Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 8

I know it's been a while since I posted anything. I haven't gotten much writing done so far this year. Murphy's Law has been in full effect. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the drama will end soon!

* * *

I threw up an arm to block the blow. Fire sliced my skin as the steel pierced my glove. Far better then the main artery in my neck. If I stayed on the ground though, I was definitely dead.

My boot shot toward his crotch. He shifted to block the blow, and the momentum allowed me to shove him while I rolled the other way.

Directly into the path of the oncoming horses.

I curled into a tight ball, arms over my head to protect me from the multitude of sharp hooves. My head rang from the vibrations and pain of my injuries.

As suddenly as they appeared the multitude of riders and steeds were gone. I leapt to my feet, right hand already drawing the sword at my back.

I whirled around to find wardens pouring from both the temples of Light and Balance. Little Bear must have standing at the doors, watching for my return. My attacker, though, was gone.

“Anthea!” Luc’s familiar scent washed over me. He beat the wardens to me by a couple of paces.

He caught himself. “Are you all right, Lady Justice?” He reached for the blood on my face, but I shoved his hand away.

“No. Don’t.” A vicious smile twisted my lips. “We spilt each other’s blood.”

Luc’s answer was just as feral. “We have him.”

* * *
Or so we thought. But like everything else in this damnable day, the gods seemed to be laughing at our efforts including the two we were personally sworn to.

We left our team of wardens to watch the possible exits at a decrepit inn near the docks. The tracking spell failed as we reached the door it indicated. Inside was my attacker’s still warm body, bloody nose and all, in a tiny, third-story room. The scent of bitter almonds told us what type of poison he used. A quick search gave no clue of his identity, which in itself spoke of his origins.

Luc raked his hands through his hair. “There hasn’t been an attempt in Issura by the Assassins Guild since—”

“The reign of the Twin Queens before the last demon war.” I blew out an exasperated breath. “The question becomes why me?”

“Because you would administer Gretchen’s estate?”

“That makes no sense. We have no reason to believe my attempted assassination is connected with Sister Gretchen’s death.”

Luc snorted, his disgust evident. “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

I sheathed my sword. “Whichever priest of Light witnessed the opening would know her last wishes also.”

“Which is why I assigned a warden to watch Kam.”

I stared at Luc. “Let’s assume for a moment you are correct, and there’s connection. Who knew the contents of Gretchen’s declaration? She deliberately filed it with the Temple of Death so Gerd wouldn’t know.”

Luc shrugged. “Everyone at Death?”

“If one of their members is involved, why not switch scrolls? For that matter, why not lose it?”

Luc grunted. “Too many safeguards. The entire temple would have to be involved in the conspiracy.” He crouched next to the body and lifted its hand. “What did Master Devin say about a man with small hands?”

I knelt and held my gloved hand against the corpse’s. “I suppose it’s possible, but no assassin is going to waste precious escape time to mutilate their target.”

“Unless whoever hired him gave him specific instructions.”

I climbed to my feet. “Now we’ve officially jumped into wild hare territory.”

Luc rose as well. “I haven’t had a chance to research a separation and tracking spell for the scrapings Master Devin provided you. Do you want me to do that while you have a talk with Lady Alessa?”

I shook my head. “No, I want her truthspelled during this little interview, and longer we wait, the more likely something else will go wrong in this investigation. The tracking spell can wait.” I stared at the rapidly cooling body. “If this is Gretchen’s killer, your spell won’t work anyway, and we’re no closer to understanding why.”

As we exited the room, we found Magistrate DiCook and a handful of peacekeepers pounding up the staircase of the inn.

“What the names of the Twelve is going on here?” When I didn’t answer, his attention switched to Luc. “One of you had better answer me!”

“A member of the Assassins Guild tried to murder me,” I said.

“On the steps of the Lord of Light’s home,” Luc added.

“When?” the magistrate demanded.

“Less than a candlemark ago.” I pushed past him, and he grabbed my left arm. I couldn’t stop the hiss of pain. When I refused to waste time waiting for a healer, Little Bear and Tyra had threatened to hold me down while one of the brothers bandaged the ugly cut from the assassin’s knife.

“Why wasn’t I notified?” DiCook’s lip curled into his familiar sneer.

I yanked my arm out of his grasp. “Because we were trying to catch him before he escaped.”

“You let him get away?”

I wasn’t sure if DiCook was more pleased that the assassin escaped or that I failed. If I gambled, I would have bet on the latter. “You could say that.” I gestured toward the wide open door. “If you can get more out of his belongings than I, let me know.”

I continued painfully down the stairs, Luc right behind me. My hip would stiffen from the bruising if I rested now, not that I could afford the time.

The exclamations from the peacekeepers and DiCook’s curse when they discovered the body beat us to the first floor.

“You really need to stop antagonizing the man, Anthea.”

I smiled up at him. “When the Lord of Light’s domain freezes over.”

* * *
Duke Marco’s face froze, the air of disappointment and despair obvious when Luc and I showed up at his gate and asked to speak with his sister. Lady Katarina graciously allowed us to use her reception room, but the fire couldn’t warm me as it did yesterday.

Lady Alessa held her composure until her brother and sister-in-law left the room. Hot shame tinted her cheeks. “You know.”

“Know what?” I said.

She sank into a chair. “Don’t play with me, Justice. Please, don’t. You have no idea how h-hard…” Pale blue tears ran down her cheeks.

Luc cursed under his breath. I knew at once he hadn’t asked the right questions during his originally interview of her. He hadn’t conceived of the two women having a secret affair.

“You could have pulled one of us aside yesterday,” I said gently. “We would have listened.”

She stared at the painfully bright grate. “I couldn’t. Things have been so difficult for my brother. There’s been so much scandal. He tried, he really did, to find me an appropriate match. I thought if he did, I could suppress my desires…”

“Alessa, I need Luc to truthspell you.”

She nodded though her attention never wavered from the fire.

The moment the pale nimbus of magic surround her, I said, “Tell me about the counterspell Gretchen taught you.”

Her head jerked, and she stared at me, eyes wide as she realized her mistake. She reached for her neck, and I seized her arms. It wasn’t much of a physical struggle despite my injuries.

But around us, objects shivered. I knew damn well it wasn’t Luc or me losing control of our power.

Luc removed the chain hidden beneath the collar of her dress. Dangling from the links was a carved ruby heart. A thin line of energy surrounded the jewel. A talisman.

Alessa’s face crumpled and her sobs came loud and fierce. Her terrible grief overrode the agony of the truthspell. For once, I was the one patiently stroking the distraught witness’s hair while Luc paced behind her chair.

Underneath the noblewoman’s emotion, I could feel the stones of the keep moan in sympathetic agony.

When she weeping faded to hiccups, I released her. “Don’t make me ask you again, Alessa. Otherwise, the truthspell will force you to answer me, and it will be painful.”

She nodded. “Gretchen gave me the heart a year ago. When we first started…” Her blood pulsed as she acknowledged their affair. “She laid the spell and taught me the words and gestures to activate and deactivate the magic.”

Alessa’s pulse slowed, her voice turned numb, as she stared at me. “She didn’t mean any harm. She was protecting me as best she could when…when Mother would have one of her hired sorcerers truthspell us.”

My own blood ran cold. I didn’t want to know the answer to the next question, but duty forced me to ask anyway. “Us? You mean you, Marco and Isabella?”

Behind Alessa, Luc froze. “That’s how your mother found out Marco was courting Katarina, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Her head bowed once more. “Ironically, Mother sending our baby sister to the capital protected her from the worst of her predations. Isabella loves the university, and now she can focus on her studies without Mother breathing down her neck about seducing some lordling.”

Time to get the questioning back on track. “Alessa, did you kill Sister Gretchen of the Temple of Love?”

“No.” Anger threaded through her single word. There was a hint of power behind it.

“Do you know who killed Sister Gretchen?”

“No.” The fire flared, and I couldn’t stop my wince at the brilliant heat. Thankfully, Alessa couldn’t see my reaction with my hood in place.

“Do you know who put Sister Gretchen’s body into the barrel she was found in?”

“No.”

“When was the last time you saw her alive?”

“Five mornings ago. I had snuck out of the manor and met her at a hunting cabin on our lands about an hour's ride north. We spent the night together.” Once again, her pulse jumped at revealing such intimate secrets. “We parted two candlemarks before dawn in order to return to our beds without arousing suspicion.”

I glanced at Luc, his frown matching my own. Alessa’s testimony narrowed the window for Gretchen’s murder.

Turning my attention back to the noblewoman, I asked, “Why didn’t your parents have you tested for magical talent?”

Her gaze met mine again. “They did. The priest of Light who supervised said I was a passive.”

A passive talent could activate a spell created by an active talent, but they couldn’t cast one on their own. Therefore, they weren’t required to register with the temples.

Luc finally stopped pacing. He crossed to the chair on the other side of Alessa and sat. “I know you are still dealing with your lover’s death, m’lady, but I would like you to come see me, in say, two weeks from today for retesting.” So I wasn’t the only one who sensed her flashes of power.

I could feel her mounting panic. “You are not in trouble, Alessa. Either you were too young to fully manifest your talent yet, or the brother was incompetent.”

“Excuse me?” Luc exclaimed in mock outrage.

Our teasing lightened Alessa’s mood, and she made a burbling half giggle-half hiccup sound.

Luc held up the necklace. “I am going to take this for now. We need to figure out how to deal with this counter spell in order to discover Gretchen’s murderer. I’ll return it when you come to see me in two weeks.”

“You’ll remove the spell from the jewel, won’t you?” she whispered.

“We have to,” I said. “Technically, it’s illegal.” I held up my hands when the chair I sat on trembled. “I’m not charging you. You received it in good faith from another priestess.” I cleared my throat. “I do need to ask you a few more questions.”

She sagged in her own seat and nodded.

“Did anyone know that you and Gretchen were having an affair?”

“Not that I know of. As I said, we were very careful because of my mother.”

“Did you receive any notes or messages that insinuated a person knew about your affair?”

“No.”

“Any oblique reference about you personally involved in a sapphic affair?”

“Not to me.” She paused for a moment, but she wasn’t fighting the spell. “Some lords have made derogatory comments about me to Marco, but as far as I know it was for the purpose of insult, not because they truly believed I prefer the bed of a woman.”

“Do you know who Gretchen named as her heir in her declaration of last wishes?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Me. She told me our last night together. That she wanted to make sure I had resources if something happen to her, and my family discovered our relationship.” Alessa’s smile was small and sad. “She kept trying to talk me into running away with her. Cant, or the Mecas, or even the Sea Peoples’ islands. I just couldn’t leave Marco and especially Isabella without any explanation.”

“Did she ever indicate there was another reason she wanted to escape from Orrin?”

“I’d like to believe it was only our love, but I know there were problems between her and Sister Gerd and Sister Dragonfly.”

“What kind of problems?”

Alessa took a deep breath and released it. “Gerd was always accusing her of trying to usurp her authority. Dragonfly was simply jealous when Gretchen stopped sleeping with her.”

I exchange looks with Luc. Now we were getting somewhere, but neither of us said anything.

Instead, I took her hands in mine. “Your pain is mine.”

Her face scrunched again at the ritual words of sympathy for the death of a loved one, but she forced back her tears. “Thank you,” she whispered.

At my signal, Luc murmured the words to release his truthspell.

I squeezed Alessa’s hands. “Gretchen was also Katarina’s friend. She would share your grief.”

“A-are you going to tell them? Marco and Katarina?”

“No,” I said softly. “Sharing that knowledge is not my right, but I think you are underestimating your family. About Gretchen’s declaration…” I sucked in a deep breath. “Brother Kam and I have opened and confirmed it—”

I held up one hand at her little gasp. “I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I have the duty to insure Gretchen’s wishes are followed. Sister Gerd believes that no declaration exists. I’m going to have to make the public post soon to prevent her from illegally seizing your property.”

“I-I don’t know if I want it,” Alessa murmured.

I clasped her hands again. “You have the right of refusal, of course, but right now, your grief is overriding your common sense. I would suggest confiding to your brother. Get his counsel before you make any decision.”

“But the public post will cause even more scandal.”

“Considering the gold equivalent of Gretchen’s holdings, it will garner more noble suitors than you know what to do with,” Luc said, dryly.

“Not to mention, Marco has already broken with tradition. There’s no reason you cannot follow in his footsteps,” I added.

Alessa nodded. “I will take your wisdom into consideration, Justice, Brother.”

“If you remember anything else, come straight to us,” I said. “No pages or other messengers if you want to avoid the gossip.”

She nodded, but tears had started trickling down her cheeks again. Luc deactivated his wards, and we left the reception room.

Marco stood in the hallway, by his expression obviously expecting the worst.

I stopped before him. “Your sister isn’t involved in the murder.”

He sagged against the stone wall. “Thank the Twelve.”

I laid right hand on his shoulder and squeezed in support. After all the struggle and tension with Alessa, the slice on my left was throbbing.

As I continued past him, he called, “Lady Justice—”

“I can’t say anything more, Your Grace.” Before I spilled all of his sister’s secrets, I turned and marched down the hallway.

Luc and I were nearly to the entryway when a figure stepped from behind a statue. “She didn’t do it.”

I remembered the voice from yesterday. “You are Bartholomew, correct?”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bobbed his head. “Lady Alessa, she didn’t kill that priestess.”

Behind me, Luc’s irritation rippled through my psyche. “Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know who killed Sister Gretchen.”

“Ah don’t!” Between Bartholomew and Luc’s emotional turmoil, I felt as if my eyes would erupt from my head.

“Do you have an additional statement you wish to make, Bartholomew?” I said, trying to inject some calm into the situation.

“Ah just told ya. Lady Alessa didn’t kill that priestess.”

I wanted to believe he was a loyal DiMara retainer, but maybe he was too loyal. “And how do you know this?” I asked.

If the heat of his face hadn’t given him away, the shuffling of his feet did. “Ah-ah just know, that’s all.”

“If you still want a place in this household, you’d better answer the justice’s question.” Lady Katarina’s cold steel voice came from behind Luc and me.

Unfortunately, the moment we glanced at her was the same moment Bartholomew decided to run.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Thank You

With all the hoopla going on as King Kong and Godzilla continue their battle, the incredible Jason Gurley reminded me of who was really important in this world.

The Readers.

Yep, it’s definitely about the readers. They’re the ones that find and love you (or not) and recommend you to their friends (or not). Agents, editors, consultants, publishers, they all are outraged by their loss of power. They blame Amazon, Bezos, indie writers, but it’s the readers that ultimately make or break this industry.

So to all of the readers who've taken a chance on my books...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 7

Sorry it's taken so long to post a new chapter. There's been a lot of things going on at home. Therefore, I won't be posting as often over the next month, possibly two. Hope everyone is having a terrific spring!

***

“Father, help us,” Kam swore.

I tapped my fingers against the table. “Now why would Sister Gretchen designate Lady Alessa?”

Kam stared at me. “Really, Anthea? Do I have to spell it out for you? She uses the phrase ‘my beloved soulmate’ in the naming.”

I frowned. “But the sisters of the Temple of Love don’t marry.”

His exasperated sigh revealed his annoyance with me. “That doesn’t mean they don’t fall in love.”

I leaned back in my seat. “I’m sorry. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the quiet, efficient Alessa with a priestess of Love.”

“Sometimes, true love doesn’t recognize arbitrary boundaries.” The sadness in Kam’s voice reminded me of his own forbidden affair. And Duke Marco had almost died because his mother couldn’t deal with the fact he was in love with a veterinary apprentice.

“I wonder if this is why Lady Alessa’s not married yet. The nobility gets rather prissy about such things when heirs and tradition are involved.”

He slowly shook his head. “Not according to the gossip mongers. The issue is her parents’ treason.”

I rubbed my temples. A nasty ache was developing behind my eyes. “Unfortunately, this puts an entirely different twist to Sister Gretchen’s body being found in the DiMara wine cellar.”

“Surely, you don’t believe—”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Right now, any conjectures are just that without evidence.”

The Goddess must have been looking out for me. Three separate discussions melded into one.

I leaned forward again. “Both you and Bertrice mentioned that you thought Gerd had a way to circumvent a truthspell. Yesterday, Luc said when he questioned Lady Alessa, she seemed to be fighting his spell. What if the Loves have managed to develop a counter-spell?”

“You’re mad,” Kam spluttered.

“No.” I held up an index finger. “Think about it. The order has always been privy to a great number of secrets thanks to pillow talk. What’s stopping some unscrupulous group from abducting a priestess and truthspelling her?”

Kam rubbed his chin as he considered my theory. “To protect their sisterhood, they wouldn’t inform any of the other temples. And definitely not share the information with any of the registered talents.”

“But what if one priestess shared that information with her lover—”

“Who happened to be an unregistered talent,” Kam finished. He frowned and tapped the parchment. “Not that the properties Gretchen has left Alessa are insignificant, but that DiMara holdings outstrip those named in the declaration.”

I laughed, a mirthless one. The circumstantial evidence mounted against a woman I truly liked. “Are you going senile, too? You were at the sentencing at the DiMaras’ trial last summer. All their properties went to Marco and Katarina.”

Kam’s sigh was weary. “Leaving his sisters with nothing but their brother’s obligation for their bride price should they marry.” He shook his head again. “Even if she were responsible, I can’t see Lady Alessa being foolish enough to hide the body on the family estate.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “Neither do I. And the barrel containing Gretchen’s corpse was definitely on the wagon from Pana Valley. Members of the household staff and my own rewinding of the timeline confirmed that fact.”

Kam frowned. “Do you want me to accompany you to question her again?”

“Would you mind terribly if I ask for two priests this time? One to truthspell Alessa while I question her, another to watch for the counterspell?”

The old priest laughed. “You’ll need to ask the new chief priest for that particular favor. I doubt he’ll say no to you.” He winked.

I shook my head. “You’re incorrigible.”

He inclined his head toward the declaration. “What about this?”

“Place it your safekeeping niche for now. Would you please ask Luc read it after his other business for me?”
“I’ll pass on both of your requests, my dear.”

I retrieved my heavy cloak, stalked through the main doors and down the steps. My clerk Donella would have today’s docket paperwork ready for me to proof and sign. And maybe I’d have a little time to research a possible counter to a truthspell.

The street teemed with traffic today since the rain had stopped for that last few hours. I checked for oncoming wagons and carriages before my foot descended from the last marble step onto the cobblestone. A horse and rider raced around the corner between Light and Thief. I jumped back, a stream of invectives on my tongue. Someone snagged my arm as more steeds poured out of the cross street.

I turned to my late rescuer. My polite thanks died at the telltale indigo in his hand. Sidestepping the knife aimed for my gut, I head-butted the man’s nose. Sticky warmth splashed my cheeks.

Instead of a shriek, he pivoted and swept my legs from under me. My hip landed on the corner of the marble step, and pain shot across my gut. His kick to my ribs forced any remaining air out of my lungs.

“Stupid bitch,” he hissed. “You should have been as blind as your sisters,” he hissed as drove the knife toward my throat.

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.