and went to investigate,” Rafe said. “It’s possible that the original target was the store owner. It was his normal shift, but his clerk wanted the next day off to go to some concert at the Alberta Rose, and so they switched shifts.”
Cass heard the sharp intake of Raven’s breath as he was reminded how close it had been for Josiah.
“Unless, of course, it was purely random,” Donovan put in. “Eric Blanchard was known for random attacks on civilians, particularly Mundane and Craft, during William’s last bid for power.”
“It was not random,” Raven growled. “Josiah is a friend of mine.”
“You have friends?” Donovan cut in.
She’d dealt with his kind of self-righteous twits back before her promotion. Ramirez, bless him, jumped in before Raven could snark back. “Brad, whatever his past, Raven is here as a consultant for GII, and you will either give him the respect he deserves or I will have our captain reassign you for the duration of this case.”
Donovan dropped his gaze. “Yes, sir.”
Nice command tone there; Ramirez brought the pup to heel without raising his voice. Of course, Ramirez had the advantage. His captain would have no doubt offered him a change of partners as soon as they realized the seriousness of the case. Donovan looked young, and was probably green as spring grass. Ramirez, for whatever reason, wanted to keep him on it. Perhaps he saw potential in the young man, or perhaps he was having difficulty with his colleagues. He had been reassigned since the Archmage affair, but of course everyone would know how close he had come to being kicked out of the Guardians altogether. How close he had come to ending up in jail.
She hoped, for Ramirez’s sake, that none of his colleagues knew who had paid his lawyer.
“Do we have anything else?” Cass asked to bring the conversation back on track.
“We asked for footage from any of the surrounding stores that have security cameras,” Rafe said. “We came up with this from the antiques place two doors down.”
He slid a grainy still toward them. Cass reached out and turned it right way ‘round.
“We’re pretty sure the tall one is Eric,” Ramirez said.
Even though the quality was poor, she could make out the elegant, old-fashioned dress, the luxurious curls. What could have been a flaw in the picture was more likely the extensive scarring on the right side of his face from their last encounter.
“I’ve known Eric since we were children,” Raven said. “That’s him.”
Donovan frowned at the casual reference, but Ramirez merely nodded at the expected conformation. “We were hoping you could tell us more about the person with him.”
There was a gangly figure at Eric’s side. A half-step behind, which allowed the camera to catch his face as well. Hard to make out any details, but if she had to guess she’d peg him somewhere between a mature sixteen and a young twenty. With the same curly hair as Eric’s.
She looked up at Raven. “Does Eric have a son?”
“None that he has acknowledged, at least not that I heard. He and I were not exactly close.” He frowned. “It’s possible, though. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Eric was sloppy with contraceptive magic, and if the lady in question was likewise careless. . .It’s possible.”
She wondered if he was thinking about their own unplanned conception, of the life ended before it began when the Archmage’s Hammerhand spell struck her full force. Though they had been careful, there had been extenuating magical circumstances of which they’d been unaware at the time.
“Next question,” Ramirez said. “If Josiah’s Books was targeted because of the owner’s association with you, we need to know who else might be a target.”
It took Raven a moment to realize that Ramirez was asking for a list of his friends. Once, it would have taken a significant and believable threat of force before he allowed such an invasion of his privacy. Once, the list would have been either incredibly short, or non-existent.
“Cass, of course,” he said.
“Of course,” Ramirez agreed.
His tone said don’t treat me like an idiot. Despite the grimness of the conversation, Raven managed a half-smile.
“Sherlock,” he added after a moment’s thought. “But they are less likely to go after either of them, at least until they have run out of easier targets. The same goes for Ana. She taught William’s father a healthy dose of caution in the Mage Wars, and William will not have forgotten.”
Though in other respects, Ana would be a prime target, both as Cassandra’s aunt and as the person responsible for negotiating a pardon for Raven in exchange for his betrayal of William. The thought of Eric picking off the people close to him left him with a sick feeling deep in his gut.
“Other than that, it’s hard to say. It depends on how much William knows about my associates. He’s almost certainly the one behind this, with Eric just his trained attack dog. The fact that Josiah was the first targeted suggests that he is going after personal, not professional contacts, but he might not limit himself. I usually have dinner with Madeline Love at least once when she is performing in town.”
“Madeline Love?” Donovan asked.
“Opera singer,” Raven said. “Famous in the arts and culture community. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of her.”
“Stop baiting my partner.” Ramirez said it in the same tone one might use to request someone to stop leaving the door open as it caused a draft. “Anyone else? Chuckie?”
“Maybe. We’ve worked together a few times. And of course he was instrumental in helping me prove my innocence in the theft of the Ravensblood.”
“Of course.” Ramirez’s eyes darted away.
Raven had no interest in flogging the man for past crimes; Ramirez did a good enough job of it himself. “As to others, he might target other GII members of the Wing who worked with me last year.
“The MacLeans I would worry about more if they weren’t all in Australia. Neither Mick nor his boys are easy targets, not by a long shot, but I’m not sure William would know that. However, I doubt William and Eric are going to travel half-way around the world to prove their point.
“Then there are any number of agents of GII I’ve worked with. It might be easier to get the list from Sherlock than rely on my memory. Generally, I am more interested in solving the puzzle than paying attention to the people around me.”
“Why does that nor surprise me?” Donovan sniped.
Raven merely smiled as though he had been complimented, deliberately baiting the man. “Then there’s the handful of agents from the pub nights Chuckie finally dragged me to.”
“Pub nights?” Ramirez raised an eyebrow, clearly amused.
“Yes, well.” Now it was his turn to look away. “There were only the two times. Three maybe. Because Chuckie insisted.”
And because he could not deny his debt to the annoyingly cheerful geek mage that Cassandra had somehow managed to end up with as a partner. And, because Chuckie did grow on one, though Raven would die before he admitted it.
Ramirez barely stifled a chuckle. “I’m just trying to picture you in a pub. Doesn’t GII usually hang out at the Barley Mill?”
“Usually, yes. If I am to accompany them, however, I insist on the Blue Moon. Though both are, I understand, owned by the same brothers, the Blue Moon has a certain understated elegance that I find acceptable.”
Ramirez shook his head. “Corwyn Ravenscroft in a MacMenamin’s pub. Will wonders never cease.”
“I believe we are straying somewhat from the topic,” Raven said.
“Yes, right. I’ll get the list of agents who worked cases you consulted on from Sherlock. And I’m guessing that Chuckie has a better idea of who was at pub nights. Just in case they do decide to go after your drinking buddies.”
Ramirez said the last phrase with particular relish. Raven suspected he would be hearing about this for a long time to come.
“The thing we need to do is find William and Eric,” Raven said. “Rather than sitting around twiddling our thumbs and wondering when they are going to strike next.”
“You have any ideas on how to do that, you just let me know,” Ramirez said.
“I doubt he’s had the time to build the strength and resources for a hidden sanctuary like he had before.” Raven said. “My guess is that he’s holed up somewhere in North Portland. If I only could have managed a clearer trace on Eric’s teleport.” He ground his teeth in frustration.
“I’ll get Chuckie on doing a search for any homes in the area with ownership that might trace back to William or Eric Blanchard. If the Archmage was clever enough to hide his ownership through holding companies and the like, I wouldn’t put it past William.”
“What I want to know,” Ramirez said, pinning Raven with his gaze, “is can you take him?”
Beside him, Donovan made a choked noise of protest.
“The man is too dangerous to hold.” Ramirez answered Donovan’s objection, but his eyes were still on Raven. “We both know it. I doubt anyone on the Joint Council is going to call for an inquiry if William winds up dead rather than in custody
Raven rather doubted it as well. The Pro Tem Archmage had been on the front lines during the Mage Wars and had seen up close and personal what a mage like William could do. Mother Crone, with her Craft practicality, would weigh the greater good over rhetoric and the Mundane President was justly terrified of what would happen to his community if William ever achieved the rule absolute that was his goal.
Or that had been his goal the last time around. He lacked the power base now to achieve such a goal; surely even William in his madness must see that. This time, he must be after pure revenge. Which might make him even more dangerous, since he had little left to lose.
Ramirez leaned forward, deadly serious now. “My question remains. Can you take him?”
On one hand, he had the Ravensblood. And William might still be badly weakened from their last encounter.
On the other hand, William had had several years to recover. And Raven had barely won the last time.
He gave them the only answer he could. “Gods, I hope so. For all our sakes’.”
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Okay, so we still haven’t had the final line edit, but here’s a teaser chapter from the upcoming Raven’s Heart:
Raven’s topcoat hung rakishly open, his black tie untied and the top button of his shirt undone, positively bohemian by his standards. He could have teleported home, but he liked to walk and he didn’t mind the rain. The final aria still ran through his mind, and, since the streets were empty, he gave into temptation, whistling softly as he strode along. Though unseasonably warm for October, the late night air was scented with autumn and the indefinable sense of change it always brought. On a night like this, he could let himself forget the shadow William’s threat had cast over his life.
He’d shared the cab ride back from the opera to Josiah’s modest home, just around the corner from his friend’s book store. Though he still didn’t care for Mundane transport, surviving two plane trips last year had made the short cab ride seem less daunting. He bid the small, silver-haired man a good night, and started on foot back to his ancestral home on Nob Hill.
And then a sound behind him froze his steps, the tune dying on his lips. He focused his will, strengthening his shields, even as he held his breath to listen. Had it been imagination? An echo of his own hard-soled shoes on the pavement?
Or was he being followed by someone who did not want their presence known? He reached out with his mage-sense, and thought he felt the brush of a familiar magical signature, but it was gone before he could identify it, or even be certain it had been there at all. Still something about it stirred memories of his old life, of dark magic and of blood spilled as easily as wine.
He could teleport now, but he’d been looking over his shoulder and starting at shadows ever since William had shown that he was decidedly not dead. He’d done it in his typically over-dramatic style, pinning a threatening note to Raven’s door with the raven-handled knife lost in that last encounter.
The Ravensblood thrummed in an inner pocket of his elegantly-cut waistcoat, reacting to his heightened state of caution. If someone from his old life wanted a confrontation this night, he was tempted to give it to them. Whoever was following him, it probably wasn’t William. Far more his style to send out underlings first, and stay safe and warded in some hidden place.
Unless his thirst for revenge had driven him past caution. William was mercurial at best.
He held his breath, but only heard the soft sounds of rain on the pavement and the street, the muted hum of Mundane cars on a distant highway, and the pounding of his own pulse in his ears.
And then a small, weak cry came from a narrow alleyway between two shops. Raven went to the mouth of the alleyway, but any streetlights it might have had were out, and the alley was as black as William’s soul. While William often left his victims to be discovered by their loved ones, grisly warnings and proof of his power, he had never left a living victim to be found.
The cry came again.
Shadowed doorways lined the alley. Indistinct shapes in the darkness might have been rubbish, might have been delivered crates, but either way were perfect cover for an ambush. Would William, who had known him only in his life as a dark mage, believe the sound of some unknown person in pain to be enough to lure him into a trap?
A softer cry, the sad sort of mewl given to comfort oneself when all hope of succor was gone. It sounded like a child. No, an infant. He’d heard about unwanted newborns from concealed pregnancies left to die in garbage cans. Rare, but it did happen. He had to check, had to be sure. Though not over-sentimental about babies, he had enough deaths on his conscience. If it were a child, he could alert the Guardians, wait for them to arrive and then be done with it.
He crept carefully down the alleyway, senses on full alert. The sounds had stopped.
No. There, ever so faintly. A cry. He moved toward the battered trash can and lifted the lid. The cry came louder, insistent now, as though its source recognized the presence of someone able to help. The contents of the can reeked of rotting food, wet from the rain let in by the poorly-fitting lid. His gorge rose, but he shifted the top layers of trash until he found the source of the cries.
A wet, bedraggled kitten, white with a few irregular splotches of color, maybe tan or gray, impossible to say in the darkness. It looked too small to have gotten where it was on its own. Someone had thrown it out as though it were an unwanted toy. Loathe as he was to reach further into the stinking mess, he doubted the beast could climb the tall sides of the can, even with the lid off.
It mewed at him, mouth opening impossibly wide. Sighing, he reached in, grabbed the thing by the scruff of its neck, and deposited it safely on the ground. He closed the lid and started back down the alley.
The thing mewed again, and he marveled that a single cry could sound both piteous and demanding. He looked down at it. It stared up at him with wide yellow eyes.
“No,” he said firmly. “You’ve gotten everything you’re going to get from me. I’ve never had a pet and I’ve no intention of changing that.”
He started back down the alley. The creature followed him, every so often letting out a small mew, alternating between forlorn and imperious. He quickened pace, and it fell further behind, until, with a small, sad squeak, it stopped.
He went a few more feet. Stopped and turned. The thing sat on the wet pavement, staring at him.
“Can’t you find a car to crawl under?”
It mewed again.
He turned his back, started to walk away. Then ground his teeth, went back, and picked the damned thing up. It was shivering convulsively, so he tucked it under his jacket, a filthy, cold ball of slimy-wet fur and bones that immediately soaked his silk shirt through to his skin. The shirt would likely never be the same again, but the dry cleaner might be able to salvage the jacket.
The rain sluiced down harder, and the kitten squirmed against him. Walking home had lost its appeal. He teleported to just outside his own door—cursing as tiny paws clawed his chest bloody. Apparently the little monster didn’t like being teleported. The shirt was now certainly a loss. He knew from experience how hard it was to get bloodstains out of silk. Sometimes it had even been his own blood.
He still didn’t want an animal in the house. Maybe it could stay on the porch; he’d even go as far as to bring out an old blanket for it to sleep on. But the creature still shivered, and the wind blew rain onto the porch so there was not a single dry spot.
Wait. The lights were on across the street at Mrs. MacCurdy’s house. Mrs. MacCurdy had known him as a child—hence his inability to use her given name, no matter that he was nearly as old now as she’d been back then. She liked him, or at least he inferred that she did from her frequent assertions that he took after his mother, not his father. More to the point, she liked cats.
As he crossed the street, he thought he saw a shadow moving in the darkness beneath the tall spruces that stood sentry over his home. He froze, back twitching at the sense of unseen eyes upon him.
He took a deep breath, forced himself to relax. The wind blew hard enough to send even the giant trees bowing. Of course the shadows moved. If he let himself be reduced into a trembling wreck, William would have won without casting a single spell.
He continued on to his neighbor’s house, but hesitated at her door. It was ridiculously late for a social call. What if she had just fallen asleep with the lights on? But then he heard the piano. Live piano, not a recording. She had stopped once, as though she had forgotten the tune, and then started up again.
He tapped on the door, and the music stopped abruptly. He heard the padding of slippered feet on wood floors, stopping on the other side of the door.
“Who is it?” A trace of fear in her voice—of course there would be. She was a widow all alone, and though this was an upscale neighborhood, bad things happened even in the nicest of places, with or without William’s minions running loose.
He resolved to look into house wards that could be keyed to a Mundane, letting in only those she chose to welcome. “It’s Raven—Corwyn.”
Mrs. MacCurdy was one of only two people who insisted on using his given name.
“Corwyn, sweetie, come in.” She opened the door to him with a smile, this fragile old woman in a patterned house dress that would have been fashionable in the fifties. “Were you not able to sleep, either? And with Cassandra out of town. Come into the kitchen, I’ll make us some tea, and there’s fresh scones. And then you can help me figure out the piece I’ve been working on. I swear my piano likes you better.”
Raven smiled at the anthropomorphism. “It is only that I have a better reach. And thank you, no, I can’t stay.” He wanted to be out of his filthy, wet clothes and into a warm shower.
He explained the night’s adventure, and how he’d come to have a kitten beneath his dinner jacket, and therefore why he had turned up on her doorstep at such an odd hour.
She shook her head. “Brahms and Mozart are quite territorial. They’d never accept another cat into the house.”
It took him a moment to remember that Brahms and Mozart were cats. Damn. Looks like he was stuck keeping the animal in the house overnight.
Inspiration struck. “Do you have one of those plastic cages? The kind they use to transport animals? I suppose I’ll need to take the thing into a shelter tomorrow.”
Because he’d be damned before he tried to teleport with the vicious little monster anywhere near his person. And surely it wouldn’t do any harm to leave the thing in the crate overnight. His drapes and the antique Persian rugs would be safe.
“Shelters are all full up, sweetie. I doubt you’ll find one with room.”
Why, oh why, hadn’t he just kept on going when he heard the cry, like the dark mage most of Three Communities thought him to be? Or left it at rescuing the thing from the garbage can? Surely he wasn’t morally obligated to take in every stray he encountered.
“The city has a shelter, doesn’t it? Run by Animal Control, or some such. Tax money, and gods know I’ve paid enough in.”
“The pound’s going to be full, too. They’ll take the poor thing off your hands, of course. Better than having it starve to death on the streets. But unless it’s exceptionally cute, odds are it’ll end up euthanized.”
The kitten, now snuggled against him, face burrowed into the crook of his arm and purring loudly, was not exceptionally cute. Or even cute at all, to be honest. Not much of a cat person, he still could think of many, many cats he’d seen on the street or in advertising with more aesthetic appeal.
Mrs. MacCurdy sent him home with a paper bag full of scones for his breakfast. And enough cat food to get through until the stores opened in the morning so he could buy some more. Also a tray and some litter, and he didn’t even want to think about that. As well as instructions she’d printed off the internet on the raising of kittens.
He should have teleported home directly from Josiah’s door.
Cass dropped her bags inside the door, tired and glad to be home. She’d taken the first flight out of Sea-Tac and caught a Mundane cab from the airport—too far to teleport with a week’s baggage if she had another choice, especially after getting up way too early to check out of the hotel and catch her flight. She could have taken a later plane, but while she liked doing training, with William loose the atmosphere had been tense and the week focused. She missed home and Raven.
Strange to think of this centuries-old Georgian mansion as home. It showed more the taste of the Ravenscroft ancestors than her own. Not that she didn’t admire the Victorian furniture that looked like it belonged in a museum. If the color of the wallpaper was a bit more staid than she might have chosen, it suited the house, and the house suited Raven. Because she loved him, she also loved it. Even if she privately thought that a deep burgundy on the walls would suit the gold velvet just as well as the pale cream, and make the sitting room look less like a movie set.
Though it was nearly noon, she found the paper on the porch and Raven at the breakfast table. Her lover had never been one for early mornings. He wore a deep blue velvet smoking jacket that would have looked utterly ridiculous on most men, but seemed perfectly right on Raven, especially here in the breakfast room of the centuries-old Georgian mansion that his ancestors had built. The color complimented his black hair and dark eyes, and the style revealed a bare chest beneath. There was so much to her lover—keen intelligence, dry humor, complicated and difficult past—that it was easy to forget that he was also a stunningly beautiful man.
She paused for a moment in the doorway, admiring his cheekbones and the strong, raptor-like nose that gave his face character and kept it from the realm of too-pretty. He noticed her scrutiny and looked up, asking with his eyes what she was studying. Even as she smiled and shook her head, she started to consider how best to persuade him back to bed and whether or not she would let him finish his breakfast first.
As she crossed the room to kiss him hello, something small and white skittered across the floor, and she jumped back with a start.
“How did a cat get in—oh,” she finished, looking down the hall to the kitchen, from where the kitten had come. Two small stainless-steel bowls lined up neatly next to the evercool box, one containing water, the other dried cat food.
“This is sudden,” she ventured, sitting across from him at the table and stealing a slice of his toast. “I never knew you wanted a pet. What’s its name?”
“Nuisance,” he said without looking up from buttering the remaining slice of toast.
“I brought the paper in,” she said, handing it to him before scooping up the kitten scaling her jeans and settling it on her lap.
As he unfolded the paper, she started to get acquainted with the kitten. It was an odd little thing, with mismatched irregular blotches of color on its coat and a strange, angular face. Possibly a Siamese had had something to do with its genetics way back, but it lacked any semblance of Siamese elegance. Funny, she would have imagined him with a sleek purebred, a Burmese or a Bombay, if she imagined him with any kind of cat at all.
There was more to the story, there had to be, but she knew from experience that patience would bring it out soonest. Undoubtedly, the tale would be worth the wait.
Raven dropped both the paper and his toast. “Oh, gods.” He’d gone white.
Cold washed over her. “What is it?”
Wordlessly, he handed her the unfolded paper so she could read the full headline. Burned Body found in Bookseller’s Shop in Uptown Shopping District—Dark Magic Suspected.
The picture showed Josiah’s Books cordoned off with police tape.
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