Raven’s Heart–teaser chapter

Okay, so we still haven’t had the final line edit, but here’s a teaser chapter from the upcoming Raven’s Heart:

ONE

 

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.

 

Want to read the rest? Support the Indiegogo campaign to help make the magic happen!

 

 

Help Make the Magic Happen!

Crowdsource funding is underway for Raven’s Heart, the much-awaited third book in the Ravensblood series!

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/raven-s-heart-ravensblood-3-urban-fantasy/x/6321575#/

raven's heart low res

 

Raven’s Heart teaser

Intro short from Raven’s Heart
Ok, so for those of you who haven’t read the first two books of the Ravensblood series, we’re in a *very* alternate version of the Pacific Northwest. Magic is real and openly acknowledged.
Raven’s Heart is the third full novel in the series—there’s a novella as well that just came out as part of an anthology. The section you’re about hear is from a manuscript that has not yet had its full edit.
Forgive the spoilers , by the way, for those of you who haven’t read the first two books yet, but I want to set the stage. As we begin this story, Cass and Raven are engaged. Cass has been promoted from her former job as a Guardian—magical law enforcement—to Guardian International Investigations. GII handles the complicated cases that are beyond the scope and abilities of the local Guardians, and tends to hire misfits and eccentrics, sometimes with questionable pasts.
Several nights ago, while Cass was away on GII business, Raven went out to the opera with his friend Josiah the bookseller, and on the way home encountered an abandoned kitten getting soaked in the rain. It was a case of powerful former dark mage v. scrawny stray kitten in a battle of wills. As you might expect, the kitten won.
As this section begins, Cass is just getting home from her trip.

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.

 

Raven’s Heart is due to be released February 6– with a little help from my friends.  The Indiegogo crowdsource funding campaign is currently on ‘soft launch’ while I wait for the musicians to finish the trailer.  Early donations during the soft launch period are vital to making the campaign seem viable enough to attract donations from strangers when I announce the campaign to the general public. And there are some very special perks that are available only in limited numbers, including a manuscript evaluation by my editor Mary Rosenblum!

Raven’s Song excerpt

This is an excerpt from my novella Raven’s Song, which is part of the Here Be Magic Boxed Set Anthology. 8 Fine novellas, many from best-selling or award-winning authors, for only $.99!

 

Ok, so for those of you who haven’t read Ravensblood, we’re in a *very* alternate version of the Pacific Northwest. Magic is real and openly acknowledged, and the Three Communities are ruled by a Joint Council representing Art –mages, practitioners of high magic. Craft—that would be all the shamanic and wiccan folk, and Mundane—that would be the people who have not aptitude for or interest in magic.
Raven’s Song is a novella set between the first two books of the series.
Forgive the spoilers , by the way, for those of you who haven’t read the first book yet, but I want to set the stage for the reading I’m about to do from Raven’s Wing. In the last book, the notorious dark mage, Corwyn Ravenscroft—Raven—, with the help of Cassandra Greensdowne, the former apprentice and lover he once betrayed, redeemed himself and won a pardon from the Joint Council by spying against and ultimately bringing down his master William, who had been trying to overthrow the elected government to set himself up as ruler absolute.
In the beginning of this story, Cass and Raven are lovers once again. Cass has been promoted from her former job as a Guardian—magical law enforcement for the Three Communities—to Guardian International Investigations. GII handles the complicated cases that are beyond the scope and abilities of the local Guardians, and tends to hire misfits and eccentrics, sometimes with questionable pasts.
Raven had been doing some unpaid, unofficial consulting on difficult cases for the GII, and while Cass is away on a case Davison, one of her colleagues, contacts Raven for help with a stalker case that has him stumped. Their first attempt at collaboration does not go well. Davison has a deep dislike of dark mages, and Raven’s past experiences with Guardians makes him distrustful.
But their mutual concern for the Mundane opera singer being stalked makes them try again. In this section, Davison has asked Raven to look over Miss Love’s house to see if he can figure out how the stalker is getting in. They are just now looking at the wards, which are the commercial type a Mundane can pay a professional ward-builder to set up.
One other bit of information you will need: The ‘Sherlock’ mentioned is not, of course, Sherlock Holmes, but Cass and Chuckie’s boss, given name Abigail Andrews. She got the nick-name ‘Sherlock’ for her Anglan accent and her unusual pipe-smoking habit, as well as a fondness for tweed.
OK, I think that’s all we need to start.

 

“I’m sensing wards,” Raven said.
“I had them leave them down for us, but yeah. Standard, commercial grade, the sort that a Mundane can pay to have commercially installed. Keyed to a palm-print—there’s a pad for it on the wall beside the door, inside and out. Set to Miss Love, of course, and a few other people she wanted to have access. Her PA, her housekeeper.”
Such wards weren’t popular, since they were expensive and required regular maintenance. They were also practically useless against a mage who really knew what he was doing.
“Were the wards breached?” Raven asked.
“Not obviously, but with this type. . .”
“I could have gotten in and out without leaving a sign,” Raven said. “While I was still in General Academy. Still, it might have helped if you had called me in while there were still magical signatures to be read.”
Davison looked down. “Yes, well, we were still hoping to come up with something ourselves.”
“Can I get a look at the wards while they’re up?” Raven asked.
“Give me a minute.”
Davison put a hand on the ward panel, tapped his fingers in a quick pattern. The wards sprang to life. Raven reached out with his magical senses. They were, for their type, surprisingly strong. He’d be able to blast through them, but not without getting singed in the process. As for dismantling them, well, he would have still been able to do it by his last year in General Academy, but it would have taken him a while, and he doubted many other of his fellow students would have been able to achieve the same.
“Do you mind if I try to take them down? Just to see what it takes?”
“Can you put them back together again?”
“Better than new.” Raven flashed a smile.
Quite literally better than new. It’d be violating the ward-builders proprietary magic seven ways to Sunday, but only if they found out about it. More important to keep Miss Love safe.
“Be my guest, then.” Something in Davison’s answering smile told him he knew what Raven had in mind and had no objection.
Not so by-the-book as all that, then. GII had a reputation for creative interpretation of rules, but Davison had struck him as more straight-laced than his colleagues. Wonders never cease.
Raven sent a flow of soft, soothing thoughts to the ward, mimicking its own patterns so as not to rouse it. Easy enough—although he’d never met this ward in particular, it varied little from a standard type every mage learned. Then gently, carefully, he searched for a loose thread in the magic. It took him a moment; the maker had woven his ends back in carefully. But eventually he found a strand that he could work loose, and from there it was just a matter of unknotting and unravelling, working faster as he realized that the ward was not going to wake.
Then the ward fell apart, useless and inert.
Davison whistled low. “Just over a minute. I’m impressed.”
Raven shrugged. “Hardly a challenge. Now the wards on the Council museum, those were some wards. Took me over a week of study and practice, and I barely got through in time to make the schedule.”
“You killed a guard that night.” Davison’s cold voice cut through his memory of the adrenalin of that night, the thrill of having gotten away with the near-impossible.
“I didn’t.” Raven said. “Although my partner in that particular crime did. I regret that it was unavoidable.”
“I’m sure that’s a great comfort to his widow and children.”
He’d found out the man’s name and contributed, anonymously, a large sum to the widows and orphans fund in his memory. But that didn’t make anything better and besides it wasn’t Davison’s business.
“I suppose none of your undercover agents have ever stood by and watched murder take place rather than blow their cover in service to the greater good,” he said.
Davison blanched. The barb had hit a sensitive mark. More sensitive than Raven had aimed for. He bit back a question. Let Davison deal with his ghosts. Raven had enough of his own.
He turned his attention to rebuilding the ward, weaving in a few nasty surprises for the unaware, and finishing by weaving the strand he’d first pulled loose even more firmly into the ward and finishing with a trap-rigged knot that even he would have trouble with, if the ward did not recognize its creator.
“So Miss Love had the ward keyed to you for ease of access. Anyone else in GII?” Raven asked.
“Why do you ask?” Davison’s eyes narrowed. “If you are implying that one of my men—”
“Baseless accusations are your area, not mine,” Raven snapped. “I merely wanted to warn you that if anyone needs to dismantle the wards because they don’t have access to take them down, they had best be very careful.” He sighed. “Or have them call me and I’ll come down and do it.”
“Oh. Right.” Davison looked flustered. “There’re a couple more of us on the case, and we’re all keyed in to the wards.” He took a deep breath, blew it out. Then he pulled out a key on a fob marked with a serial number of some kind and the GII logo, and opened the door.
“Miss Love is in a safe house right now.” Davison gestured Raven to precede him. “She’s given us permission to enter the residence.”
In the foyer of the house, Davison took the lead, and Raven followed him through the living room, taking in the replica French baroque furniture, all white satin and ornate gilt-painted wooden trim. A coordinating curio cabinet in one corner held porcelain figures of ballet dancers. What looked like a genuine Persian rug dominated the room with its vivid golds and blues and its fanciful birds and flowers. It lay on a spotless white carpet so thick that their feet made no sound as they crossed the room to the bottom of the stairs.
“I want you to look at the display he left,” Davison said. “I know you said that the MO doesn’t sound like anyone you know, but looking at it might jog something anyway.”
“Fine.” Raven followed him up the wide, carpeted staircase. Cassandra was out of town, and he had nothing better to do than swear at the piano for things that were not the instrument’s fault. He had some research projects on his desk, but without the urgency of practical application they had failed to hold his interest for long.
At the landing he paused. “I never even entertained the thought that the stalker might be a Guardian. I may suspect your average Guardian capable of a lot of things, including willful ignorance, prejudice, and a willingness to brutalize suspects, but I’ve no reason to believe that any of you are sexual predators.”
Davison froze, clearly searching for a response to this unexpected declaration. Finally he settled for a curt nod, and led Raven into the dressing chamber that was the anteroom of Miss Love’s bedroom. The wallpaper was cream with pink roses, dusted with a faint golden glitter, a rather old-fashioned design. The dressing table, bureau and wardrobe were all cream, accented in antique gold. Framed photos from several of Miss Love’s performances hung on the wall in artistic arrangement. An elaborate pink beaded-and-fringed Victorian lamp sat on top of the dresser. The room smelled distinctly feminine, the scent of make-up and expensive floral perfume.
Incongruous on the center of the dressing table stood a garish, crude diorama. A woman crowned with ivy and holly writhed in labor on what was clearly meant to be a manger, her face contorted. A creature, half-stag and half-man, stood by, naked and rampant in arousal, while men robed like ancient magi of the East knelt at his feet in adoration. A mural painted on the mirror depicted in pornographic detail a woman having sexual congress with a bull, and a multi-rayed sun or star hung from the corner of the dresser mirror, glowing like a light-globe.
It was a parody of both Christian and pagan traditions, so obscene that it chilled his blood.
“You—” he swallowed bile. “I assume you’ve checked for magical signatures?”
“On this?” Davison gestured. “Nothing magical about it. Except the light globe, and I doubt the man spelled it himself.”
Raven shook his head. When did GII start hiring idiots?
“One of my men did check that,” Davison continued. “Said it was a classic light globe spell. No trigger, meant to stay on for a set period, then burn itself out. No evidence that it was a custom job. You see trinkets like it all over the shops, this time of year. We did try to trace the shop it came from, but no luck. By this point, any magical signature from the maker would have faded.”
Raven shook his head. “Not necessarily. There are ways to read it in the fabric of a continuous spell like this.” Not everything in his ancestor’s journal was dark magic.
Davison frowned doubtfully, but kept his silence.
Raven reached for it, and paused. “May I?”
Davison reached into his pocket and offered him a bag of latex gloves. “Knock yourself out. We’ve already dusted for prints, checked for fibers. Forensics already cleared the place, or I wouldn’t have brought you in. Technically, I could have had the lot of this carted off to the evidence room days ago, but since Miss Love doesn’t feel safe returning. . .” he shrugged. “I wanted to look at it just as he placed it, just where he placed it. Try to get into his mind, understand what he’s thinking.”
Raven shook his head. “I don’t think you’ll ever understand what he’s thinking. And you’re the better man for it.”
He hadn’t meant the compliment to slip out, but Davison, staring at the pseudo-crèche, didn’t seem to register it.
Raven put on the gloves, and took down the glowing star, holding it in his hands as he tried to register its signature. There was something. . .wrong about it. The signature was muddled, as Davison had said the stalker’s was. Almost certainly not a route commercial job; he could tell that as easily as he could tell the difference between factory-made furniture and pieces crafted by an artisan. Davison’s man clearly needed re-training. But even beyond the muddling of the signature—oh, yes, almost certainly deliberate and he needed to learn how that was done—it was just wrong. Not the wrongness of someone who had spent his life devoted to dark magic, Raven knew that sort of wrong. This was something different. It felt like a sickroom smells.
Underlying the muddling, underlying the wrongness, something tugged at his memory. He’d encountered this signature before. No, it wasn’t one he knew well, but something he’d caught in passing, like a tune heard on the wind as he walked down the sidewalk past an open window.
After carefully replacing the ornament on the mirror, Raven told Davison what he had found.
Davison shook his head. “It’s not like Matthews to make that sort of mistake, but he’s been off his game. I’ll talk to him. Still, it doesn’t sound like his mistake cost us any material information we didn’t already have. I’m more interested in the fact that you said the signature seems familiar to you. Someone from your old life, do you think?”
Raven shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but it doesn’t feel like it. For one, the signature is barely familiar. Certainly it wasn’t anyone in William’s inner circle, or I would recognize it. Could be someone on the periphery, but I would still expect it to reek of dark magic. This is a different kind of wrongness.”
“What do you mean, a different kind of wrongness?” Davison snapped.
He’s frustrated with the case, not shouting at you. Raven took a deep breath. Let it out. “I wish I knew,” he said evenly. “It might give us some clue as to who we’re looking for. “He took another deep breath. “You said something about showing me the rest of the house, and why you think the front entrance is the most likely one.”
Davison nodded, and led the way back down the stairs, through a dining room with a chandelier and a polished wood table clearly meant for large dinner parties, and through a kitchen that many a gourmet chef would trade his first-born for.
At the door he paused and turned toward Raven, blocking his way, forcing Raven to look at him. “You made a reference earlier, to Guardians brutalizing suspects. Were you abused in custody?”
Raven shrugged and looked away. “Nothing that can be proven. I fail to see how this is relevant.”
“It’s relevant because it shouldn’t have happened. If it happened, it needs to be addressed.”
Raven smiled cynically. “How could you get so far in the Guardians and remain so charmingly naive? Nothing that happens to a dark mage matters.”
He tried to brush past Davison, but the Guardian grabbed his shoulder. “It matters, because we’re Guardians. No matter who or what the suspect is, we’re supposed to be better than that.”
Raven shook his head. “I almost think you believe that.”
“I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen. I’m not stupid. But it needs to be addressed.” Davison spoke with a fervor that reminded Raven of all he used to believe about Guardians, back when he was a child.
“It was almost a year ago. It can’t be proven. Let it go.” Raven pulled away from Davison’s grip.
This time, the agent let him pass. Which is all he wanted. No reason to be disappointed that the Guardian did not pursue the matter further.
He followed Davison out into a formal garden complete with fountains. Though it was the wrong season for flowers, green still lined the white gravel paths. A low stone wall enclosed the borders.
“If you think that wall is enough—” Raven began.
“Hush and follow,” Davison said.
Hush? The audacity of the man! Still his curiosity drove him to follow on the man’s heels to look over the wall.
The last twenty feet or so beneath the wall had been shored up with a rock retaining wall, now slick with the moss that covered everything in the Pacific Northwest that didn’t run away fast enough. Below that, the hillside dropped away abruptly to something half-way between a slope and a cliff, mostly rocks and mud, with deep grooves worn by run-off.
I sincerely hope Miss Love had an engineer look at the stability of this before she bought the house. “And?” Raven asked. “I’m not a hiker or a climber, but this doesn’t look impossible. Difficult, maybe.”
“I hike and climb with the wife and kids on weekends, and I wouldn’t want to try this without equipment. More to the point, it would be impossible to do it without leaving prints in the mud or scuffs on the moss. No one came up this way.”
“But surely there’s another way into the garden,” Raven said. “I can’t imagine the architect would not have placed a back entrance somewhere to provide an adequate exit in case of fire.”
“Gate on the side. Ivy twined around the gate and post. Clearly hasn’t been opened in a long time. Someone really should talk to Miss Love about that. Not only is it a safety issue, but ivy is a non-native species. It really shouldn’t be allowed to grow and propagate itself.”
Raven studied the house, registering the ornate metal grillwork over each of the windows on the first floor. Functional as well as decorative. No one made it into the house through that.
“Teleportation?” Raven asked. “How long have the wards been up?”
“I don’t remember the exact date. Since before Yule, anyway. You see why I think the stalker used the front door. There’s not more than a handful of mages that could teleport through even a weak ward.”
And you almost certainly can guess that I’m one of them. But if Davison had any suspicions, he kept them to himself. Either he’d learned his lesson, or he’d had the fear of Sherlock put into him.
Raven frowned. “While it’s possible for an exceptional mage to take the wards down and put them back up again without leaving a trace, what would be the point?”
“To further muddy the trail? To throw suspicion on those who had access?” Davison ran a hand through his hair, which looked weeks overdue for a cut. “Gods only know.”
“Are any of Miss Love’s staff from the Art community?”
Davison shrugged. “Her PA graduated from General Academy, by his own admission at the bottom of his class. Says he hasn’t done anything with it since. Claims he can turn on a light globe and work a message crystal, but not much else.”
“Do you believe him?”
“No reason not to. But I’ve never been particularly adept at gauging another’s power. Can you. . .”
Raven smiled darkly. “Basic survival skill, living with William’s merry band of vipers. Find an excuse for me to meet with him, and I can tell you in under two minutes whether you should write him off or move him up the suspect list.”
“Thank you, I—“Something trilled in Davison’s jacket pocket. “Excuse me.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. A Mundane cell phone? Some mages owned one; Cassandra did, though she rarely used it. He’d never met a mage before who actually carried one on a regular basis.
“GII’s experimenting,” Davison mouthed to Raven as he hit a button and held the phone up to his face. “Davison here.” His face changed, shock and urgency written in every line. “Miss Love? Madeline? Is that you? I can’t understand you, take a breath and try to slow down.”
Raven’s heart pounded. Adrenalin surged through his body in a way it hadn’t since his return to mainstream life.
“Listen,” Davison kept his voice soothing yet firm, though his eyes were wild. “You need to call 911. Have you called 911? They said what? Okay, okay. I’m on my way.”
He hit a button and then tapped another. “Marcus? What the hell is going on in dispatch? What? Oh, hell. What was that? Marcus, you’re breaking up. I don’t understand—” He looked at the screen, viciously stabbed a few buttons, and shoved the cell back into his pocket. “Shit, shit, shit. Godsdamned Mundane piece of junk.”
He turned to Raven. “I can barely make sense of Miss Love. The Guardian on shift at the safe house is down, maybe dead, something about blood everywhere. Dispatch says there’s a bomb threat at a shopping center and a possible hostage situation at an elementary school, they have no idea when they can get someone out to the safe house. And the fucking phone just cut out. No idea if it’s the battery or what, but I won’t be able to raise my team. There’s not a crystal anywhere here.” He glanced about frantically, as if looking for a message crystal, or a miracle.
“You have no idea what you’re jumping into,” Raven said. “You can’t go in alone.”
Davison bared his teeth, a cross between a grimace and a grin. “Watch me.”
“Anchor for me when you get there. It’ll take less than a second. I’ll be your backup.”
“You think I’d bring a civilian into a potential crime-in-progress? You’re mad!”
“I’ve probably seen more violent magic than any Guardian you’ll ever meet,” Raven said. “And it’s not like the public will call for your head if you get me killed. We don’t have time to argue.”
Davison pressed his mouth into a thin-lipped frown. “Fine,” he snapped and teleported.
The GII agent could have simply teleported and then blocked Raven from using him as an anchor, but when Raven reached out through the ether a moment after Davison faded out, he found a steady anchor to follow.

A Vignette from the Ravensblood Universe

Alanna is one of my first and most loyal readers, one who has been with me from the beginning and has been trusted with insider information on where the series is going. A little while ago, she made an off-hand comment about how she couldn’t wait to see how Raven handled it when the midwife handed Raven his first-born.

Now, I didn’t see that scene fitting in to any of the upcoming books. (At least not as I’ve currently conceived them. Sometimes things change.) But it seemed like a good challenge to set myself. Not only would I be writing the experience for a masculine POV (and, let’s face it, birthing is one of those things where gender does really matter) but also I have zero parental instincts. No desire for parenthood whatsoever. Never had it, never will. I don’t think babies are cute and will go to great lengths to avoid holding one.

I did some research, IM’ing a male friend who became a parent a little while ago. Still, it was a challenge getting into Raven’s head at this moment. You can tell me how you think I did. . .

 

Raven looked on as the midwife took the small, perfect, impossible being from where he rested against Cassandra’s chest, dried it, and swaddled it in the soft, raven-print blanket that Ana had sewn as soon as they told her that Cassandra was expecting. He focused for a moment on that blanket, the fabric of which was purple and likely intended for Samhain, because if he looked at that small, scrunched face right now he was going to cry.

His chest hurt, too full of emotions he could not separate, let alone name. He’d wielded in his life more power than most mages could imagine, yet all of that seemed to slip away, insignificant in the face of this new life that he and Cassandra had brought into the world.

Sweat plastered Cassandra’s dark hair to her forehead. Tears of pain and joy ran down her face. She was utterly beautiful. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but there were no words.

“Do you want to hold him?” the midwife asked.

No, Raven almost said, suddenly and ridiculously terrified of the fragility of this tiny life, the immense responsibility he had toward him. But that was ridiculous; he’d sat through all the classes, been taught how to hold a baby. He had thought he was ready, but nothing could have prepared him for this moment.

He reached out to take the child. His hands were trembling, but he could not be embarrassed by the show of emotion. He and Cassandra had chosen a name as soon as she had known the gender of the child, and so he whispered ‘hello’ to Ransley Zachary Ravenscroft.

Such an insignificant weight to carry so much hope and promise. Mick must have felt this way when each of his sons were born. Raven would have to call and give him the news, and thank him for all the times Mick had talked him through his fears about fatherhood. Soon, but not just now.

His son opened his eyes, looking up for the first time into his father’s face.

 

Samhain-kitty: Making Excuses for the Writer-person is My Life

OK, so this time she has a kinda-sorta valid excuse. She recently completed a novella, Raven’s Song, a part of the Ravensblood universe, that will be released as part of a multi-author boxed set on 11/13. This put her behind schedule for Raven’s Heart, the third novel of the series, which is very much a novel worth her effort. (She has finally taken my advice and put a cat into the novel, although she still fails to make the cat a main character.)

Anyway, since she is frantically producing fiction to the detriment of her duties to me, I’ll take a moment to tell you what else she’s been up to.

In case you haven’t noticed the new tab under ‘Other Works’ (humans can be so un-observant), the long-awaited (though sadly catless) Where Light Meets Shadow  is out and available on Amazon. A high fantasy crossed-over with male-male fantasy romance, this is your book if you like elves, harps and bardic magic. It spent a bit of time on the Amazon best-seller list for LGBT-themed fantasy.

Raven’s Wing won a gold medal in the Global E-books Awards.

She also released a new short story, The Red Pencil, which does have a small but significant cat mention.

And, yes, she is still cheating on you with other blogs.  Her blog on the Sacrificed God in myth and fiction appeared a little while ago over at Here Be Magic, followed by a more recent blog on autumn, fiction, and change.

Last but not least, the Doctor Who audio in which she performed the role of Lucinda is now available for free download!

Samhain-kitty Here (again)

So, the writer-person has been talking incessantly about a launch date.  I’m worried that she has developed delusions of being an astronaut.

So while she’s out at some pub listening to live Irish music (she says she works on her writing while she’s there–likely story) I’m sneaking on to share her shameful secret  While she claims to be too busy to update her blog, dear readers, she has been cheating on you with other blogs.

Yes, I know how it feels.  I feel the same way she goes away for hours, sometimes days, and comes back smelling of other animals.

You don’t want to believe, I know.  But here’s proof:

The Sacred Marriage in Fantasy

Urban Fantasy: Fairytales for Today

Declaration of Indie-pendence

And a podcast, too!

Samhain-kitty Checking In

OK, the writer-person actually has somewhat of an excuse this time for ignoring the blog.  After much stressful back-and-forth, she and The Wild Rose Press have parted ways due to irreconcilable editorial differences.  I, for one, applaud her cat-like pride and independence.

Still, that means she is now scrambling with the business of getting Where Light Meets Shadow out as an indie release, leaving her precious little time for other important things, like her cat and her blog.

So I’m stepping in on her old back-up laptop to tell you some of the things she has in store for you.

There will be, someday soonish, a post on the holidays of the Ravensblood universe and another post or two about real-world locations that match up with locations in that series.

The Astoria segment of the Cool Stuff blog series has not been forgotten. . .at least, it better not have been, as she abandoned her cat for three whole days to hang with friends and get the material for that particular blog.

Also, there will be a Special Guest Cool Stuff blog around Memorial Day.  Local web -content writer and photographer Jocelyn S. Mackie will be sharing what she knows about cool old cemeteries in the area.  (I like Jocelyn, even if she does kidnap my writer-person for occasional expeditions.  She is, after all, a cat person, and that makes up for a lot.)

Also, look for more info on Where Light Meets Shadow in social media and on the website soon.  Release date is August 8th, and yes, there will be a party.  With music.  To which her long-suffering cat will not be invited.

 

 

Mysterious Business

Read my new post on the elements of mystery fiction in the speculative genres on the group blog Here Be Magic.

My own Adventure in Time and Space

I started out with the Whovian fandom young, at about age nine or so, and like many Whovians, I dreamed of someday writing for or playing a part in the show. Well, that first, best dream of writing for the show is still out of reach (if any of you have contacts in the BBC, put a word in for me, will you?). But recently, the dream of acting in Doctor Who came true—sort of.
I dropped into the Facebook group PDX Whovians, as I do every couple of days, to see if there is anything of interest going on in the local fandom. There I saw a casting call for a Doctor Who Audio Drama. Now, this is not a BBC or even a Big Finish production, but a not-for-profit group made up of professionals, semi-professionals, and serious amateurs that have been doing Doctor Who audio dramas since 1982.
I decided to try out as a lark. Other than a semester-long class in oral interpretation in high school, I have no formal training in acting. My only experience in theater was few months’ stint as a props master and publicity assistant my freshman year in college. Other than giving readings of my work, I have no experience in acting. The casting call specified preference given to British accents, which I do not have and cannot fake, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. Still, I thought it would be fun to try.
I have some friends with recording equipment and experience, and so I messaged Mike Zamudio of Otter Crossing and Rose in the Heather. (Local readers will recognize Otter Crossing as the Irish trad/classical fusion band that plays my book launches). Due to some crossing of messages and texts, I wasn’t even sure we were going to get the audition recorded in time until the evening we had to do it, and so I hadn’t put much into preparing my lines.
I dropped in at Casa Zamudio after my day job. We had a leisurely dinner, and put some time into photography for the cover for an upcoming short story release. Then we warned the children Zamudio to be quiet, removed the jangling collar from Pepper-the-pit-bull, and settled into the music room to record. I decided to try out for two roles, one with seventeen lines (I’d mentally dubbed her the Bitch) and one with one hundred forty-some (the Flirt.) Julie helped by reading the lines of the other actors, and despite my lack of preparation we recorded the auditions for both characters in one go.
I liked the character of the Flirt better, but I was afraid my voice was better suited for the Bitch (those of you who know me can just hush). I thought I’d be offered the smaller role, if I got any role at all. Much to my surprise, not only was I offered a part, I was offered the part of Lucinda, the flirt!
Needless to say, I was excited. And nervous. And more nervous still, when I had the chance to read the full script and realized I had to sob and scream on cue. To add to the stress, my publisher for Where Light Meets Shadow (my upcoming stand-alone fantasy novel) presented me with a round of edits to be gone through the very same week I would be prepping my lines. (Did I mention I have a day job? And a horse that requires attention?)
How DWAD works is that the actors record their individual lines and then email them to the folks who put it all together. (I don’t envy the person in charge of mixing his/her job!) So, with another flurry of emails between myself and Clan Zamudio, I set a time to go back in for recording. After another leisurely dinner (are you seeing a pattern?) we took the collar off the pittie, told the kids to go be quiet somewhere, and started the recording process.
I’d like to say it went effortlessly. But I try not to lie. I remember seeing blooper reels of the fifth Doctor flubbing a line and using language I’d never have suspected either the Doctor or Peter Davison of knowing. I now knew exactly how he felt. I stumbled over dialogue. I breathed too loud. The hour grew late, I grew tired. Worse, I couldn’t have any whiskey until we finished for fear of slurring my lines. Mike and Julie, showing a capacity for cruelty I wouldn’t have suspected, were drinking in front of me.
Finally, at a quarter past one in the morning, we had only one scene left. We decided to save that for the morning out of consideration for the neighbors, since it featured a bit of screaming. So I had a shot of Kilbeggan’s (at last), and crawled off to the crash space.
The next morning, we fortified ourselves with doughnuts and bacon, told the long-suffering boys to quiet themselves, and headed back to the music room with the resolution of soldiers returning to the front. And realized we had a problem we had forgotten about.
Pepper-the-pittie is a sensitive soul. She wasn’t going to be happy about one of her people-friends making sounds of apparent distress. And with her keen hearing, merely locking her in another room wouldn’t help. So first we had to desensitize the dog to screams. Julie gave a little scream, and immediately fed Pepper a small treat, and then repeated the process, until we worked up to me screaming, and then me screaming loudly.
Finally we were ready to record the scene. The dialogue part went fairly smoothly. Then we came to the scream at the end.
Mike is experienced with recording singers and instrumentals. Screams are another thing entirely. We tried pushing the mike back on its boom, but the sound levels were off the chart. We tried having Julie hold the mike on the far side of the room. We tried adjusting the sound levels electronically. I started to grow hoarse. We tried having Julie hold the mike outside the room. We tried again to adjust the sound levels manually.
Finally, just as my voice was about to give out entirely, we got it.
I have always respected actors, but my respect has now broadened and deepened.
And if I ever talk about trying out for live theater, please shoot me before the auditions.

(Doctor Who: The Dying of the Light will eventually be available online for free download. I’ll let you know here and on Facebook and Twitter when that happens).