Playing Around 15

(This one was mostly written to see if I could still write a fight scene.  Also to see if I could describe a particular technique.  I’m pretty happy with that part.)




An instant of resistance against the knife blade, but the Kevlar parted before superior strength.

Beep beep beep.

Damn.  Bad timing.


Crunch as the heel of a combat boot connected with a jaw.

Beep beep beep.

On feet, survey surroundings in a second.

Four down, two active.  Target frozen, probably mix of fear and shock.

Understandable, Talya decided.  He’d hired the best he could afford.  But they had no way to prepare for one of her kind.

She turned, blocked an arm with her own, as the beeping came back to her ear.  A quick jab to the face broke the guard’s nose as she flipped his wrist, both snapping his elbow and causing his knife to clatter on the concrete.  A spin and knee to the short ribs left internal bleeding and a single active hostile standing.

The woman had already shot her three times, and missed a couple others.  Good grouping, Talya absently noted, all center of mass, an area the size of her fist.

The incessant, intermittent, beeping continued.

Shit.  No time for this.

With a grin, Talya let a bit of beast show.  Not enough to lose control, but just enough for a feral glow to her eyes and a bit of fang to show.

Just the amount to convince the other woman that she wasn’t getting paid enough.  And that caution was the better part of valor.

As the last guard ran, Talya focused on the target and touched the earpiece to take her call.


“Gregor?  Dude, I’m in the middle of a job . . . that you set up.”

“What job?”

“The Demetri thing.  Just a sec.”

She thumbed her earpiece to mute.

“Waylon Morrell?  Demetri sends his regards and says he wants his money.  Two days, or this warning becomes the real thing.”

Turning away from the cowering man, Talya unmuted.

“Why was your phone on?  Don’t you use ‘don’t disturb’?”

“Gregor.  You called twice in a minute.  It registered as an emergency and went through.  I was shot, twice, because you distracted me.”

“You’ll heal.”

Talya rolled her eyes.

“I’ll be adding a replacement shirt to my bill, Gregor.”

“Fine.  Demetri can cover it.”

“What’s the emergency?”

“I need a consult, Talya.  Usual finder’s fee.”

“What’s the job?”

“Retrieval . . . I’d offer it to you, but it’s a team thing.  In the community, not norms.”

“What’s the pay?”

Gregor named a figure that caused her to miss a step.

She recovered and slid into a nondescript Toyota.


“ASAP, three weeks max.”

Talya thought for a few seconds as she pulled into traffic.

“I can have a team together in 72 hours,” she said.  Five way split, it would still be worth it for a three week job.  Which meant either tough owner or expensive item.

“You sure?” Gregor did not, she thought, do a good job hiding his surprise.  “It needs a team and isn’t your usual . . .”

“Just send me the details.  I’ll cover the rest.”

“No details until the team’s confirmed.  Not after Minsk.”

Talya paused, processing.

“You brokered Minsk?”

“Sadly.  Took a big hit.”

“Fine.  I’ll get in touch in two days.  The usual number?”

“I’ll look forward to the call.  But, come Friday, I’ll offer it to someone else.  Just business.”

Talya disconnected the call as she turned onto an entrance ramp.  The highway, 270, made a rough loop around the city, through the suburbs, and connected all the major interstates that passed by or through.  She liked to think of it as more the heart of the city than downtown was.  Everything passed through 270 somehow.

As her eyes scanned the traffic and sought the Highland Road exit, most of her mind ran down a virtual dossier of people she knew in the business.

Thomas and Mordecai would be in, easy.  If they weren’t on jobs already.  Jade would be good on the back end, and she’d see the challenge.  Only a little effort to convince her.

That would give her entry, magic support, and tech-tactical support.


No, he didn’t work well with others, and there was Boston, she thought.

Chen might be good, but she’d heard he died a couple week before.  Siddiq never left the Midwest, so unless the job was limited, he was out.

That left . . . Caroline.

Talya considered as she pulled into a parking spot.

She shouldered a knapsack and small messenger bag, locked the car, and strode toward the train station.  She preferred the train to planes.  They were slower, but there were fewer questions and travel between cities in the state was faster by train than car.

As she took place on the platform, Talya nodded to herself.  Caroline brought a generalist to the team.  She could hold her own and be second to the guys, if needed.  And, most important, she could be trusted.

She’d also be the most difficult to convince, though having Jade in would help that.  Lucifer would need wool socks before Caroline could pass up a cute redhead.

The train pulled out as Talya scanned the nearly empty carriage.  Her phone was out before they cleared the station.

“Hey, Jade.  How’re things?  Good.  Listen . . . Gregor’s got a job he sent my way.  Could use a little help if you’re still freelancing . . .”

Playing Around 14

(Some of this piece may appear in another work, because I like parts of it.  For now, it’s a brief exploration)

To the untrained eye, the main floor of the Luna Nova was a chaotic mix of people and species.  However, an experienced patron could read the topography and tectonics of the room.

Jastian Wells was hip deep in the second group.

With that knowledge, a person could, he knew, see the enforcers and the normal joes, the Almasti and the shtriga, and read the affiliations, alliances, and feuds.  Reading the room was, therefore, reading the city.

He visually swept the room, taking note of who and what was there.  The Carusos and Narvos had half the room between them, which meant their short lives alliance was dead.  And that meant Torvald lost the bet and owed him.

Jastian unconsciously, and subtly, checked the handful of knives about his person as raised voices came from the bar.  He glanced over . . . a big shifter, who’d obviously had a few too many, looked about to go furry on a skinny Black guy, whose bearing and eyes screamed shtriga.  The Luna’s security was already closing in, a mountainous gargoyle and her whipcord Almasti partner.  The Luna’s strict policies on magic, bronze, silver, and long blades kept damage to a minimum, but the staff liked to stop trouble before it got too far.

As he relaxed, a heavy set, middle aged man stopped by his table.  Smelled like a werebeast, canine probably.

“Marcus Isaak?”


“But, the barman . . .”

“Well, he was wrong.”

He must have still been able to pull off the ‘bad ass’ face because the were only paused a second before muttering an apology and beating a hasty retreat.

Jastian made a mental note to speak with Kira, the bar manager.  He hadn’t used the Marcus alias in several years.  Not since changing his calling and profession.  A lifetime ago.

Besides, he was waiting on a probable client, not on the market.

The Luna Nova had started its life as a werebeast bar.  They liked the joke in the name.  Within a year, he’d heard, it became the place all the local beast changers hung out.  Then all the changers.  In a few years, Luna had acquired a reputation as the place to go to hire freelance changer talent.  Pretty soon, the entire community began frequenting the place.  The once little werebeast bar became a major night spot for all magical peoples in the city.

“Mister Wells?”

His reverie was interrupted by a trim, fit man just starting to go grey around the temples.  Meeting his eyes, Jastian decided the man had been starting to go grey for a couple centuries.

“Mister Cutter?”

At the man’s nod, he gestured toward the empty chair.

He waited for Cutter to get settled, and let the other man start.

“Mister Wells, are you familiar with Bareth Oren?”

“The number two man in the Three Horns’ presence in Caerik?  Somewhat.”  The man didn’t smell dead, so not a vampire.  Didn’t smell of blood either, so not shtriga.

“The people I represent wish to meet with him face to face, not through intermediaries, to discuss business.”

“And?  I don’t know him well enough to introduce you.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Wells.  We will arrange a date through other channels.  I require someone to ensure my arrival in Caerik, to the meeting, and back to Earth again.  Someone familiar with Faere, Caerik, and our counterparts in that city.”

“And you don’t want the families, houses, et cetera on this side, or the authorities on the other, to know about this trip, I assume.”

Cutter nodded, almost imperceptibly, “Of course.”

“So the Talville gate is out on this side.  The major players monitor it constantly.  You have a gate opener?”

Naothlan Vignette #6 (2019)

Ding ding.


Ding ding.


Tobias felt the connection and contact between hammer and metal, more than seeing it.  The repetition and act of feeling out the hot steel and coaxing it into shape was, he’d always thought, relaxing.  He had always been able to fold spells into the metal as he molded it with more ease than other magicians he’d known.

But, there was something else he was supposed to do . . .

Oh, yes.

“Feel the metal, sense what it wants to become, and how,” Tobias intoned.  “Just like casting a spell.  If it doesn’t want to be what you want, see if it can be coaxed, flattered, or convinced to change.  But, above all, do not force it. Better to start over with new metal than to bespell a piece of steel, iron, or bronze that doesn’t want to be what you’re making.”

He slid the lengthened bar back into the forge.

His eyes remained on the metal even as he kept awareness of the half dozen hopeful apprentices around him.

“Yes, ah, Diane?”

“What about deadlines?”

“Crafting, with smithing, is an art,” he said, rolling the bar a little in the coals.  “Any patron who does not understand that the process cannot be rushed is not worth your time.  Otherwise, you get crap items and magic that’s more dangerous to its owner than to anyone else.”

Now would come the resentment.  The desire to have instant wealth and, possibly, fame.  The belief that it was fine for him to say such things, to do such things, because he was an acknowledged master, but that beginners out to make their mark had to take anything that came along.  That would weed out about half of them.  Skill would settle the rest down to the one he would take and teach.

“Everyone to a station.  Begin the basics with Kazuo, and we’ll see who stays for tomorrow.”

Naothlan Vignette #5 (2019)

“Nigel, Livinia, could you head over to the marsh today?  Brody was by there last night and said the hydra’s looking off.”

“We were scheduled for the stables, horse check-ups.  That’ll be the whole morning,” Livinia noted, with a glance at the paper before her.  The sunlight through the window highlighted her short, green hair.

Erin Lloyd nodded.

“Afternoon’s fine.  Push the north glade check back to tomorrow if you need to, it’s not an urgent.”

“Does it need both of us?” Nigel asked.  “Ehren has a pregnant pegasus in the hills that’s due any day now.  One of us should be near, just in case.”

Erin ran a hand through her own short bob as she considered.  Prioritizing endangered species, especially when short staffed . . .

“I’d rather have two along, since it’s the hydra and may be agitated,” to understate the potential problems.  Seven regenerating heads made even routine checkups interesting.  “But, I’ll see if Avery has anyone he can spare to escort and help out.  Any preferences?”

“I’ll take the marsh.  Liv’s got more experience with the pegasi, and they seem to like her better.”

Livinia nodded.

“If Jamari’s available, he’s always been helpful, especially with the hydra and other amphibians.  Good in an emergency too,” she suggested.  He worked well with Nigel in the past.

“I’ll see what I can do.  Have fun, guys.  I’ll let you know, Nigel, in a bit,” Erin said, already returning to the never-ending ‘To Do’ list before they’d left the tiny, cramped office.

Naothlan Vignette #4 (2019)

“Ward stone seven, northwest looks good.  Aura’s strong, no signs of tampering.  Glamour stone’s aura is weakening.  Should be checked and reinforced.”

“Noted, Taya.  Possible intrusion detected near stone eight.  Nelson’s on-site, could use some help.”

Taya Bridger did some quick calculations of distance and terrain.

“Understood.  It’ll be four hours on foot.”

“Gate’s approved, go for it.”

Taya smiled, “Five minutes, then.”

She touched the crafter crystal near her ear, cutting the communication with the nearest Red Guard facility.  The crystal was stowed without conscious thought.  A moment later, a small gemstone replaced it.

The gate-stones were expensive, Guards weren’t often given permission to use them.

Must be big, Taya thought.

She rubbed the stone and whispered the command word keyed to her, thinking of ward stone eight.

An instant later, the opal vanished.

A six foot diameter hole opened a few feet away.

Through it, Taya could see the ward stone, and the slender form of Nelson Rookwood.

She stepped through and nodded.

Nelson was a great interrogator and fighter.  He could get a suspect talking before they even realized what they were doing.  But, he was not much for tracking.

“How long ago?”

“I’d guess . . . six hours, from the undergrowth damage.”

As they spoke, Taya stripped off and bundled her gear.  She handed the bundle to Nelson and, second later, became a nine foot tall wolf-woman.

The scents and sounds of the wood washed over her.  She caught the intrusive scent in an instant.  Six hours . . . more like five.  Strong scent of . . . well, that was interesting.  And contraband.  No worries.

Naothlan Vignette #3 (2019)

Tradition dictated that all new students who sought to study at Norvale University must arrive not only at the university itself but also the town on foot.  Supposedly, the tradition was supposed to teach a lesson in humility before a student began their studies.

Screw that, Everitt Lynn thought as he looked at the town’s towers only a couple miles away.  After walking two days from Talbridge, all he had learned about was sore legs and blisters.  What was the point of living on the world’s only island, in the only nation, of magicians and magical beings if you didn’t use the bloody magic to make travel easier?  And fuck tradition too.  Just because ten or sixteen or twenty generations or whatever had done it, that didn’t make it right or good.

The argument had been running through his mind like a mantra for the last six miles.

It gave him something to focus on, especially when combined with the sheer stubborn desire to unleash it on someone when he finally arrived.

In the meantime, the academic town that had evolved to support the university grew.  The towers took on definition, enough that Everitt could see some details and materials.  Like so much of the island of Naothlan, Norvale was built of native stone and woods.  It had not kept up with the rest of the world, or the 21st century, in that respect.

Some said it had an old world charm, within sight (on a clear day) of the new world.  After a morning spent trudging through the foothills of the Spine Mountains, up to the pass, and into the valley, any picturesque elements of the landscape were lost of Everitt.

Exhaustion trumped appreciation.

Even once he dragged himself to the outskirts of  Norvale, he still had a good mile to go, up slope, before the university gates.

Naothlan Vignette #2 (2019)

The walls of Meister Briggs’s office anteroom were becoming all too intimately familiar to Howard Montagne.  He had been sitting in the room for two hours, awaiting a meeting with a minor functionary in the meister’s employ.  The man was in charge of Curmont, a town halfway across Naothlan, but critical to Montagne’s project.  Apparently, his office in Bywater, the closest city to the Sablewood, was grossly understaffed.

Howard rose and crossed to the room’s lone desk.

He debated whether to be humble and self-depreciating (Sablewood really did need the meister’s cooperation) or brusque and demanding, to get attention.  Or something in between.

The full House of Meisters wasn’t necessary for the release project, only Curmont’s, as the closest town to the release site.

“Hi, remember me?” he’d only been sitting in line of sight for hours.  “I was supposed to see someone nearly two hours ago.  Any idea when someone with even a little authority will be available?”

The nameless young man behind the desk, he didn’t even have a nameplate, looked up from a pile of documents.  He was probably some senior staffer’s son, or nephew.

“Meister Briggs’s local staff are extremely busy, Mr., ah, Montague.  Would you like me to write you in for another day?”

“Montagne.  And, no.  I could walk to Curmont and the meister’s home office before you’d find another open appointment.”

Stalling, that’s all it was.

Howard returned to his seat, fuming inside.

There were those in the House who didn’t see the value in Sablewood, or reintroducing species to Naothlan’s wild.  Fortunately, they had no say in the preserve’s funding or spending.

Naothlan Vignette #1 (2019)

“The mission is green, we’re good to go.”

Two hours later . . .

“Control, where are we?”

“We . . . have lights and cameras, if needed, Boss.”

“Siren, we good?”

“Contact made and prepped, Boss.”

“Faust, ready?”

“Just finishing touches, Boss.”


“Clear lines of sight, Boss.”

“Vulcan, start beating the bushes.”

“Five seconds.  Four.  Three.”



A small explosion went off north and a touch east of Boss’s position.


Just over two minutes passed before, “Eyes on target.  Two reinforced black Escalades.  Heading east on High.”

Armored black Escalades.  Could the target get any more cliché?

“Good, Artemis.  Siren?”

“He’s in the second.”

A few moments passed, then a faint thwick of wood grazing wood came over the comms.

“First’s disabled at Spring. Second veered north on Spring.  ETA to Faust, one minute.”

“Nice shot, Artemis.  Neutralize personnel and bring it in.  Good work, Siren.  Move in, everyone.”

Half the team should, he thought, already be there, and Artemis would be the last in.

He was about fifty yards out, when he heard, “And they’re stuck.  Securing target, Boss.”

“Copy, Faust.”

One hour, seventeen minutes later . . .

Marcus Grinnell cut off the projection he’d been talking to with a gesture.  The device’s crafted gemstone core sat on his otherwise bare stainless and graphite desk.  He allowed himself a smile.  Rising, he left the combo office and meeting room to find most of his team gathered on couches around a low, square coffee table.  The air of anticipation, which followed every job, was palpable.

“The package reached the bosses.  They send their congratulations.  Control?”

Talia ‘Control’ Winthrop, their resident intel specialist, in hipster-steampunk that day, looked up from her array of tech and magical devices and shook her head.

“Police chatter’s quiet.  No casualties, a couple scrapes and bruises from the stampede.  They’re tentatively calling it a minor gas explosion.”

“Any reason they should think otherwise?”

“Assuming Faust’s little buddy poofed after,” Vulcan shrugged, “there won’t be any signs it was anything else, Boss.”

“In that case, I think we’re officially off-duty.  Good work, everyone.”

The effect of the words was instant.

Without a sound, the entire room suddenly relaxed as if releasing a collective sigh.

Seconds of silence passed.

Suddenly, Talia emerged from the kitchen and began tossing bottles around the room to everyone.

Catching one, Abelard ‘Vulcan’ Teach, their whipcord explosives witch, bellowed, “Talia, you should’ve seen their faces when Bryan set off the ward and their SUV stopped dead.  It was hilarious, after the whiplash.”

A blush shadowing already dark skin, bear-like and bald Bryan ‘Faust’ Smith waved off the compliment.

“That was nothing, Abe,” Alexis ‘Siren’ Morgan, the image of a Bond vamp, grinned, “compared to when his critters dissolved their car and guns.”

“Ate,” the summoner corrected.  “Corrieys eat metal, preferably iron.”

Marcus caught his bottle with a smile.

They had earned some downtime.  Two weeks of arduous prep for a rush job had just gone off without any serious complications.  The homeland, Naothlan, had been protected from exposure.  It was a good night’s work.  And no one beyond the room would know about it.  Even the target and his security would swear to their dying day that they’d gone straight to a safe house.

“Nice shot, Chris.  Right through the engine block from, what, 350 yards, twenty feet elevation?  Better than Tarvek, he’d be proud.”

“I make it closer to 400,” Christina ‘Artemis’ Lyons, their sniper, settled her compact, athletic frame into a chair.  “And that sexist, racist bastard wouldn’t’ve been proud.  He’d be pissed and deny it. . . . It was a good shot, though, wasn’t it?”

Library Vignette #6 (2019)

Eric Wroth collapsed in an overstuffed maroon wingback with a sigh.  He stripped off a pair of gloves as he stretched his legs toward the fire set in a hearth a couple yards away.

Seven hours on his feet running between four different parts of the Library had taken their toll.

“It’s not the walking or running,” he said, “it’s the changes in climate and temperature that wipe you out.”

A couple feet away, on a patterned love seat, Maryam Clifford nodded in sympathy.

“I got lucky today.  Had Magic and Magical Community, different continents, but same hemisphere at least.”

“Mansion, Visitor Hall, Restricted, and Magic.”

“Oof. Both Americas, Asia, and . . . Australia?  Whose shitlist did you get on?”

Eric chuckled.

“No idea.  Or what I did.”

He stretched with a groan before inspecting his hands.

“Anything interesting?”

“New materials for Restricted . . . No clue what, but it had a ‘no skin contact’ warning, even in a box and carry bag.”

“Wow.  Haven’t seen one of those in a while.  Never carried one.”

“I don’t recommend it.  Two transfers, three sections from triage to mansion to Restricted.  Sweated bolts the whole way, just imagining what could happen if the wards failed or the bag ripped.”

Maryam grinned.

“You sound like a perfect Mundane candidate.  Nothing to worry about there, no pressure.”

Library Vignette #5 (2019)

“Sign here, please.”

“Any special instructions?” Mary Gilbert asked as she signed.  Years working in the Library’s Restricted Collection prompted a certain caution, if one wished to continue working.

“Don’t open the box,” the runner said, consulting a list.  “It ‘dampens the effect’.  And handle it as little as possible.  Uh, and Class Seven containment, whatever that means.”

Mary nodded, “Thanks.”

Class Seven was their second highest level of containment and protection.  So, whatever text was in the iron infused chalcedony box was not one of the nastiest items in their charge, but it was close.

She took a few notes as the runner left and handed the sheet off to a page.

“Catalogers.  Description, title, and location.  Don’t say the title on this one, Class Seven.”

Sometimes with the big ones even naming them could cause a reaction.  And many got grumpy, though there were some positive ones that were still dangerous.

Mary pulled on a special pair of gloves that would not react with any protections already on the box.  So far as she knew, they were unique to the Restricted Collection, and their creation one of the collection’s closely guarded secrets.

Holding the box comfortably, she took it to a small desk in the corner of the room.

“Do we know where Room 17 is now?”

The scryer held up a finger as his eyes unfocused.

“Second floor, third row, position two.  You probably have . . . twenty minutes before it shifts.”