Monday, March 24, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 6

I’d had enough revelations for one day. In my duties, I seen some of the worst depravities humans were capable of, and some of the greatest kindnesses. Nothing in my experience matched the truths I’d learned regarding my mother or the efforts to save my life. Part of me already knew the next set within the declaration wouldn’t be any more comforting.

“If you don’t wish to be my witness, I’ll wait until Luc is finished with supervising trade negotiations.” I poked at the chicken pie a few times before I shoved it aside.

Kam grunted as he laboriously climbed to his feet once again. “No. You’re right. I swore my oaths, and this is too messy to leave to a junior priest. One of them would surely bollox the matter. Come.”

I snatched the scroll and shoved it back into my pocket. We might as well deal with this pile of manure and get it over with. He extended his arm to me, and I took it.

Under my hand, he trembled, and pale green sweat beaded on his forehead. “Kam, if you’re not feeling well, I can wait.”

“No.” He patted my hand again as we shuffled down the hall to the main portion of the temple. “Just an old man’s anxiety that the sins of his past have caught up with him.”

“I would hardly call saving an innocent babe a sin.” I chuckled. “Though it’s difficult to imagine me as a babe, much less innocent.”

“How do you feel about executions?”

I missed a step at his abrupt change of topic. If I hadn’t been holding his arm, I would have fallen flat on my face. “Where does that question come from?”

We resumed our slow shuffling pace. I didn’t think Kam was going to answer me when he said, “You remind me of Thalia. It was the one part of her duties she hated.”

“I’ve read the stories and heard the songs. What was she really like?”

His smile was lost in the past. “Beautiful, brilliant. I know how bad my jokes are, but she’d always laugh at them. Or me. I was never sure which. Anyone who fought her thought she was sighted. She always knew what strike an opponent would use before he was in motion. I think she had a touch of precognition, though she would have denied it with her dying breath.”

Grief shrouded him. “It’s been twenty years, but I still miss her every day.”

I wanted to comfort him. I didn’t know how. This wasn’t like Marco and Katarina. I couldn’t fix the past.

We entered the sanctuary. A handful worshippers knelt before the altar. At the opposite end, a few farmers and the retinues of two traders either milled and murmured to each other or sat on the pews, looking bored out of their minds. Three wardens paced through the sanctuary as a precaution.

I didn’t envy Luc. Mediating trade negotiations would be tedious enough to make me want to slit my own throat.

Kam and I claimed one of the small consultation rooms that lined the walls between the altar and the main doors.

With a flick of his forefinger and a murmured word, he lit the wall sconce. The glow would shine through the thin alabaster to show the room was in use. He swiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve before he circled the tiny room, laying his warding. I sat at the small table to stay out of his way. The familiar tingle of magic in a tightly enclosed space prickled along my skin.

He took the seat next to me, and with a flare of his power, he lit that lamp as well. Since the priestly glows didn’t emit heat as a traditional oil lamp or a torch did, I didn’t need to squint against the painful brightness.

Kam held out his hand. “Ready?”

I blew out a harsh breath as I took his clammy palm. “No, but let us proceed anyway. Lady of Balance, show us the will of the one who has passed through the veil.”

The feeling of someone peering over my shoulder always accompanied my invocation of my goddess. Never was the impression stronger than it was right now. With a jolt, I realized this was the first time I’d done the opening of the declaration with someone other than Luc. Was that the difference?

“May the Lord of Light confirm the truth of the one who has passed Death’s door,” Kam answered.

Yellowish-white energy spiraled around the edges of the parchment until they joined at the seal. The wax cracked and parted.

Any priest or priestess from the any temple could bind a declaration of last wishes. According to Luc, the color symbolic of the temple colored the edges of the scroll. Only when Balance and Light opened it together was the declaration considered valid.

I asked him once what the edging looked once the seal was released. He whispered that it was black twined around gold.

Like us in bed.

I shook my head to clear the distracting memory.

We unrolled the scroll, the ink record in front of Kam, the raised dots and lines impressed into the parchment in front of me. I ran my fingertips over the special code my order used. My heart skipped a beat, and I touched the name of Gretchen’s heir again. I hadn’t misinterpreted.

Lady Alessa DiMara.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 5

Hi folks!

Sorry I'm not keeping up on the blog. There's lots of things going on, both personal and professional, so I'm behind on EVERYTHING right now. On the plus side, some exciting things are in the works for this series that hopefully (fingers crossed here), I'll be able to tell you about soon!

* * *

Desperate banging on my bedchamber door roused me from a nightmare concerning Samael and his demons. I reached for Luc, but cold blankets met my outstretched fingers. The secret passage was sealed once more. He must have left soon after I fell asleep.

The knocking turned thunderous. I dropped the wards with a word.

“What?” I shouted.

Sivan burst through the door as if my dream demons chased her. “I beg forgiveness, Justice. Sister Bertrice is here, demanding that she speak with you now.”

I didn’t need to scry to know what had crawled up her ass. Flinging blankets aside, I sat and stretched. “Escort her to my office, and bring us both breakfast. I believe she prefers that bean drink from one of the southern Mecas.”

The idea of drinking something best served with ham, onions and bread turned my stomach, but a little solicitousness would go a long way to smoothing over the priestess’ ruffled feathers.

“Yes, Justice.” Relief filled my assistant’s voice. She paused at the door. “You knew she would be here.”

“I asked for a favor from the Healers Guild.” I shed my bedclothes. “The Temple of Death has always been the most vocal over the split. I’m surprised it took her this long.”

“Do you want assistance with your hair, Justice?” she said. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with the desire to let Sister Bertrice stew for a little bit.

“Yes, please.”

For all of my vaunted independence, that was the one thing I could never get right. Mirrors were as useless for me as the rest of the priestesses of Balance. While Luc and I had ridden circuit, he braided and pinned my hair for me. He insisted he wasn’t going to ride into a town or village with a justice that looked like a long-haired cat with mange.

When I entered my office, Sister Bertrice had worked herself into a good froth. Traditionally, each temple had its own color, but to me, everyone’s robes, including mine were the same dark blue. The priestess’ pacing had turned her robes to green.

She whipped to face me. “How dare you let those heathens mutilate one of the holy!”

The door clicked shut behind me. I didn’t blame Sivan for escaping.

“And a pleasant morn to you as well,” I replied as evenly as I could. “Would you care to break your fast with me?”

“A priestess was—”

“Murdered and violated, yes. “ I sat at the table the kitchen staff had brought to my office and poured my tea from the little ceramic pot. “But not by the Healers Guild. They assisted me in confirming several oddities involved in Sister Gretchen’s death.”

My cold logic splashed against Bertrice’s fury. She collapsed in the other chair. “Do you know who did it?”

I shrugged. “There are possibilities I am pursuing, but you know I can’t speculate. Any accusations would be sheer gossip at this point.”

Bertrice glared at me. “I’m not a fool, Justice. The sutured incisions to the throat were made after her death.”

“You are correct. Those were made yesterday at my behest. I wanted verification that strangulation was the cause of her demise. The Healers Guild found the windpipe crushed.”

“Why? The bruises made that obvious.”

“Not necessarily, Sister.”

“What do you mean?”

I scooped scrambled eggs onto a piece of Cantish flatbread and added pepper sauce. Luc had introduced me to the concoction years ago. “We both know there are venoms, herbs and mushrooms that paralyze a body before death.”

Waves of horror rolled off Bertrice. “You think she was raped with a knife while she was alive and aware?”

I folded the bread in half. “That’s part of the reason I consulted with the Guild. I’m trying to narrow down the possibilities.” Heat seared my tongue.

The priestess picked up the ceramic pot at her place and took a suspicious sniff. “Brewed Meca bean tea?”

I wouldn’t call the drink tea by any stretch of the imagination, but common sense said I shouldn’t rattle the tenuous relationship between us. “I understand you’re fond of the concoction.”

She poured a cup and sipped it. “Why would you trust the Healers Guild?”

“They have more thorough knowledge of aspects of the human body than I do. I would support anything that would help me perform my duties.”

“Balance in all things.” The sneer was evident in her voice.

“For every life, there is a death,” I shot her own temple’s motto back at her before I gentled my tone. “We’re not on opposing sides, Sister.”

“There was a time when temple authority was absolute.” She reached for a piece of flatbread, tore off a chunk and popped it in her mouth.

“The last demon war changed things. We haven’t seen the end of those consequences.” I took a sip of tea to cool the burning in my throat from the pepper sauce. “The situation last summer proved to me this city, this queendom, is vulnerable if the temples, the civilians, and the nobles don’t work together.”

We ate silently for a few minutes before she reached into her pocket and produced a scroll. “This may help you then.” She set it on the table.

“Sister Gretchen’s declaration?” I set down my bread and eggs before I ran my fingers over the wax seal. The raised letters and numbers sent a chill through me.

Bertrice stared at me. “I thought you could see.”

My laugh was self-deprecating. “After a fashion. My vision isn’t the same as yours.” I pointed at my eyes. “I can’t differentiate ink from parchment.”

She tapped the scroll. “Since one of the priests from Light will have to be there when you break the seal, he can check the inked date for you, but according to our records, Sister Gretchen deposited her declaration with us eleven days ago.”

Which was exactly what the imprinted code of Balance said. At the most a week before the priestess of Love was brutally murdered and left to pickle in a wine barrel. “You’ve spoken to your priest who took the declaration.”

“Yes. He will be available at your convenience for official testimony.” Bertrice took another drink of her pungent brew before she said, “Let me guess. Gerd told you Gretchen didn’t have a declaration.”

I sighed. “You know I can neither confirm or deny anything regarding an open investigation.”

Bertrice set her cup down with a sharp clink. “Watch your back with her, Anthea. If Thalia could have proven any of the things we suspected about her, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“What do you mean?”

“You represent one of Gerd’s few failures. She tried to murder you once. We could never figure out how she beat the truthspell.”

“No one can defeat a truthspell. And murder? By the Twelve, what are you—”

“She took herbs and mushrooms to stop the pregnancy.”

I stared at Sister Bertrice. Her words froze my soul. My mother had tried to kill me in the womb. “It’s illegal to interfere with any child conceived during the Spring Rituals.”

“Yes.”

That single word spoke volumes. How deep my mother’s ambitions went. How ruthless she could truly be. It chiseled an entirely different sculpture of her possible culpability in regards to Gretchen’s murder.

“Why wasn’t she punished?”

“She claimed it was the pregnancy madness.”

“And she was truthspelled.” I pushed my plate away, my appetite destroyed.

“Like I said, Thalia was sure she hindered it. Somehow.”

“That’s not possible.” I was repeating myself, but I couldn’t seem to stop.

“Under normal circumstances, I would agree.”

I sipped my tea, attempting to find some equilibrium, before I said, “Why are you telling me this now?”

Bertrice leaned forward. “Because if Thalia or I could have proven she did it deliberately, she would not be a problem today. Because I have a vested interest in keeping you alive, Anthea.”

“Why?”

“I was a healer. I burned out my power saving your life.” She relaxed back in her chair.

Her admission was more shocking than all of her revelations put together. It explained her animosity toward the Healers Guild. Without her gift, she would have been thrown out on her ear.

I cleared my throat. “Can anyone verify your story?”

“Gerd.” A smirk floated along Bertrice’s voice, but her next name carried sadness. “Brother Kam is the only other one alive who remembers the incident.”

Kam. He’d known me as a child. Why hadn’t he ever said anything ? Was the knowledge buried so deep in me that what I thought was instinctual trust was actually a memory?

Bertrice blew out a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you could arrange an audience between Master Healer Devin and myself.”

The abrupt change of topic startled me. “Why do you need me to do it?”

“Because if I seek it of my own volition, then I’m a traitor to my temple. If you force me to meet with him during the course of your duties while investigating the murder of a priestess from another temple…”

Goddess, how I loathed politics. But Bertrice’s suggestion made sense. “Perhaps. Tomorrow after the midday meal?”

“That would be acceptable.” She climbed to her feet. “Thank you for your hospitality, Justice.”

I stood as well. “Thank you for bringing Sister Gretchen’s statement of her last wishes to my attention.”

After Bertrice had departed, I picked up the statement. While I had time to summon a witness from the Temple of Truth, my gut said whatever was in the document would take far longer than the two candlemarks I had before court started. I crossed my office. Laying my hand on the spot in the marble, I spoke the words of the unlocking spell, and placed the statement inside the block. Only a priestess of my own Temple could access the special hiding place.

Taking the accursed document across the street this afternoon would give me the excuse I needed to question Kam.

* * *

Thank Balance, I didn’t have any capital cases that morning. As it was, I could barely keep my attention on the trivial matters before me. Or they seemed trivial after the shocks Sister Bertrice had delivered to my breakfast table.

Especially the damn runaway horse that had cracked a cobbler’s sign.

Once today’s case were heard, I gave instructions to my clerk Donella to invite the healers and Sister Bertrice for a meeting here. She gave me an odd look but nodded before I raced across the room to catch the young priest who’d been my truthspeller today.

“Brother…could you wait a moment?” Death take me, I couldn’t keep my own staff’s names straight, much less Luc’s.

The junior priest paused in collecting his things. “Yes, Lady Justice?”

“I have a declaration of last wishes.”

“I’d be happy to witness, m’lady.” Goddess help the boy, he actually sounded happy. And when did I start thinking of the juniors as green children?”

“Trust me, you don’t want this one sitting on your shoulders. Is Brother Luc available?” I knew damn well he wasn’t. He’d said he wouldn’t be able to get to the tracking spell research until after the midday meal.

“No, m’lady. Are you sure I can’t help? I assure you I’m fully versed in the protocols.”

I pulled him away from the crowd still filing out of the courtroom. “Is Brother Kam available? This regards the priestess that was murdered. If what I suspect is in the declaration, there are going to be some very unhappy people. I’m not allowing you to ruin your career at your temple over a potential political mess.”

“I see.” A little relief mixed with his disappointment. “Yes, I believe Brother Kam is available. May I escort you to the Temple of Light, or shall I bring him here?”

I laughed. “Are you seriously suggesting that Brother Kam interrupt his midday meal?”

“What was I thinking?” the junior priest said, his voice rueful.

It took me a moment to retrieve the declaration. It took me more than a moment to convince Little Bear I didn’t need a warden to accompany us. If I didn’t know better, I would think we were all seeing conspiracies under every slab and cobblestone of the city.

The young brother led me to the private dining room, where sure enough Kam was plowing through a chicken pie. He insisted that I be brought a chicken pie as well.

Kam dabbed his mouth as my escort rushed off. “Now, what can I possibly do for you today, my lovely Anthea?”

I pulled the scroll from my pocket and laid it on the table. “Sister Gretchen’s declaration.”

He reached for his goblet and took a long swallow of wine. “So you're painting a target on the old man?”

I smiled despite my own anxiety. “No. I want a seat to be my witness. Gretchen made a point of leaving this with the Temple of Death instead of her own. Since Luc’s unavailable…”

He glared at me. Kam actually glared at me. “I’m no longer considered an active priest.”

“Why are you so afraid of Gerd? I’m the one she tried to kill in the womb.”

There was no sound. No movement. For a brief instant, I wondered if Kam had died in his seat.

He released the breath he’d been holding. “Who told you?” He waved a hand. “Never mind. That was a foolish question.”

I folded my hands and leaned my elbows on the table. “You and Bertrice seem to think she’ll try to finish what she started. Something that happened thirty years ago.”

“She’s evil, Anthea. Stay away from her.”

I’d heard Kam worried, jovial, and falling down drunk, but raw terror was in his voice now. “Unless she’s been consorting with demons, she’s still human, therefore manageable.”

We fell silent when the young Light priest who had accompanied me entered with my food. Once the door shut behind him, Kam staggered to his feet. His age was very apparent in the way he trembled as he warded the room.

He dropped into his chair as if all his energy had been spent in that little act of magic. “She didn’t have pregnancy madness. We could see it in her eyes. We knew, but we couldn’t prove it.” He slammed the flat of his hand on the table’s surface. The dishes shivered at the release of his anger.

I folded my hand over his. The skin so wrinkled, dry as a dead leaf. His age sunk into my heart. “Do you believe Gerd could have killed and violated Gretchen?”

“Yes.”

Like Bertrice this morning, the single affirmation said everything.

Except something didn’t fit. I couldn’t see what Gerd would gain from the manner of Gretchen’s death. The money and property interests were too obvious.

It wasn’t any daughterly affection that colored my viewpoint. If there was one thing about my mother, it was her ruthless efficiency. She’d learned from her first attempt at murder. If she wanted Gretchen dead, the priestess would never have been found.

I tapped the scroll against the hardwood. “If she is behind this perversity, the contents of the declaration may force her hand.”

“You don’t think Gretchen left her property to the Temple of Love.”

I chuckled. “Of course not. Otherwise, Gerd would have been pounding on the doors of my temple, demanding that the seal be cracked and its contents confirmed last night.” I squeezed his hand. “Why didn’t you ever tell me you knew me from my childhood?”

His other hand patted mine. “I had hoped, prayed, that you didn’t remember Orrin. And that you never found out what your mother had done to you. Bertrice nearly killed herself saving you, and she always felt guilty that she condemned you to the Temple of Balance.”

I shook my head in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Her power burned out before she could fully restore your health. By the time we could get another healer it was too late. The poison had destroyed your sight.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More Autharium Drama

I don't like bullies.

To me, using a bad faith DMCA to silence critics is blatant bullying. Even worse is when the attempt to censor is aimed at someone I like and respect, like David Vandagriff, aka The Passive Guy.

Because of my own screw-up, my spew session about Autharium's use of a bad faith DMCA appeared on Blood Lines on Friday, February 21, 2014, at 9:30 p.m. instead of 7:00 a.m. on Monday as I intended.

Before I go farther, I'd also like to point out that Blood Lines has seven followers and roughly seventeen regular readers as opposed to the thirty-two followers and 60-70 regulars that follow Wild, Wicked & Wacky. There's not a lot of crossover viewing between the two blogs.

At 4:35 p.m. on Sunday, February 23, I received an e-mail from Matt Bradbeer.

Matt is the co-founder and director of Autharium, though he failed to identify himself as such in his e-mail to me. Now, I can't repost the e-mail here without Matt getting a bug up his ass about me violating his copyright (which frankly, I find hilarious given the original terms in Autharium's Terms and Conditions from March of 2013). That doesn't mean I can't fisk the generic items of his message.


[First paragraph - statement concerning his knowledge of my blog post followed by snide comment]

One of the first rules of negotiation, kids, is that you never start by pissing off the person you want something from.

The gist of the entire e-mail is that Matt wants me to change my opinion of his company.

Matt wants.

Not me.

Matt.

Matt wants me to do something for him. And he starts his message with a snide comment.

Thereby irritating the shit out of an ex-attorney, born under the sign of Scorpio and who has just started menopause. Nope, he's definitely not the brightest crayon in the box.

P.S. All that information about me that I just stated can easily be found on the internet. ALL of it. Did Matt do his research before engaging someone he perceives as an opponent? Nope. Which leads to rule number two of negotiation--know the person on the other side of the table.


[Second paragraph - claim that Autharium tried to contact PG last March]

According to Matt, someone from Autharium tried to contact PG  after his blog post last March, twice by e-mail and once through social media, and that PG did not respond. PG's original analysis of Matt's company was coming up on the first page of search results when Matt googled his company.

Matt was not pleased by this fact.

In PG's second blog post about Autharium, PG says he never received any communication from Autharium before the DMCA takedown was filed.

For the record, I pretty much doubt everybody's story without proof, and Matt failed to send me any proof of his attempts to contact PG.

But back to the actual notice issue, there are three problems here:

1) Let's assume Matt is telling the truth about his attempts to contact PG. E-mails go awry. People don't always check their social media everyday. Basically, shit can and does happen.

So why did Matt wait eleven months? Why didn't he try to contact PG again? Why not try through other means? Leave a message on the blog? Look up PG's address and phone number?

I know other countries can send certified letters because I've received one from a solicitor in Dublin before.

And the most important question of all, why is it someone from Autharium had no problems whatsoever contacting PG on Monday, February 24th?

2) Other websites have mentioned the March 2013 contract terms, most especially Writer Beware. Victoria Strauss had similar opinions concerning the old contract terms. If you'll note, her addendum concerning the changes wasn't appended to her original post until November 2013. According to Victoria, she was accused of defamatory comments about Autharium.

[Legal note: It's not defamation when the facts are true and accurate at the time they were made. Matt really needs to hire a better class of laywers as you'll see later.]

3) While Google is the most popular search engine in the US, and arguably the world, why didn't Autharium send DMCA takedown notices to Bing? Or Yandex? Or Yahoo?

I'm really trying to give Matt the benefit of the doubt here, but he's making it very, very hard. Especially when he's the co-founder and director of eGurus, Ltd., a management consulting firm. You'd think with a name like eGurus they would know how the internet works and how to use alternate communication devices.

So this all puts me in a weird position. Do I believe the attorney I've known for three years and have referred friends to for legal counsel? Or do I believe a total stranger?


[Third paragraph - claim that Matt was forced to file a DMCA]

Um, sorry, I don't buy it unless you can produce the guy who held the gun to your head. There's always choices in this world, folks. Matt chose a not-so-wise decision given the current Streisand effect he's suffering.


[Fourth paragraph - T&C terms were changed based on PG's dissection; original terms were drafted by publishing industry attorneys]

On the first part, great! I'm really glad Matt read PG's analysis, realized some of his mistakes, and fixed them.

On the second part, egads! *facepalm*

Matt doesn't appear to understand why writers are leaving trad publishers in droves, much less why we find indie publishing attractive. And he hired the same idiots that are helping to drive away the writers from trad publishing. Lack of this kind of knowledge could be death to his company. As Joe Konrath has said many times, indie publishing is a HUGE shadow industry that the trad publishing either fails or refuses to see. Trying to cash in on it without understanding it? *shakes head* Definitely not a good idea.


[Fifth paragraph - acknowledgement of free legal advice from PG; repetition of contact issue; expectation that PG monitors every single website that discusses Autharium]

I'm pleased that Matt recognized PG was right, and Matt fixed the problem.

I think Matt's expectation that PG keep up with every website that talks about Autharium shows a bit of a narcissistic quality. It's a bit unfair when Matt himself seems to have difficulty keeping up with indie publishing as shown by my commentary on the Fourth Paragraph.


[Sixth paragraph - quibble about a legal issue from PG's followup on Autharium on Friday]

I love it when a civilian tries to argue legalese. Again, know who you're talking to, folks. Frankly, if I were still licensed, I would say PG didn't go far enough.

If I were still licensed, that is. Which I'm not.

Unfortunately for Matt, I don't have a lot of respect for some who tries to come off as an expert in something when it's very obvious he's not.


[Seventh paragraph - claims that I lied; that I'm being mean; the soft threat]

Matt never specifies exactly what it is I lied about. If he does ever let me know what FACTS I stated that are incorrect, I'd be happy to correct them.

Then there's the guilt trip. Y'all just know a girl is supposed to be nice, don't you? Sorry, but my mother is much better at that than Matt. It's not going to work.

I do have to give Matt credit for going for the soft threat, an insinuation he might do something though he never comes out and says exactly what. Most men at this point go for the hard threat, a la Sean Fodera, an attorney at Macmillan, threatening to sue over 1200 people who reposted a story about insults he lobbed at a writer.

But still, really, dude? You might do something because some chick on the other side of the pond insulted you?


[Eighth Paragraph - released a writer from a contract when she received a trad deal]

So what? Matt did something out of the goodness of his heart. What would have happened the old Terms and Conditions if she wanted to leave but didn't have a trad deal?

Under contract law, promises, issues, or ANYTHING not specifically stated in the terms of the contract means nothing. However, I'm no longer an attorney, so please double-check with your own legal counsel.

And if you haven't clicked the link for Matt's job history above, he used to work for Waterstone's. For those who don't know, Waterstone's is a UK bookseller chain, similar to Barnes & Noble here in the States.

Which I would use as evidence of his mental state when it comes to writers.

If I were still an attorney.

Which I'm not.


[Ninth Paragraph - another reiteration of I'm mean]


[Tenth Paragraph - request to change my opinion]


After all that, I have re-evaluated my opinion of Autharium, and I'm even more wary of the company for two reasons:

1) The Terms and Conditions

Has Autharium changed their terms and conditions since PG's original post based on his analysis? Yes.

However, there's a couple of things in Autharium's T&C that I still don't like, despite the changes that have been made. There's no guarantee Autharium won't change the T&C back to the way it was in March of 2013. And frankly, while I highly respect PG, it isn't his intellectual property on the line; it would be mine by signing up with Autharium.

Don't get me wrong. PG's a good guy, and I would hire him in a heartbeat. Also, Autharium has used him as free legal counsel (and maybe they should think about hiring him instead of the attorneys they are currently using), which he doesn't have a problem with..

I, on the other hand, am a bitch, and I don't give advice for free to people I don't know. So I won't state the problems with the T&C I see in this blog. If you know me, contact me privately and we'll talk. Informally. Because I'm no longer licensed, and I can't give legal advice. *grin*

2) Professionalism

Matt's thinking seems to be firmly rooted in trad publishing mentality, which is scary in and of itself. I rather get the impression he hoped to intimidate poor, little ole' me.

Because all the trad publishers and agents just know that writers are cattle to be culled. (No, Donald Maass, I will never let you forget that statement. I even have a t-shirt to commemorate it.)

What bothers me more are Matt's social missteps and his tendency to use a tactical nuke when a hug and kiss would have gotten him a lot farther in what he wanted.

Generally speaking, once the contract is signed the kid gloves come off, and you are fucked by whatever is actually written on the contract. Therefore, you are at the mercy of the other parties to the contract. You have to ask yourself, "Is this someone you want to do business with?"

In the case of Autharium, my answer is no. You, the reader of this blog, have to figure out what your own answer is.

While I was drafting this blog post, someone from Autharium did contact PG some time on Monday. The Autharium representative supposedly said the DMCA notice should have been handled differently.

Well, it's good that they figured it out. Hopefully, they learned something about how to deal with negative publicity in the future. Such as, don't piss off a respected blogger who can measure his followers in five digits per day.

For example, I found out last night that Techdirt wrote about Autharium's attempt to white-wash it's past.

And that is exactly the problem with the Streisand effect, kids.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Scam Distributor Autharium Versus The Passive Guy--Somebody's Going to Get Spanked...

...and it ain't going to be The Passive Guy.

About a year ago, The Passive Guy, aka PG, aka contract attorney David Vandagriff with 30+ years experience, talked about a new UK e-publisher/distributor called Autharium.

In Autharium's original Terms and Conditions, the company made an incredibly blatant rights grab that put the NY BPHs to shame. Basically, even if you remove your book from their database, they would still own all licencing and ancillary rights to your IP property.

Well instead of addressing the matter directly with PG, these slimy bottom-feeders filed a bad faith DMCA notice claiming copyright violation in an effort to shut up PG's revelation. Ironic considering their own method for stealing any meaningful copyright from authors, huh?

As PG noted, if you're going to pick a fight, you should know who your up against. Which is frankly what makes the folks running Autharium a bunch of dumbasses.

So PG has done another post on Autharium and their newer, sneakier wording to steal YOUR copyright. In the meantime, PG noted that the incredible Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware brought up the very same issues.

The best we can do as writers is to watch each others backs from slimeball organization like Autharium. If you're a writer, spread this story as far and wide as possible. Information is power, and we need to arm our fellows.

Update on the Autharium drama here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 4

Sorry for the delay in putting up a new chapter. My SAD hit me a little harder than usual this winter. Couple that with a consistent Vitamin D deficiency, and I've been a little under the weather for the last couple of months. It's been all I can do to get new pages written, much less blog posts edited..

Also, I finally came up with a title I like! Yay!

***
I walked across the street when bells at the Temple of the Mother tolled first evening. The one grace was that the rain had stopped, but the thick, heavy air said more was on its way.

Tyra accompanied me, but she had the foresight not to take my arm. Since my trial for Samael DiRoy’s murder last summer, everyone knew I was sighted even if my staff occasionally forgot out of sheer habit. Besides, traffic on the main thoroughfare had died down for the day. Not that it had been as congested as normal between the rain and rest day.

After my encounter with my mother this afternoon, I could understand my wardens insistence that I have an escort in the city.

Goddess, I missed having Luc around from sunrise to sunrise. I could trust him to watch my back.

Was it my own stubbornness that prevented better relations with my staff? They seemed so eager to please. Or were they terrified I would blame them for hiding my predecessor’s instability? To be released from temple service would be the ultimate disgrace.

On the other hand, I couldn’t get myself disgraced no matter how hard I tried.

I was escorted to the chief priest’s private dining room. It hadn’t change a bit since Luc had taken over from Kam, and I said as much to the two men.

Luc laughed. “I wish had the time or inclination to redecorate, but Kam here has been keeping me quite busy. I think he saved his entire workload from last spring for me.”

The elderly priest chuckled. “Running a temple is a young person’s game.”

“And cooking a fine dinner takes an experienced hand,” I remarked.

“Just so, my lady.” Kam took my hand looped it around his arm. The gesture was sheer graciousness, not a suggestion that I was helpless, and he did it every time I came to the Temple of Truth for dinner long before I was condemned to the Orrin temple seat.

“And at the rate he’s going, I won’t fit in my smallclothes by next winter,” Luc grumbled good-naturedly. To Tyra’s shock, he copied Kam and took the warden’s arm in his.

Even after half a year, it was odd to see Luc at the head of chief priest’s private table, instead of Kam. He kept with Kam’s tradition that business was not to be discussed until after the sweets course. Tonight’s specialty was mountain ice mixed with cream and flavored with honey and dried blackberries.

I licked the last bits from my spoon before I said, “You’re right, Luc. You’re going to end up fatter than a bear before hibernation at this rate.

“After the day we’ve had, I told Kam we deserved a treat.” Luc dropped his own spoon into the bowl with a clatter. “I hope your day was more productive than mine.”

“Nothing from any of the duke’s household?”

“Not a damn thing.” He raked his hands through his hair. “In fact, the only quirk was Lady Alessa.”

I sat up straighter. “What do you mean?”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was fighting my spell, but the idea is ridiculous. According to our records, none of the DiMaras have ever shown a flicker of magical ability.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“No.” He speared a piece of cheese from the platter in front of him. “She was one of the last people I questioned, and I could have imagined it.”

A shiver ran up my spine. The last thing I wanted was to drop more trouble in Marco’s lap. Other than Luc, he was the only person who’d ever defended me against an attacker in every sense of the word.

I relayed what Master Healer Devin had said about the attacker having small hands. That story spilled into events at the Temple of Death, and my encounter with my mother.

Luc and I exchanged looks, old habits falling into place. He had the same feeling that we were missing a major piece of this puzzle.

“Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong angle.” Kam poured more wine into his goblet.

“How so?” I asked.

“It could have been a jealous worshipper who viewed Sister Gretchen as his. When she refused to run away with him, he became enraged. If he couldn’t have her, no one else could.”

I turned to Tyra. “What’s your analysis, Warden?”

She stammered a couple of times before she said, “I’m happy Sister Gretchen wasn’t found in one of our temple’s wine barrels, Justice.”

Kam promptly released the neck of the decanter he was reaching for. “Oh, my.”

The same worry had plagued to me, but I folded my fingers and rested my chin on them. “Why so?”

More stammering. I waited patiently, Little Bear’s assessment of Penelope’s behavior foremost in my mind. If I wanted the Balance staff to trust me, and vice versa, I needed to extend the offer.

“W-w-well, given that Duke Marco swore for your conduct at your own t-t-trial for murder, if the body had been discovered at our temple, people would blame you without evidence, and the duke’s enemies would use it against him.

“Magistrate DiCook would claim Orrin’s Temple of Balance was corrupt, and jurisdiction would fall to him. Given his assumption of guilty until proven innocent and his lack of investigative skills, both His Grace and you would be executed.” Her green lashes fluttered with her nervous energy.

“Very good, Warden. My thoughts as well. Which means someone is specifically targeting the duke for scandal—”

“Or it was still a method of killing two quail with the same arrow,” Luc added.

“Katarina,” I said.

“She knows a lot of Gerd’s secrets, and with Marco’s father imprisoned for life for kidnapping and attempted memory alteration, Gerd doesn’t have the nobility completely under her thumb.”

“But most of the local lords aren’t happy with His Grace either,” Tyra offered. At least, the girl no longer stuttered.

“Which brings us back to the original problem.” I fished the vial out of my pocket. “I’m hoping this will help.”

“What’s this?” Luc asked as he took the stoppered glass from my hand. He held the vial up to the nearest oil lamp to examine the contents.

“I’m praying it is skin scrapings from Gretchen’s attacker. Master Devin pointed out all her nails were packed with this substance.”

Luc met my gaze. “That’s assuming the wine didn’t overwhelm his essence.”

“Or hers.” I frowned. “At this point, I’m not ruling anyone or anything out. I know it’s not much to start with, but on the chance, Gretchen tore her attacker’s skin, and he’s still alive.”

“I’ll have to do a little research for this fine of a tracking spell. Otherwise, we may end up finding the grapevines that were the source of the wine. Do you have a problem with me consulting the Wildling chief priest—”

His recitation was interrupted by Tyra yawning, a wide, jaw-cracking one. Blood rushed to her face as she realized what she’d done. “I beg forgiveness, Brothers, Lady Justice.”

“Pish,” Kam said as he waved his hand. “Anthea and Luc are simply more adept at hiding theirs while listening to an old man ramble.”

“Because we’ve had far too much practice,” I said into my cup.

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, young lady.” He waggled a finger at me.

“You were meant to hear, old man,” I shot back.

“Well, it’s about time you two experience the other side.”

Luc leaned closer to Tyra. “It’s permissible to laugh at them, Warden. I do all the time.”

“You were on last night’s watch, weren’t you?” I said.

“Yes, m’lady.”

“Go back to the temple and get some sleep.”

“But I can’t leave you—”

“I’ll escort her home, Warden,” Luc said.

Warmth filled me. It had been weeks since we’d had any time alone.

“But—” she tried one more time.

“That’s a direct order, Warden. I don’t need my staff nodding off in the middle of court tomorrow morning.”

She tried to hide her relief as she stood. “Thank you, m’lady. Good eventide, Brothers.”

Once she left, Kam rested his chubby arms on the table service. “Anthea, be careful with Gerd. Don’t take power in this city, her wrath or her ego for granted.”

“She interfered with an investigation.” Damn, now I sounded like the sullen, petulant child.

“If you’re expecting any type of maternal consideration—”

I snorted. “Oh, believe me, I am not.”

“I’m too old and too tired to argue with a mule-headed justice.” He climbed to his feet with a great deal of puffing. “Do something with her before she does something stupid, Luc. Good eventide.”

For an elderly, overweight man, Kam did a remarkable job of stomping out of the dining room in a huff. The door slammed behind him, and the dishes and utensils vibrated in response.

“You’re poking everyone with a stick tonight, Justice.” Luc’s amused tone irritated me.

“This would all be so much easier if I didn’t have half the city playing idiotic games.”

“That means you have to play the game better than anyone else.”

“I can think of games I’d rather play.” I smiled at him.

He was out of his chair and pulling me into his arms before my next heartbeat. Our lips met, and I felt as if I’d been trapped in the Salt Desert for days, and finally taking a sip of fresh, sweet water.

The kiss was far too short. Or so I thought until I realized he pressed me against the wall and my legs were wrapped around his waist.

“Goddess, I miss you,” I whispered.

Luc leaned his forehead against mine. “Not as much as I miss you.” His breath was warm against my skin, reminding of all those mornings he’d woken me with sweet kisses.

His hands slid from my buttocks. “But we can’t. Not here. Not now.”

“When?” I hated that the single word sounded like a sob, that I sounded like a lovestruck fool.

“I don’t know.” He pulled my arms from his neck. “You need to go back before anyone starts rumors. We have enough trouble on our tables, my love.” His words were followed by a light kiss on my neck, the tender spot where I was most sensitive.

When he stepped away, I felt as shaky as if I’d been sword training during a severe ground quake. And I wished I’d argued harder that we run away to Cant six months ago.

* * *
The thought of escaping my duties crawled through my mind long after the temple and outbuildings had quieted for the night. But amid the desire to saddle Nassa and gallop south to the border, the mutilated body of Sister Gretchen taunted me. Maybe if Luc could trace who, then we would know why.

Which brought me back full circle to Luc and abandoning the temple again.

I sighed, sat up and punched at the down pillows. I still hadn’t gotten used to the finery afforded my new position. Luc and I had slept on the ground more often than not as we traveled the circuit of villages and towns between Orrin and the mountains. I threw myself back down on the bed.

This whole situation was ridiculous. I was fretting about things I had no control over. Without sleep, I’d be crankier than usual during court tomorrow morning.

The faint scrape of stone on stone cut my self-pity off at the knees. I froze and scanned the room through slitted eyes. My hand reached between the mattress and the bed frame for my dagger.

There. A small section wall to the left of my wardrobe separated from the rest of the blue-green marble. The brilliant yellow of a living being appeared. It stepped through the opening and straightened. A man.

My fingers tightened around the dagger handle. Fool. I could see in the dark. He couldn’t.

Despite the chill in the air, I had kicked up my blankets long before. It was a simple matter of rolling off the bed and crouching on the icy floor.

He crept unerringly to my bedside. This was someone who knew the lay of my chambers or had been in here before. Neither boded well.

When he reached for the spot where my head would have been, I grabbed his collar and yanked. He lost his balance and landed on my mattress with a whoof. The tip of my dagger rested along the pulse point of throat.

The feel of his skin and his scent registered a heartbeat before Luc said, “Is this how you greet all your lovers?”

“You scared the piss out of me,” I hissed. “By our gods, what are you doing here? How did you…” I glanced at the opening he’d slipped through.

“If you put away the dagger, I’ll tell you.”

“I’m glad you find this amusing,” I muttered, but I released him.

He rearranged himself to lie lengthwise on my mattress. I set my weapon on the lamp table and circled the room, laying wards so we wouldn’t be interrupted.

When I returned to the bed, he snagged my hand and pulled me on top of him. My body heated as his hands roamed and his arousal pressed against me.

“How?”

“Apparently, we are not the first of our temples to have an illegal tryst.”

I waited for him to continue, but it was growing more difficult to think with the things he was doing to me. Finally, I tore my mouth from his. “The secret passage?” I prompted.

“Kam was waiting in my bedchamber when I returned.” His chest rumbled beneath me. “Would you believe he lectured me on taking the edge off your irritability?”

“He didn’t.”

“Um-hmmm…” Luc flipped me so I was underneath him. Little kisses followed the hem of my nightshirt upward.

“That’s rather audacious of him.” A disturbing thought hit me. “Wait a moment. Kam and…Penelope?”

Luc buried his face against my inner thigh to stifle his laughter. “Light, no. Thalia.”

The legendary justice had been Penelope’s predecessor. She died defending the city from a pirate attack nearly a generation ago. Her sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. The battle had broken the marauders power on the Peaceful Sea.

“Incredible,” I whispered. “I didn’t realize Kam had been here that long.”

“Nearly fifty years.”

I wove my fingers through Luc’s hair as he layered more licks and kisses along my skin. “But the tunnel?”

“Was built long before either Thalia or Kam were assigned here. They’re part of the original structures. There’s another tunnel between Light and Father. He believes they were escape routes during the demon wars.” His breath brushed my flesh, shooting prickles all over my body. “Now will you be quiet and let me love you, or do I have to gag you?”

I sighed. “I suppose. If you must for my mental health…”

Thankfully, my wards blocked the rest of the temple from hearing my shrieks as Luc showed me how much he missed me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sword of Justice - Chapter 3

The extraordinary wait for the chief healer was due to his insistence on bringing an apprentice plus his team of horses and his wagon. Therefore, my cloak and robes were dry and my toes quite toasty by the time he arrived.

And I didn’t have to send Little Bear back to the Temple of Death for additional transportation.

“Nice that one of us could get out of the cold,” Luc muttered in my ear as I joined the men and Lady Alessa in the courtyard.

“It was necessary,” I murmured. “Lady Katarina didn’t need to be on her feet. Would you and Brother Kam be available for dinner tonight?”

Her information was that good? his voice whispered in my mind.

I didn’t look at him as we followed the chief healer down to the wine cellar once more, but Luc’s grunt indicated he caught my slight nod.

Orrin’s chief healer, a man named Aaron, pushed back his hood and crouched next to the corpse. Despite the red pulsing in his knuckles and garrulous quality of his voice, he acted like a man closer to my age of thirty summers than a grandfather.

He flipped back the sheet Lady Alessa had brought to cover the murdered priestess. His apprentice whirled and ran out through the doorway. Everyone politely ignored the sounds of the poor youth retching onto the sawdust in the hallway.

“I believe you called me a little too late, Justice,” Aaron said dryly.

It took all my will not to laugh at his black humor. “I wanted your opinion on her wounds, Master Aaron.”

He stroked his mustache and short beard that had become popular with men in Issura over the last few years. His countenance shifted from yellow to orange as he regarded the corpse. Good to know even he wasn’t immune to the brutality perpetrated on the priestess.

“The stab wounds to her birth canal wouldn’t have been sufficient to kill her.” He pointed to her neck. “I agree with Brother Luc that whoever strangled her caused the actual death.”

Master Aaron glanced at DiCook who stood fuming on the opposite side of the cellar. As far away from Luc as he could get while still part of the conversation. However, Aaron’s question was addressed to me. “I have a new healer in my employ. Would you mind if we take the body back to my estate and allow him a look before we deliver it to the Temple of Death?”

“Hasn’t the poor woman been through enough?” the magistrate snapped.< br/>
I waved a hand toward the late priestess. “I thought you were concerned about finding whoever did this to her.”

“I am. But there is decency and tradition to be observed.” His tone was a bit more deflated.

“Are you saying there is something I have not done according to tradition?” My voice was as cold as the steel at my shoulder.

“No, Justice.” He forced the words between his clenched jaws.

Time to change tactics with DiCook. I gave him a gracious smile. At least, I hoped it appeared gracious. “Thank you for your assistance, Magistrate, but there’s nothing more either of us can do here to assist Brother Luc in questioning the rest of Duke Marco’s household.”

“If you don’t mind, Justice, I’d like to leave my peacekeepers here to help your wardens make sure everyone is questioned.” Amazing how he could turn my title into an insult.

I shrugged. “That is Brother Luc’s discretion, not mine.”

Thanks, came Luc’s sarcastic reply.

I ignored him. “In the meantime, I will escort Sister Gretchen’s body to Healer Aaron’s for his colleagues’ opinion, then to the Temple of Death.”

“What about informing Sister Gerd?”

I should have known DiCook wouldn’t let this go, not that I was looking forward to dealing with my mother. “I think this type of news would best come from another priestess, don’t you think?” I tilted my head to include Luc in my next statement. “My clerk will have copies of everyone’s statements to both of you within two days.”

“Thank you, Justice.” Luc smiled.

The magistrate said nothing. I didn’t need to read his thoughts to know he was plotting some kind of mischief.

I pulled Little Bear and Tyra aside. “I need one of you to stay as an escort for the clerk. The other one will accompany me.”

The two wardens looked at each other. I detected a distinctive aura of confusion.

Little Bear cleared his throat. “M’lady, your authority is paramount here.”

I sighed. “Neither are going to be pleasant jobs, so I don’t want either of you thinking the other got the better assignment. This is me delegating my authority.”

They looked at each other. Tyra shrugged. “Rocks and sticks?”

Little Bear nodded.

Somehow, it seemed appropriate that my wardens would use a children’s game to decide.

Once we loaded the corpse onto the wagon, Little Bear and I escorted the healer’s wagon down the bluffs back into the city proper. The drizzle hadn’t stopped since we’d left the temple this morning. I couldn’t even tell what hour it might be, though my stomach insisted it was first afternoon.

“Justice Anthea, if I may?” Little Bear’s voice could barely be heard over the wet clopping of the horses’ hooves and the rattle of the wagon wheels.

“Yes?”

He was silent, as if reconsidering whatever he wanted to ask.

“Spit it out, Warden. It’s too damn miserable and wet for me to even want to whip you for impertinence.”

“My lady, we need some guidance at times. Your method of commanding is…”

“Unorthodox?” I offered.

“Quite different than Justice Penelope, Balance rest her soul.”

“Are my methods that disturbing?”

“No, m’lady, it’s only…”

I waited for a heartbeat. Two. A glance over my shoulder showed Healer Aaron in a deep discussion with his apprentice. “Why didn’t any of you notify the Reverend Mother that Penelope’s mental faculties were questionable at best near the end?”

He blew out a deep lungful of air. For a moment, his face was obscured in a yellowish-green cloud. The temperature was dropping quickly if I could see his breath. “We did. How did you know?”

“The change in her records over the last year, as if someone was mimicking her style, but there were certain words used differently. What was the response from the Reverend Mother?”

“We never received one.” His voice was tight, strained.

Rage simmered in my blood. Not at Little Bear and the rest of our brothers and sisters at the temple. The bitch had known there were problems long before she forced me into Orrin’s justice seat. What kind of demon-spawned game was she playing at?

Thanks to my own crime, I was forbidden from leaving the city, else I would tear up the National Road to the main temple in the capital and demand answers. Any letter I sent regarding Penelope would be ignored as surely as the staff’s had been.

For the love of the Mother, Sivan, Little Bear and the rest had been running temple business for well over a year. It’s a wonder they didn’t resent me. Actually, it was a wonder they didn’t hate me.

I swallowed the acid at the back of my throat. “Let me think on the matter. I’ve ridden circuit for a decade. I’m rather used to doing everything myself. My apologies for not taking your feelings and experience into account. I didn’t realize...”

“May I speak freely, Justice?”

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

“We don’t blame you.” A soft burr vibrated under his words, and what I could see of his face under hood glowed a fierce scarlet. I wasn’t the only one furious with the home temple’s games. “We simply want to understand your needs. Justice Penelope never allowed us the amount of…autonomy that you have.”

“Until she became senile, you mean.”

“Yes, m’lady.”

I nodded to myself. “Very well, Warden. Here’s the first rule for my regime. I want honesty at all times. Discretely when the situation calls for it. I believe you and the rest of staff have discretion mastered.”

He turned and stared at me. “Thank you, Justice.”

* * *
Journeymen and women poured out into the rain to help us carry the late Sister Gretchen inside. On Chief Healer Aaron’s estate, the living quarters were in a separate building than his treatment and training rooms. Once inside, I could immediately understand why. No amount of lemon oil soap or herbs could totally disguise the odors of infection, illness and death.

Apprentices lit a multitude of lamps around the room. Between the heat from the burning wicks and the sheer amount of bodies, I soon had to squint. I pulled my hood tight around my face, but it didn’t help much as the room grew warmer.

Five master healers entered. There was quite a bit of tension due to the presence of Little Bear and me, but their curiosity overwhelmed whatever reticence they had over a priestess and her warden observing.

The healers had fought for their independence from the Temples after the Demon War. They’d formed their own guild as any other craft would. After a century, there were still those in Temples who thought allowing any magic of such power outside of priestly control was a mistake.

The people in this room would never believe me if I told them I envied their freedom.

“Where’s Davin?” Aaron shouted over the general hubbub.

“Here. Now what’s the fuss about?” The man who entered stood a head shorter than the chief healer. His accent was one of the eastern kingdoms, but indistinct enough I couldn’t name which one. The metallic thread in the embroidery at his shoulders indicated he was also a master healer, but his attitude was irreverent compared to every guild master I’d ever met.

I immediately liked him.

Davin’s attention was drawn to the white-shrouded figure on the table. “How’s you manage to get a hold of a corpse before those vultures at the Temple?”

One of the journeymen nudged him with an elbow. Davin finally noticed Little Bear and me in the corner. “My apologies, Justice.”

He didn’t sound very apologetic.

I stepped to the table and the two journeywomen made room for me, and not from politeness. “Master Aaron says you may have insights concerning my murder victim.”

“Murder victim?” Devin grunted and pushed two of the other masters out of the way. He uncovered the corpse. “She looks like someone soaked her in a wine vat.”

“She was found in a wine barrel when the servants tapped it,” Aaron explained.

“Ruined a barrel of decent Pana red,” I added.

Devin chuckled before he peered closely at her neck. “Strangled, but you already knew that, didn’t you, Justice? Possibly a small man or a woman.”

“A woman?”

He looked up at me. “Yes, those of you who have been trained in fighting, a tumbler, anyone with sufficient strength in the arms. The fairer sex is just as capable of murder. You’re usually more subtle about it.”

Interesting observation. I was even more curious about his history.

Devin shifted and checked the wrists of the corpse. “She wasn’t restrained.” He lifted the hands. “As you can see, there’s quite of bit of debris under the nails.”

“No, I can’t.” I smiled to take the sting from my words.

“Forgive me, Justice. I forgot that you were sightless.”

“Oh, I can see.” I flipped back my hood, though the brightness bordered on painful. “Just not the way everybody else can.”

“Oh.” The confident Devin seemed to search for words. “I don’t suppose you would let me examine you.”

“Not right now, Master Healer.” I waved at the body. “I have a more pressing matter. Could the material under her nails be skin? If someone was choking the life out of me, I would be fighting back.”

“I surmise so.”

Excitement trilled along my skin. “Could you collect it? Master Aaron, if I may impose on you for a bottle and a stopper.” Luc make not be able to trace Sister Gretchen’s path, but if her assailant was still alive…

“Of course, Justice,” Aaron answered. In moments, I had the bottle secreted in my pocket.

“Justice, if you are tracking the culprit.” Davin’s tone turned deadly serious. “The dagger wounds to this woman’s birth canal…”

“I don’t need a healer to tell me I’m dealing with someone insane.”

“Yes.” He hesitated before he said, “With your permission, I wish to confirm that strangulation was the cause of her death.”

“I don’t understand, Master Healer.” I pointed at the neck of the corpse. You said that the bruising—”

“Her attacker may have choked her until she lost consciousness in order to stab her with the dagger.” He ran his palms along the corpse’s inner thighs. “No other cuts. No other marks on her. Also, notice there are no cuts on her arms or hands.”

“So you’re saying she was unconscious or dead when that was done to her.”

“As you pointed out, Justice, I wouldn’t meekly let someone chop off my manhood.”

“Do what you need to, Master Healer. You won’t mind if I watch?”

He stiffened and for the first time, his cheeks and ears flared crimson. “So you can report me back to your Reverend Mother?”

“No, because your reasoning and methods fascinate me.”

“I apologize, Justice. I’ve become quite used to the Temple of Death questioning everything I do.”

I grinned. “The Healers Guild is just pissing everyone off, aren’t they?”

He laughed. “Even so.”

“You have nothing to fear from me, Master Healer. If anything, I am in your debt for your assistance in helping my track the bastard who did this to Sister Gretchen.”

* * *
A little over a candlemark later, Little Bear and I escorted the healer’s wagon down the boulevard to the Temple of Death. Almost as if the gods knew our purpose, the skies opened up, and we were thoroughly drenched upon our arrival.

I explained the situation to the records clerk, who nodded and scribbled things on his parchment I couldn’t read. What the frigid rain didn’t soak, the air chilled. For me, the world blurred into a morass of blue, purple and gray with occasional spots of brightness. It was one of the things I hated about winter.

“Did Sister Gretchen DiLove file a statement of last wishes?” I asked.

The clerk finally looked at me. “I would have to research our library, but most of the priesthood keep copies with their own temples.”

I frowned. “That is not protocol established by the reverend mothers and fathers.”

He shrugged “Procedure has been rather…lax with your predecessor, Justice.”

“I see.” My voice was as cold as the nasty weather. “I suppose I need to rectify certain matters during the equinox meeting.” The temples dealt with formal matters the week before the Spring Rituals, clearing the slates before the new year. This year’s meeting would be entertaining to say the least.

“If we have the declaration, I’m sure Sister Bertrice will have it sent to you.”

“My thanks.” I nodded to the clerk. I had no illusions I would be seeing the head priestess of the Temple of Death sooner rather than later once her people saw Sister Gretchen remains.

I pivoted and stalked out of the black marble receiving room, Little Bear on my heels.

“Home, m’lady?”

“Unfortunately, no. I have one more stop to make.”

His exhalation mirrored my own feelings. In fact, I’d rather suffer the lash again than what I had to do next.

The twelve temples lined the south end of Orrin’s main thoroughfare, six on one side and their counterpart facing them. The ride from Death to Love was far too short.

The torches in the courtyard flared and sizzled under the downpour. Laughter and music hummed past the expensive glass panes inset in the temples windows.

A eunuch ran up to take our reins. “Good tidings, sirs. Looking for warmth and care on this miserable winter day?”

“No,” I said as I dismounted. “Please inform High Sister Gerd that Chief Justice Anthea requests an audience on a matter of utmost importance.”

Stutters issued from the eunuch’s mouth before he called for a groom to take our horses. His deep bow was almost humorous. He raced through the main doors.

Little Bear looked at me and gave a sad shake of his head.

“I take it Penlope didn’t often call on Gerd,” I whispered.

“Never,” he whispered back. “They hated each other’s guts.”

Interesting. I would have to ask him why once we were safely ensconced back in out own abode with dry clothes and hot wine.

We entered the temple, and a priestess fluttered up, the bells of her robe tinkling. The lowest ranking priestess from her total lack of composure. “Forgive us, Justice. We hadn’t expected such an august presence on the day of rest.”

I crossed my arms, well aware of the stares from the worshippers and the servants in the reception area. “I don’t need my ass kissed by you or any other priestess of Love. I need to speak with Sister Gerd now.”

“She, um, she is, um…”

“If he’s fucking a worshipper, just say so.”

I couldn’t see her face because of her veil, but the junior priestess’ hands exploded with heat. “If you’re willing to wait, Justice?”

“Do I have a choice?” I growled. “You do understand that there are other things in life than spreading your legs, don’t you?”

She gave a little squeak of dismay before she whirled and raced off.

I turned to a different eunuch who was desperately trying to hide behind a pillar. “I don’t suppose you could fetch Sister Gretchen as an alternative.”

Little Bear’s dismay rolled across my psyche. “Um, Justice—”

I held up my hand to stop him. Thank Balance, he shut up. No doubt he feared for my sanity after dealing with a senile priestess for so long.

However, the eunuch’s skin remained the same yellow with nervous splotches of orange. “I’ll see if she’s available, m’lady.”

“Interesting,” I murmured. “And what does that tell us, Warden?”

His jaw shifted as he considered my question, then grinned as the pieces slid into place. The Temple of Love knew the whereabouts of its priestesses at all times. Little Bear wisely remained silent.

More bells as another priestess approached, but she was over a head taller than the previous girl. “If you’ll follow me, Justice. Sister Gerd will be with you momentarily.”

The deep voice. The height. Berda.

I dropped my arms. Now we were getting someplace. “And you are?”

“Sister Dragonfly.” She bowed. “I am Sister Gerd’s second. I apologize for the inexcusable rudeness you encountered here in our Goddess’ home.”

My mother having a berda as her second made sense in a warped sort of way. Even though the men who serviced both males and females were full priestesses and wore the accoutrements of such, they were never allowed to hold a city’s seat, much less become a reverend mother. Gerd would view Dragonfly as less of a threat to her power.

“It is I who should apologize, Sister Dragonfly. I would have sent a formal request for a meeting if the message I bring to her weren’t so important.”

“I assure you I would deliver any message you need to relay, Justice.”

“I do not disparage your abilities as second, Sister. The matter is best dealt with myself.”

“And yet, it is my understanding you requested Sister Gretchen.”

“Yes, I did.”

She regarded me for a moment. When I didn’t add anything, she pivoted and headed across the reception area. The door she led us to opened into the back hallway.

The receiving rooms.

Moans, grunts and laughter echoed against the wood paneled walls. The musk of lovemaking mixed with expensive perfumes and oils. If either Dragonfly or my mother expected to discomfit me, they needed something better than sex.

After a pack of demons, not too much else bothered me any more.

A quick glance showed Little Bear face had turned scarlet. I prayed he saved he desire for Sivan once we return to the temple. My support staff was not bound by my vows, thank the Goddess.

Dragonfly finally delivered us to an audience room. The fireplace was dark. No personal effects decorated the place. It was as heartless as the woman who ran this temple. Without a word, the berda closed the door behind her.

They let us stew in the cold for who knew how long since we had no sun and no candles to mark time. Little Bear maintained his silence. Good. No doubt the eunuchs or a priestess or two were watching us through spy holes.

But we were both pacing to keep warm when Sister Gerd deigned to join us.

“Justice Anthea, how nice of you to visit.” No bells tinkled as she entered the room, nor did she bother with the traditional veil. At least, she bothered to cover her body.

I swallowed a sigh. There was a time, eons ago, when that lyrical voice brought comfort to a small girl.

Now, I recognized it for the posturing it was. “I apologize for the need for my visit. It’s about Sister Gretchen.”

“So you decided you would tell me about her death. A half day after she had been discovered at that.” As she drifted past me, under the musk of her duties laid the scent of licorice.

“I pray that Magister DiCook is better in bed than he is an investigator.”

She sauntered over to Little Bear. “If your warden here is better than the magistrate, you’ll have my full cooperation, Justice.”

“Really, Mother, he has more taste than DiCook’s leftovers.”

She whirled so fast I automatically reached for my dagger concealed inside my robes. “Don’t call me that,” she hissed. “Don’t you dare call me that ever again.”

Little Bear’s cheeks flushed orange.

“So you do remember me. Good. I won’t tell everyone in the city your birth canal has been stretched as long as you answer my questions.”

Her chin lifted a notch. “You dare threaten me in my own temple?”

My temple, not my goddess’ temple. There a certain surety in the immutability of a corrupt human personality.

I pushed back my hood and met her glare.

Her gaze quickly dropped. “Ask your damn questions,” she said, her voice sullen.

I folded my arms over my chest once again. “How long has she been missing?”

“I’m not sure. Her handmaid only mentioned her bed hadn’t been slept in two nights ago.” No change in the pulse beating at her throat.

“I know she’s been missing at least four. Care to correct your answer?”

She flicked her hand in dismissal. “It’s not unusual for some of the women to share beds. Dragonfly deals with the daily duties.”

I didn’t believe for an instance that Dragonfly wouldn’t report every little happening and piece of gossip to her mistress. By the same token, I could definitely envision my mother hanging out the berda as her dupe. “Are you saying your second didn’t inform you that Sister Gretchen wasn’t reporting for her duties?”

“I don’t remember every little thing every priestess tells me.”

“I didn’t ask about every priestess in your temple. I specifically asked about Dragonfly reporting Gretchen’s absence,” I said.

“I don’t remember.” Her pulse jumped. I really hadn’t expected otherwise.

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“You can truthspell me if you’d like, Justice.” She spat out my title like a bad piece of fish.

Time to try another tack. “I would think you’d be worried about the drop in income to the temple. I hear Gretchen was one of your more popular priestesses.”

“Then it’s a good thing she didn’t have a declaration of last wishes.”

“Really?” I said dryly. “You’re sure about that, Sister?”

“Quite sure.” She couldn’t keep the purr of satisfaction.

“You do realize your admission makes you the most likely candidate for her murder, don’t you, Sister?” I drawled out her title.

“This interview is over,” she snapped.

“Fine, but you better pray to your goddess that the Temple of Death has a declaration on file. Otherwise, I will return.” I grinned. “And with a priest of Light.”

I waved at Little Bear, and he followed me out of the room. I could literally feel the psychic residue of my mother fuming behind me.

My warden didn’t say a word until we were mounted and past the Temple of the Vintner. At least, the rain had slowed back down to a drizzle. “I don’t mean to pry, Justice—”

“But you’re going to do it anyway.”

“Maybe we should have handle Sister Gerd more gently.”

“We,” not “you.” I faced him. “Are you saying you’d be willing to lay with her?”

“No! Balance, no.” He blew out a cleansing breath. “It’s that Justice Penelope didn’t take Sister Gerd’s influence seriously.”

“What influence?”

“Duke Marco’s father was one of her regulars.”

I didn’t countenance gossip, but I had to ask. “What priests or priestesses from the other temples?”

Little Bear’s laughter was choked. “It would be easier to give you a list of who didn’t frequent her bed.”

“Let me guess,” I said sourly. “Besides Penelope, Brother Kam?”

He nodded. “And Sister Bertrice.”

I muttered a few choice curses.

We were nearly to our own stables when he said, “I understand there’s bad blood between the two of you, and I can imagine why, but as Chief Justice of Orrin, you need to rein in your resentment, m’lady. This city hasn’t been balanced in a very long time, and it’s something we desperately need.”

“Do you presume to lecture me on my duties, Little Bear?”

He met my gaze squarely. “You said you wanted discretion and honesty, Justice.”

He was right. It didn’t make swallowing my pride any easier. “And you’ve acted appropriately as I wished, Warden. I’ll keep your wise words in mind.”

A deeper question bothered me. As much as I would have liked to blame my mother for Sister Gretchen’s murder, my gut said she was only taking advantage of her younger rival’s death. So who by the Twelve had a reason to throttle and mutilate a priestess?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What? 2013 Can't Be Over Already?

It's been an insane year in the Harden household with a 1200-mile move, Genius Kid returning to public school, and health issues with the in-laws. Unfortunately, it meant I only released one novel and two short stories.

I'm hoping 2014 goes a little more smoothly, but I'm not holding my breath. LOL

What I am planning on is getting the three novels in process finished. How far along am I?

Death Goddess Walking (Books of Apep #1) - 65%
Sword of Justice (Justice #1) - 70%
Zombie Goddess (Blood Lines #6) - 10%

Until the first drafts are finished, I can't give a release estimate. Also, I'm on a hunt for a cover artist for the two new series, plus upgrading the covers for Bloodlines. But I definitely hope to get all three finished and available in 2014.

Happy New Year!