Monday Musings: One More Sneak Peek For The Road! a.k.a.Exactly What It Says

It’s been a busy week here at Starving Author LLC and it promises to be even busier this week!  However, I promise not to leave you good folk hanging, so let’s start off the week with the final sneak peek (of this first round) of my newest novel, still really needing a title!  You can read the first Sneak Peek here and the second here.

From Isaac’s Primer on Divinities by Isaac Yore, olden philosopher:

Divine beings are extradimensional, immortal beings that exert vast control over certain fundamental forces and concepts in our world. The power and influence of many divinities seems to fluctuate with the extent of their worship, though some core concepts of reality, such as death, have gods of vast and unyielding power. There are two general types of gods: the ascended, such as Inam Wallmaker, god of cities, and the eternal, such as Zain the Dealer, god/goddess of death, luck, and fate. Ascended deities were once mortal but accomplished acts of such legend that they underwent apotheosis. Eternal deities seem to have always existed and tend to have wide ranges of worship.

From Animating the Inanimate by Lady Alysa Hsu, myan sorcerer and researcher:

At its most basic, golemancy is the application of sorcery to animate unliving, inorganic matter. Several specific types of magic are utilized to this end, thus requiring the aspiring golemancer to possess a breadth of knowledge and an open mind to new techniques and practices. Let me be plain, though. The art of golemancy never delves into the animation of living or formerly living tissue. That is the focus of the necromantic arts, sorcery of dubious and often twisted morality. Never fall into the potentially quick-and-easy shortcuts necromancy can apply to your work and stay true to the golemancer’s ways.

From the notes of Lady Alysa Hsu, 14 Octavian 736 PC:

A day of mostly-wasted research. Not caused by any experimental missteps, fortunately, but instead by an unexpected visitor. After the ‘accident’, visitors of any kind at the manor are rare, even fellow researchers. Initially tried to ignore Xian’s repeated calls, but changed my mind when the golem added that it was a Watchwoman on duty.

Wondered at the time what the Watch could be doing here. I had to know. The last thing my work needed was a pack of bulldog Watchers sniffing around and getting underfoot. Best to put on my social face and get them gone swiftly. Grunting, I pulled myself up from the wheelchair to my steel legs. Hurt as usual, still can’t get the sympathetic link quite right.

Paid no attention to ruffled fur or matted hair as I rushed to the door. Regretful in hindsight. In the foyer, attended to by Xian, was an aard woman. The standard double-frock blue Watch coat with two red stripes around the cuffs, Junior Inspector’s stripes. Serious business then, could be trouble. Forgot for a moment about my sour feelings regarding the Watch when I focused on the woman, pushing a stray orange lock out of my eyes.

Silky red-and-white fur, thick as it came around the collar of the coat, matched by equally red hair. Brown eyes full of a life that I had forgotten existed in the world. Even with the unflattering uniform, could tell she was busty, with the broad shoulders and wide hips common to the canine-folk. My own fault, really, that her initial appearance had such an effect on me, those things denied for so long.

“Lady Alysa Hsu?” Husky voice, rich. Not a singer’s voice, but it pleased me all the same. Faint accent of the lower layers.

Got my senses, tried not to seem foolish. “I am. What can I do for the Watch today?”

“Junior Inspector Vela Redmane, milady.” Bowed fluidly. Noted the hand crossbow folded back in holster, truncheon too. Definitely serious business. “And, before we proceed to business, may I first express how much of an honor it is to meet you?”

Wasn’t sure then how to react. Been years since someone said something like that.

Redmane took my silence as invitation, taking my hand and kissing it. “To have a chance to meet one of the most renowned arcane researchers of our time and to find that she is a thing of beauty as well.” Still stunned, she continued, letting my hand go. “I am certain you will be able to help me find a killer most foul.”

Tried not to blush while gathering wits. Suspicion was rising. “How do you know what I do?”

“During my alchemical apprenticeship, my master was insistent we learn in general about all kinds of sorcery, regardless of our magical talents. Your treatise on golemancy was required reading. More importantly, I spoke with Master Chase as to who to consult with for my particular difficulty and he suggested you.” Seemed sincere, could smell the familiar scents of the laboratory on her, but no doubt Redmane could lie like the rogues she hunted. Came as part of the job. Still, if she was one of Yuri Chase’s, would be worth hearing her out.

“Very well, Inspector.” Realized how strange I had been acting. The years alone, after all. “I apologize for my seeming paranoia.” I gestured to the next room, sitting room. “Let us sit a spell and discuss this killer you mentioned. Xian, please bring tea and refreshments.”

Settled down in the sitting room. Strangely felt glad Xian was doing its rounds, cleaning and dusting even the unused chambers. Redmane sat politely and surprised me again as she caught the sigh of relief as I settled down.

“I apologize. If I had known you would be at discomfort, I would have asked to be brought to you.”

“Old wounds, Inspector. It is quite all right.”

“I will say that, while your lost legs are a tragedy, the golem ones are quite elegantly designed. I’ve not seen their equal.” More sincerity. What was the angle?

“I am glad you think so.” Strangely sincere myself. “Is it a golem that has committed your murder?”

“No, milady, it is not your past research that is of importance here.” Total shift in countenance in Redmane. Bringing up the death brought a set muzzle, intense gaze, and a serious air. “It is what you are currently working on.”

Chase was the last of the old colleagues to come by. Makes sense he would know, tell Redmane. Still hesitant to say it out loud, as if it violated my zone of privacy. “Enchanted music.”

Xian brought the tea and biscuits then, setting them in the center of the table. It was a well-programmed golem, but still could not sense the tension in the room. It left quickly enough when we both ignored its queries for more direction.

“Yes, milady.” Redmane put a purple crystal, slightly blackened, onto the table. “I do not know why you have lived in your mansion like this for these past years and I do not wish to impeded on your privacy as I am, but I do need your help.”

Picked up the crystal and rolled it in my fingers. A small incantation. Analytical spell. “A reverberation stone. It resonates with the exact sounds produced by the one it is linked to when activated.”

“I guessed it was something like that, though I was not certain.” Redmane sighed. “It sickens me that a pretty stone such as that was used to kill, even more so in the way it did.”

“Explain please, Inspector.”

“Lady Hsu, is there a magical song or note that can induce such pleasure in a Folk that one will die? If so, please tell me as that was how that stone was used.”

Frowned. Guessed Redmane was a Myrienite like I once was. Myrien, god/goddess of beauty, beauty beyond the shallow outer shell. True inner beauty, true wonder. Comforting, but for the young, the naive. Still, the look of anguish on Redman’s face stirred me. Couldn’t hurt to help some. Make the girl happy. Liked the thought of that.

“I can help you, Vela.” Smiled, not totally sure why. “I want to help you.” True, I did. Would interfere with my work, but not much. Might even help.

“Thank you, milady, truly.” Redmane smiled back; that stirred me once more. “Let us not waste your golem’s hard work and have tea. You can tell me the generalities of how this song and crystal work before we go deeper.” Before I could fetch my own, she had already started serving.

Not used to being doted on. Sweet, actually. Felt my control slipping, needed to remember that, as pleasant and gallant as Vela seemed to be, she was still part of the Watch. Not to be entirely trusted. Cleared throat and thanked the Inspector before starting again.

“Well, at its core, a resonating crystal is like many other forms of sympathetic magical tools. It is infused with the sorcerer’s own mana, the most intimate form of linkage, allowing it to serve as the source of the mage’s incantations. There are many practical uses for that linkage.” Sipped at tea, eyes locked on Redmane, see just how much she understood.

She nodded as she made her own tea. “Of course. Anything from stealth, anonymity, drama, or the most simplistic, to make a spell more efficient by vastly expanding the distance it can range without draining the wizard unduly.” One of Chase’s, certainly. Alchemists don’t use real magic; most forget key principles or don’t bother.

“Correct, Inspector. As any spell with the potency to kill, especially in such an exotic fashion, requires vast reserves of raw power, any way to lessen the burden would be welcome.” Figured wise to add, “Theoretically, of course. Also, it no doubt allowed your quarry the ability to do his grisly task from far away, well away from prying eyes.”

Redmane put down her cup and chewed her lip a moment. Indecisive not part of what I had seen so far. Still, worked out quickly. “Lady Hsu, what I am about to share is of the utmost secrecy, but you may be able to use this knowledge to advance the case.” Her brown eyes seemed to swell as she reached across the table with an open hand. Fine fingers, nimble, not like the average brute Watchman. “Can I entrust you with said knowledge? Do you swear to keep it safe?”

Wanted to say ‘no’, might have wanted to help but didn’t want to be drawn in. Don’t trust the Watch. Didn’t know, despite the truth I saw in those eyes and the flutter in my heart, if this just wasn’t another maneuver of Father. Still not sure now if I should not have left the room then.

Instead, took Vela’s hand. Warmth, rough pads mixed with tufts of soft fur. Moment felt like grabbing a lightning rod. Held that hand and those eyes for too long.

She didn’t seem to care, only letting go herself after too long. “Alysa. Milady. I believe our killer watched his target die. The stone wasn’t planted, no. It was fired into the room from the opposite roof.”

“How do you know?”

“There was a broken window pane at the right trajectory. More critically, there were charred remains of a shaft of ash, not the cheap fireplace wood, among the fire I found that crystal in. Like the shaft of an arrow or bolt, delivering that lethal payload. In fact, I dug this out of the back of the hearthstones after we moved the corpse.”

Redmane dug out of another pocket an arrowhead. Looked like pure silver, but knew better. Silver too soft for arrow, but silver-steel, alchemical alloy of the two. Beautiful but hard as normal metals. Couldn’t help but keep my eyes calm. Knew this arrowhead too well.

“What is it, milady?”

“Come, Inspector, let us discuss the rest of this in my laboratory.” Forced myself to rise, despite the twinges of pain. “Where it’s safe.”

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