Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Modicum of Truth - Chapter 2

Later the same morning, court lasted less than a candlemark. My new protégé, Justice Yanaba, banged the hilt of her sword to end the day’s session. For the last week, I’d observed her demeanor and knowledge. I’d also acted as her truthspeller in my own court to give poor, overworked Brother Jeremy a break.

Port trade and petty crime usually picked up at the end of winter once it was safe to cross the Peaceful Sea. But even with the Sea Peoples fleet still in port thanks to another series of storms, the city of Orrin’s mood remained subdued. With the recent murders of a priest and priestess plus fourteen wardens, no one wanted to break the brittle peace. Not even the foreign sailors looking to spend their bonuses.

The unease was part grief and part fear. The murders were unprecedented. Add in the fact that during the course of our investigation and rescue of Luc, Brother Jeremy had killed a demon in the ancient escape tunnels dug beneath the city walls, and everyone was jumping at shadows.

Lately, the docket had been very light, mainly consisting of the settlement of the estates of the dead and the city peacekeepers caught taking bribes in the midst of the recent chaos. Over the last several nights, I would stare at my bedchamber ceiling and wonder if Balance was simply allowing me to catch my breath before a worse crisis occurred.

My chief warden Little Bear approached my chair to the side of the podium as people filed quietly out of the temple courtroom. “Chief Justice?”

He rarely hesitated, and even more rarely used my full formal title, which forced my undivided attention. “Yes?” “I’m about to have a meeting with the rest of the Balance wardens.”

I waited, trying to swallow my impatience.

“We request your presence, Chief Justice.”

His words made my clerks Donella and Leilani hesitate as they gathered the day’s paperwork. Even Yanaba tilted her head in my direction. To say Little Bear’s request was unusual would be like saying I loved Jing black tea.

From the stiff posture of Warden Tyra by the court’s double doors, something had crawled up the temple guards’ collective asses, and they weren’t happy confronting me about it.

I faced Little Bear again. “May I ask why?”

His face shifted to deep orange. “I’d rather not say in a public space, Chief Justice.”

Serious enough to warrant a very private conference. With the recent spate of murders, the corruption of Love, and the imposter priest caught within Light, I’d normally be far more cautious. But if one of my wardens belonged to the renegades and wanted to slit my throat, they could have done that when I bunked with them over the week the Reverend Mother of Balance reviewed my investigation of the problems at Love.

The old biddy had co-opted my quarters out of spite rather than share the guest rooms on the second floor with her entourage. Privately, I thought she kicked me out of my own bed out sheer laziness rather than climb the stairs herself.

I nodded to Little Bear. “Very well then.” I followed him to the temple’s main receiving room. Tyra brought up the rear. Inside, the other ten wardens waited, standing.

Along with Orrin’s magistrate, Malven DiCook. He and I hadn’t gotten along when I was first assigned here, but over the last month, we had come to respect each other’s abilities.

I cocked my head. “Since when do you need trickery to visit during the midday meal, Magistrate?”

“I wish your Deborah’s wonderful cooking was the reason for my presence.” He hooked his thumbs in his belt, which meant he was disturbed by something. “I didn’t think it was wise to announce this in public.”

A chill crawled up my spine. “Announce what?”

“One of my peacekeepers was found dead in his home when he didn’t appear for his shift this morning. His wife and children were dead as well. We have reason to believe they were poisoned. I came to ask for your insight into the matter.”

I didn’t need to read his thoughts to know what he feared. The Assassins Guild members sometimes used poison on their victims.

Or on themselves when they were caught.

Worse, I was technically in charge of any murder investigation, but this was one of his people.

I nodded and turned to Little Bear. “Was this the only matter to be discussed?”

“No, Lady Justice.” My chief warden’s countenance was grim. “But it has taken priority for this hour.” As if to mark his words, the stones beneath my feet thrummed as the temple bells rang First Afternoon.

I met the eyes of two of the junior wardens. “Noko, Daniel, you’re with me.” I faced DiCook again. “How far is the home?”

“Two side streets from Government Gate.”

Government Gate was the main entrance into Orrin from the National Road. In other words, not far from Government House, which hosted the bureaucracy that kept the city running, including the magistrate’s office.

In other words, far too close to the peacekeeper’s main facility for Malven’s comfort.

“May I bring Justice Yanaba with me?”

He scratched his beard. “I suppose. I didn’t think I’d be dealing with my third justice during my term. I also didn’t think the Reverend Mother of Balance would reassign you so soon.”

“Reassign me? What the demon are you blathering about?”

He shrugged. “You made no secret you don’t want to be here during the funerals three weeks ago.”

I suppressed my wince. I’d been a little too honest during my eulogy of Warden Aglaia.

“I figured with the queen pardoning you, you’d request reassignment,” DiCook finished.

I blinked. “How did you find out about my pardon?”

DiCook shrugged. “Not too much is secret in Orrin these days.” He grinned. “Especially when a couple of temple seats are pissed at both you and the queen, and they want everyone in the duchy to know.”

I scanned the faces of my wardens. “Is my potential reassignment one of the items you wanted to discuss?”

“Yes, Chief Justice,” eleven of them chorused.

“And arrangements for your absence while you’re in Tandor, m’lady,” Little Bear added.

“I see.” From all the wardens’ expressions, Little Bear’s paranoia had spread through our temple since the two attempts on my life by the Assassins Guild in the last month. Three if one counted the demon their unknown employer unleashed. I nodded curtly. “I promise we will discuss these matters when we return from the magistrate’s excursion. Warden Noko, if you would gather Justice Yanaba for me.”

Little Bear appeared as if he would argue my choices, but Tyra nudged him with her elbow. Luc had been the one to originally lecture me about trusting my own wardens, instead treating him like one. It seemed my chief warden also had a problem with trust and letting go of old habits. Since he, the court clerks, and my personal attendant hid my predecessor’s senility and kept the temple running before my assignment here, I could understand his need for control. But I couldn’t let his pride or mine act as a detriment to our respective duties.

“All right.” I clapped my hands together. “Everyone at the evening meal tonight in the common room. We’ll bar the gates and doors. Is that satisfactory?”

Little Bear looked askance at me. “You want all the staff involved, Chief Justice?”

“Might as well,” I said. “Considering Sivan and Nathan were poisoned the same time I was, it’d be best if all the staff were prepared for contingencies, not just the wardens. Don’t you think?”

We both knew I wasn’t really asking his opinion. When his ears heated, I wasn’t sure if it was due to me overriding him or how close he came to losing Sivan.

“Very well, Chief Justice,” he acknowledged stiffly.

Noko entered with Yanaba on her arm. “You requested my presence, Chief Justice,” my protégé said. Then she curtsied.


I crossed my arms. “You were one of those girls who sucked up to the teaching sisters in Standora, weren’t you?”

“At least, I’m not imitating the Reverend Mother’s lack of manners,” she said primly.

Warden Gina slapped a hand over mouth to stifle her giggles, and Little Bear looked skyward, no doubt praying for patience. The rest of the warden stiffened, waiting to see what my reaction would be.

However, DiCook laughed outright. “I amend my original concerns, Anthea. I think Justice Yanaba and I are going along very well while you’re gone.”

“As long as you realize she’s here to spy for the Reverend Mother,” I shot back.

Yanaba sniffed. “Yes, I am here to monitor Orrin for our blessed mother. That’s because I know better than to place a temple seat in the gaol without cause.”

DiCook laughed even louder. “I’d be pleased to escort you, Lady Justice.”

She inclined her head in his direction. “Very well, Magistrate.”

It took him a moment to realize he needed to go to her. Unlike me, she was totally blind.

As a proper justice should be, said a little voice in the back on my mind.

Yanaba and DiCook headed out the door. I started after them when Little Bear grabbed my arm.

“You do realize she wants the Balance seat here in Orrin,” he said under his breath.

I sighed as I watched her retreating robes. “If I had a choice in the matter, she could have it. But the Reverend Mother has made it quite clear that I’m not leaving the city anytime soon.” I crossed my arms and glared at the assembled wardens.

“Except to visit Tandor,” Tyra said, a sad look on her face.

“That’s a different matter,” I snapped.

Gina folded her arms to match my stance. “Which is why the Reverend Mother is concerned you will try to get yourself killed during your trip to Tandor.”

“I’m not—” The realization my warden baited me kicked me in the head, and I drop my defensiveness. “We will discuss this tonight over the evening meal,” I bit out as I dropped my arms to my sides. I pivoted on my heel and stalked out of the receiving room. After three steps, Noko and Daniel scurried to follow me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Modicum of Truth - Chapter 1

I'm pounding away at my laptop keys to get A Modicum of Truth finished before the end of the month. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll give you a little taste of what's coming. Cheers!

I brushed past High Brother Luc’s personal attendant Istaqa and laid the scroll I carried on the chief priest of Light’s desk. “The pardon arrived. It’s official. I’ve been given leave to go south with you.”

While Istaqa stood in the doorway of the high brother’s office and harrumphed in disgust, Luc took his time chewing whatever was in his mouth. The orange-warm items on his plate had bites missing. A surreptitious sniff of the room revealed sweet pumpkin bread and eggs coated in Cantish hot sauce. My empty stomach grumbled its delight of both aromas.

Luc swallowed and regarded me. “Istaqa, the Chief Justice won’t leave until you feed her. Also, please bring her another pot of tea. And Anthea—”

I resisted the urge to sigh. Luc was determined to hold me to my oath at his predecessor’s funeral to do a better job as Orrin’s chief justice. I faced his attendant and bowed. “My apologies for my rudeness, Istaqa.”

The man’s second harrumph was slightly less disgusted than the first. He pivoted smartly on his heel and marched from the office.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“I’m impressed you remembered his name,” Luc remarked.

I called the high brother a Cantish name that questioned his parentage, though mine was far more scandalous than his. Especially since I’d recently learned his predecessor at the Temple of Light, High Brother Kam, was my maternal grandfather.

Scandalous since members of the Temple of Light took a vow of chastity. As did members of my own order. Not that our vows had ever stopped Luc or I from indulging.

Luc chuckled. “I know you’re excited about regaining your freedom, but you need to scale down the enthusiasm. Things are tenuous enough with Mother Bianca and Father Jerrod.”

I winced. The two temple seats had sent letters of protest to the queen when they learned she planned to pardon me for my illegal execution of her cousin, Samael DiRoy. The priestess and priest seemed to forget I did it because DiRoy summoned demons in order to seize the throne. And the Twelve only knew what else the little idiot had planned before I cut off his head.

It hadn’t helped that I made Bianca and Jerrod look like fools when the plots and schemes of Gerd, the former High Sister of Love, came to light.

Balance help me, I couldn’t even consider Gerd my mother anymore despite the fact the traitorous bitch had given birth to me. When she was caught selling demon grimoires along with children for immoral uses, her actions left me feeling less than charitable toward her. Plotting with the Assassins Guild to kill me was the proverbial last straw.

“I imprisoned Jerrod so he would be blameless for my actions. He will forgive me eventually.” I hoped. My actions to expose with the traitors within Orrin’s Twelve Temples were questionable at best.

At worst, I’d be facing another trial like the one that had sentenced me to the serve the city of Orrin permanently. Luc picked up the scroll and perused it. “Have you had any word concerning Gerd’s trial?”

I shook my head at the mention of her. I definitely hadn’t drunk enough tea before the courier arrived with the queen’s pardon to deal with the thoughts of her. I snatched Luc’s mug and took a gulp. The overly sweet tea made me want to retch.

“You spit that back in my cup, and I’ll throw you in the gaol myself.”

I forced the mouthful down my throat and made a face at him while I set down the cup. “That’s nearly pure honey. How can you stand drinking it?”

He slapped my hand as I reached for a slice of bread. “Serves you right for stealing someone else’s tea. And it has medicine in it to increase my blood flow. The honey masks the taste.”

I tried not to stare at the stump propped on a padded stool. The stump where his left foot and ankle had been a month ago. Guilt squirmed in my mind. Luc had been abducted because Gerd had started the rumor we were having an affair. I should have been amused how her spiteful gossip led everyone in the city to believe we weren’t having an affair after she was arrested for treason.

Unfortunately, the renegades she dealt with and who believed her rumor decided to hold Luc hostage against me and my office. Then they sent me proof they imprisoned him.

“Stop it,” Luc ordered.

“What?” I said, trying to act innocent.

“I can’t stand that kicked puppy expression you get when you look at me.”

“It’s my fault it didn’t occur to me the bitch was selling demon artifacts.”

He didn’t have to question which bitch I referred to. He gulped his tea before he spoke. “And it’s my fault I didn’t realized that imposter Mat, Micah, whatever his birth name was, wasn’t a true brother of Light,” he growled.

“It’s both of your faults that we are short-staffed at the moment.” Istaqa set a tray in front me before he turned to Luc. “And once again, High Brother, I must protest. A woman as a member of the order of Light is highly inappropriate.”

I gratefully sipped my plain black Jing tea, enjoying the fact I wasn’t the one being lectured for once. My own staff dished out more than enough.

Luc sighed and leaned back in his chair. “What did Sister Shi Hua do this time?”

“She still insists on bathing with the men!”

I stifled a laugh at the attendant’s mortified tone. Unlike the order of Light in Issura, each of the twelve temples of the Jing Empire allowed both men and women to serve as clergy. In addition to admiring the sister’s more than capable skills, I personally liked Shi Hua. It had been my recommendation that the Jing priestess assist Luc while our own Reverend Father of Light audited all the temples of his order in Issura for additional imposters.

Luc appeared calm to even my peculiar sight as he regarded his aide, but I could feel his irritation prickle along my psyche. “We do not have a separate facility for her. Not to mention she’s used to joint accommodations in her homeland.”

Istaqa’s coloring creeped from orange to red. “This could turn into a scandal.”

Luc crossed his arms. “Are you planning on sending her down to the public bath house? Because that would cause a scandal. It says my staff can’t keep their vows, or their libidos, in check when we have a guest.”

“B-b-but—” Istaqa turned to me for help.

I quickly shoved a huge bite of eggs rolled in flatbread into my mouth and gave him an innocent look. I’d done a great many ill-conceived things in my thirty-one winters, but I wasn’t about to jump into the middle of this argument.

“There is no ‘but’ here, Istaqa,” Luc ground out. “If neither you nor the rest of the staff can behave yourselves around Sister Shi Hua, I’ll be happy to send the lot of you back to Standora for reassignment. And that’s after she finishes kicking your asses.”

The assistant’s visage shaded from red to crimson. I wasn’t sure if it was Luc’s threat to send him back the main temple at the capital or that Luc reprimanded him in my presence.

Or maybe it was the fact that Shi Hua probably could take on the entire priesthood, wardens, and staff of the Orrin Temple of Light and win.

“Yes, High Brother.” Once again, Istaqa pivoted on his boot heel and stomped out of Luc’s office. This time, he slammed the heavy oak door for good measure.

I finished chewing and swallowed. “Trouble?”

“Nothing you didn’t start,” Luc snapped.

His bad mood stung. “I was trying to help you when I recommended Shi Hua. With that damn audit and—” I shrugged. There was no judicious way to point out between the imposter who’d murdered the real Brother Mat, Kam’s death during the battle to regain control of the Temple of Love, and Luc’s own injury, the junior-most priest, poor Brother Jeremy, had been run ragged until both the Issuran and Jing Reverend Fathers of Light agreed to Shi Hua’s temporary transfer.

With my prodding and an assist from both nations’ Reverend Mothers of Balance.

“I know. I’m sorry.” Luc poured more tea into his mug and added a healthy dollop of honey. “With the current investigation into the infiltration—”

“Yes?” I prompted.

“This cannot leave my office.”

I raised an eyebrow. And how do you plan to stop Istaqa? He’s listening outside your door.

Luc sipped his tea before he grinned. By using mind speech so he can’t hear a blessed word. He quickly sobered. They found another infiltrator at the Temple of Light in Multnomah.

A chill rippled across my skin. Part of me had hoped our situation here in Orrin was an isolated incident. But that’s in Pagonia.

And Tandor is on the border with Cant.

Tandor. Our sister city to the south. All evidence pointed to our problems coming from there, but if Issura’s northern neighbor also had been compromised…

But our imposter was born on the island of New Thenos, I countered.

And that’s on the other side of the continent. I agree with Shi Hua. With the demon incidents here and in Jing, we may have stumbled across a worldwide conspiracy. Discrete messages have gone out to the Light temples in other lands. Very quietly.

I couldn’t suppress my shiver. Such a plot would explain why someone had hired the Assassins Guild to kill me. Thanks to my inept attempt to gain human eyesight, I was the only one who could see demons, regardless of their spells.

And once again, it made me wonder why Shi Hua was at the top of the wishlist of the Assassins Guild’s mysterious client. I was beginning to think it wasn’t because she was a distance speaker of incredible power.

“You’re worried about leaving Jeremy and Shi Hua here alone,” I said, giving Istaqa something to gossip about.

“I’m more worried about my staff doing something incredibly idiotic,” he started, using variation of one of my favorite words. “Especially when it comes to Shi Hua.”

“This is what happens when they demand chastity from our orders,” I grumbled. “I could have Gina guard her in the bathing room here if you want. Or she could use the facilities at Balance.”

“Or I could petition the Issuran Reverend Father of Light to amend our order’s criteria and allow admission of women.”

I stared at Luc. “Do you think he’d actually consider such a proposal?”

Luc shrugged. “We may not have a choice. Not if there are more infiltrators like Micah. It all depends on what we find in Tandor when we ride down for the audit.”

“And in the meantime?”

He grinned. “I’m looking forward to watching our visitor from Jing wiping the cobblestones with anyone idiotic enough to lay an improper finger on her.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017



I literally just finished uploading Ravaged to Amazon, Smashwords, and for distribution to iTunes and Kobo. B&N will be a few more days since they want the number of pages for the paperback, and I don't have the paperback formatting back yet.

I can't guarantee when Ravaged will go live on any particular site, but I'll be updating the links below as they go live.

Barnes & Noble

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Oh, Four Fox Snakes!

Hey, you! The one who keeps checking if Ravaged has been released? It's not out. Believe me, it WILL be posted in giant letters when it goes live on the retail sites.

I couldn't even make it through the first book of the next eight I want to release before more cow defecation hit the spinning turbine. Shit is happening that I can't talk about at the moment for someone else's privacy reasons. It's getting taken care of, but taking care of it is time-consuming as all get out.

My formatter had sent me the Kindle e-book file for Ravaged on Tuesday, September 26. I haven't completed reviewing it yet. It should have been a two-day job max. I'm not even at the half-way point on A Modicum of Truth either, and I'd planned to have it finished by now.

Why can't I have normal adult first-world problems? I have a friend whose kid is trying to decide between Harvard and Yale. Another friend and her S.O. are debating on whether he should take a promotion across the country when their youngest is also in his senior year. A third friend is simply thankful that her teen driver is all right after a drunk adult hit her daughter's car head-on when she was on her way to school.

If I weren't high on cider, donuts, and pumpkin spice lattes right now, I'd probably be curled up in my bed with a bottle of tequila, bawling my eyes out. But then, nothing's stopping me from going to the store for a bottle or two.

On second thought, maybe I should head over to Kroger for a bigger chocolate cake...