About wesleyallison

Author of twenty science-fiction and fantasy books, including the popular "His Robot Girlfriend."

The Sorceress and the Dragon

Now that His Robot Wife: Patience Under Fire is done, I can get onto the final Senta (The Sorceress and the Dragon) book.  It is written and still needs revising and editing.  Before I start though, I’m going to go through and do a major re-edit of all of the series.  I’ve done some editing of them before, but this time, I may do some minor rewriting of certain sections.

I’ve already completed and uploaded the new version of Brechalon, and now I’m working on the Voyage of the Minotaur.  I’ll post here, when I’m done.  Once I have them all re-edited, I’ll start the revision for book 10: For King and Country.  It is a very long book, by far the longest in the series.  Watch this space for more info.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Though winter was well on its way out in Birmisia, it was still cold enough at night—cold enough to bundle up tight, cold enough to blow steam in the air with your breath, and cold enough that the lizzies moved with their characteristically slow gate.  Police Constable Saba Colbshallow watched them from behind the corner of a warehouse building across the street from the dock.  He didn’t know why they were working in the middle of the night, but he hadn’t spotted them taking from the ship any of the curious long crates that he had seen on previous occasions.  He watched for more than thirty minutes as the reptilians moved freight.

Finally deciding that the activity represented nothing nefarious, Saba stretched his sore back, pulled a sulfur match from his pocket, and lit the oil lantern sitting on a barrel next to him.  Then taking the lantern with him, he made his way across the street.  There were half a dozen lizzies loading wooden crates onto a pallet that was attached to the crane to be loaded aboard the ship. As he approached, several of the lizardmen eyed him.  Half of them were taller than his six foot three, but all of them hunkered down to look shorter than they actually were.  It was a demonstration of submissiveness that the constable had grown used to over the years.  Coming to a stop beside the workers, he crossed his hands over his chest.

“Working awfully late, gentlemen.”

One of the lizardmen hissed.  Even though Saba was not fluent in the aboriginal language, he could tell it was a non-verbal expression of anger or annoyance.

“Identification.”

The two closest lizardmen held out their arms.  They each wore a wooden and twine identity bracelet.  Saba held up the lantern and read the engraved information on each of the tags.  “Finn: Serial Number 22211 BL”, and “Ishee: Serial Number 22214 BI”.

“All right.  The rest of you too.”

“Does there seem to be some problem, PC?”

Saba looked up to see the tall, silhouetted form of a man walking toward him from the direction of the ship.  When he reached the circle of lantern light he was revealed as Professor Merced Calliere.

“Good evening, Professor.  Just checking identifications.”

“I would appreciate some haste then.  These fellows have work to do.”

“So they’re working for you?  I noticed these two don’t seem to have night passes, and my guess is that the others don’t either.”

“Yes, well I needed help on what you might call an ad-hoc basis.  It’s very important business—government business. So I would prefer it if you not delay them any longer.”

“Then I had best let them get back to work,” said Saba.  “As soon as I check the rest of their identification.”

“This ship is leaving first thing in the morning.”  Professor Calliere hissed from between clenched teeth.

“I am aware of that, Professor,” said Saba, then to the other lizardmen. “Stick your arms out.”

The two reptilians that he had already checked stepped aside, and the remaining four held out their arms to show their identification bracelets. Calliere folded his arms and scowled. Saba read them off one by one.

“Maddy: Serial Number 19705 BL.  Sassine: Serial Number 18234 BI.  Guster: Serial Number 10100 BI.  Swoosy: Serial Number 11995  BI. Oh, I know you, don’t I?”

Saba looked up at the last of the lizardmen. It was a hulking brute, at least six foot five, though it was doing its best to seem shorter.  Its skin was deep forest green with large mottled patches of grey here and there.  It looked nothing like the lightly colored, rather short female that the constable had seen saved by Graham Dokkins from the new arrivals.

“Hold on,” said the constable, grabbing the wrist with the bracelet.

With a hiss that bordered on a roar, the lizardman leapt forward, grabbing Saba’s helmet in its clawed right hand as its momentum carried both of them backwards.  As he fell, Saba felt the alligator-like mouth clamp shut on his right shoulder. The gravel of the street flew as the man and the reptilian landed.  The latter flipped completely over and onto his back.  Saba jumped to his feet, his hand suddenly holding his truncheon even though he didn’t consciously grab it.  With a speed belying its supposed cold blood, the lizardman rolled onto his stomach, and without even getting up, launched himself into Saba.  They both fell into the pallet of crates, one of which splintered, spilling its contents onto the ground.  Saba swung his truncheon, but couldn’t tell if it connected. The next moment, his opponent was gone.

Jumping to his feet, the constable saw his attacker disappearing into the darkness, running south.  All of the other lizardmen were either running or were already gone.  Saba reached into his reefer jacket to feel his shoulder and pulled out a hand with several streaks of blood upon it.  His pulse was pounding in his ears.  Professor Calliere stood with his mouth open.  The ground was strewn with papers.

Saba reached down and picked up a fist full of the papers.  They were white, 8 ½ x 11 inch papers, covered on one side with long strings of numbers.  He kicked the damaged crate and it busted open completely, spilling out more of the number filled sheets.

“Papers?  Just papers?”

Calliere looked unhappily at the ground.

“What the hell are these?”

“Just… just some calculations.”

“Are all these crates filled with these calculations?”

Calliere bit his lip.

“Professor, you’re going to need to come with me.”

Calliere’s eyes shifted but then he nodded.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 14 Excerpt

Had her lavender top hat not been tied onto her head with a thick strand of lace, Yuah was sure that it would have been blown away and lost.  The wind whipped around her face and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel.  Scenery was flying past her on both sides at an alarming pace—trees, houses, lizardmen, a group of playing boys.  Suddenly something appeared at her left elbow.  She carefully turned her eyes left without looking away from the road. One of the boys that she had passed was running beside the carriage.  A second later, the others had caught up and were running along beside her as well.

“Hey lady!” yelled one boy.  “Why don’t you open her up?”

“Yeah!” called another.  “We want to see this thing go!”

Yuah turned her attention back to her driving.  She was sure that the steam carriage would outpace the children shortly, but they stayed right at her side, encouraging her to increase her speed. When she finally pulled up to the front of Mrs. Bratihn’s, the boys gathered beside the vehicle, scarcely breathing hard.

“Why didn’t you go faster?”

“Yeah, how come?”

Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes.

“I was going as fast as I could!”  She let out a sob.

“Don’t cry, lady,” said the oldest boy, apparently the one who had called out first on the road.  “Here. Let me open the relief cock for you.”

Yuah pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressed it to her face, as the boy moved around to the back of the vehicle and turned the lever.

“Be sure and don’t –sob– burn your fingers on the steam.”

“What are you boys doing here!” yelled Mrs. Bratihn, shooting out from the door of her shop with her own head of steam.  “Get out of here and leave Mrs. Dechantagne alone!”

“We didn’t do nothing!” yelled back one small boy, but they nevertheless went running.

“What did they do to you, dear?” asked the older woman, placing her arm around Yuah’s shoulder, once she had climbed down.

“They didn’t do anything.  It’s this damned steam carriage.  I hate it, but Terrence wants me to drive it.”

“Did he tell you that you have to drive it?”

“No, but he brought it all the way here from Brech.”

“Come inside and have some tea.”

Yuah followed Mrs. Bratihn into her shop where they both sat down on the couch.  Mrs. Luebking, who was already in the process of pouring tea, added another cup and handed one to each of the other women, then took the last for herself and sat down in a chair.  Yuah sipped the tea and took a deep breath.

“Now tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Bratihn.

“You know I used to watch the steam carriages zipping around Brech every day and I always thought it would be just ace to have one of my own.  But it’s just so bleeding complicated.  You have to push in the clutch to shift gears and you have to press down on the forward accelerator just the right amount when you let the clutch out.  And you always have to watch the steam gauge or the whole thing might explode.  It’s just too much pressure.”

“You should just tell your husband that it’s too much for you,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Men love it when you act helpless anyway.”

“That may be fine for most,” replied Yuah, putting away the handkerchief, “but I’m a Dechantagne.  At least I am now.  There are different expectations for me than there are for most women.”

“Maybe you could tell him that you want a driver,” suggested Mrs. Luebking. “Back in Brech, most of the ladies have drivers.  After all, driving is a lot of manual labor.”

Yuah was thoughtful for a moment.

“That might work,” she said.  “Mrs. Calliere is always saying that women of our station should do less.”

“Mrs. Calliere, your sister-in-law?”

“Oh no, the professor’s mother.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Bratihn.  “There you go.  Tell him you need a driver and Bob’s your uncle.  Now what else can we do for you today?”

“I need another new dress.”

“My dear, do you even have room in your closets?”

Yuah smiled slightly.  “I have spent rather a lot on fashion in the past few months.  But this one needs to be different.  I need a dress for shrine.  It needs to be a little more subdued.”

Mrs. Bratihn and Mrs. Luebking looked at one another.

“I’ll be quite frank, dear,” said Mrs. Bratihn.  “I don’t know anything about the requirements of your religion and what might be appropriate for your shrine.”

“Oh, there’s nothing special really.  I just need something nice, but simple, without a lot of extras—you know, no feathers or flowers, and not too much brocade.”

“I don’t know…”

“Here.  Just a moment.”

Yuah sat down her teacup, got up, and stepping out the door.  She was back a moment later, having retrieved a periodical from the steam carriage.  It was the Brysin’s Weekly Ladies’ Journal from Magnius of last year, the newest issue likely to be found in Birmisia.  Flipping it open, she showed the dressmaker a photograph of a woman wearing a new creation from Freedonia.  The dress was black and simple, featuring black lace around the waist and in a square collar around the neckline.  Though it was swept up in back and emphasized with a massive bow, the bow too was black and didn’t stand out from the rest of the dress.

“I think we may be able to do that,” said Mrs. Bratihn.  “Yes, yes, I quite like that.  It’s simple but elegant.  You may become a real trendsetter.  I imagine with you wearing that, many women here will want to copy it.  Of course you are always good for business, dear.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 13 Excerpt

There were ten members of the party that gathered in front of the office of M&S Coal, Radley Staff included.  It was, he thought, small enough to be able to move quickly through the forest, and large enough to be safe from marauding dinosaurs.  There were the Kanes, who were dressed alike in khaki shirt and pants, with pith helmets and frock coats.  Femke Kane was attractive even without make-up and with her male hairstyle, but standing next to her husband Ivo, the two looked like a pair of peculiar twins.  Beeman Glieberman had also traded his sharp suit in for khaki explorer garb with a heavy jacket, but Aakesh Mouliets wore a great coat of ferret skins over his traditional Mirsannan clothing.  Miss Jindra had exchanged her very feminine gowns for black leather pants and knee high boots, but was covered with a butterfly cape coat, the lavish black hood of which made her beautiful features look dark and mysterious.  Three lizardmen had been hired to carry equipment. Staff had made sure that he had learned their names—Cheebie, Sanjo, and Mimsie.  Then there was the local boy that had been hired as a translator, the brother of the young waitress from the bakery café.

The boy was looking down the street.  Staff followed his gaze and saw Senta standing on the corner looking back. She stood out in a beautiful new lavender dress the way the first spring flower stands out in the snow.  The boy turned his back.

“Have a fight with your girlfriend?” wondered Staff.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” said the boy angrily.

“All right.  Are the lizzies ready to go?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, then turned to the three reptilians and spat out a series of hisses.

The creatures each picked up a pack that would have bowed over a strong man, and tossed them onto their shoulders.  The human members picked up their belongings and everyone started down the street.  Each of the men had backpacks, though they were tiny compared to the burdens of the lizardmen.  Staff and Kane each carried a rifle, and all of the humans except Graham and Miss Jindra had pistols on their belts.  They made their way through town and past the train station, then continued due south.

There was very little snow on the ground now.  Though the days had not grown much warmer than those of a month previous, the skies had been clear for weeks, and the great drifts had slowly dissolved into splotchy patches of white among the trees.  Staff turned up the collar of his reefer jacket and pulled his gloves from his pocket.  As he put them on, he slowed until Miss Jindra came beside him.

“Fifty miles?”

“Approximately,” she answered.

“That’s a long way.”

“I imagine you will have to build a railway line,” she said.  “I also imagine that you could purchase the unused ties and rails left over from the track recently completed from Mallontah.  I am surprised you have not already done so.”

“I have,” said Staff.  “I meant it was a long way for you to walk.”

“I will manage.”

“I hear you are staying with Zurfina.”

“Zurfina the Magnificent,” corrected Miss Jindra.

“I was surprised, after seeing her remove you from the ship.”

“She’s not only very powerful, but she’s very wise.  She can teach me a great deal.”

Staff couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but there was something slightly off about Miss Jindra.  Her speech and her expressions were not quite the same as the young sorceress he had met on the S.S. Arrow.  He slowed and let her go ahead.  When he did so, he was joined by Femke Kane.

“Your friend seems nice,” she said.

“She’s more of an acquaintance really.”

“Do you have many women acquaintances, Mr. Staff?”

“That does indeed seem to be my curse.”

“Perhaps you should get yourself one or two close friends,” she said. “Then acquaintances would become less important.”

He turned and looked at her face.  He had noticed before that Mrs. Kane wore no make-up.  He noticed now for the first time that she did not have the thin arched eyebrows that every other woman he knew maintained.  Hers were almost as thick as his.  If she hadn’t been naturally pretty, he could see how she might have been mistaken for a man.

They walked all day, stopping only briefly at lunch and teatime.  Late in the afternoon, they reached the edge of a small clearing, and Staff called a halt.  They quickly cleared a large space and built a fire.  Pulling assorted canned goods from their packs, they opened these and then set them on flat rocks at the edge of the fire to heat. By the time the food was ready, the party was arrayed around the flames in a circle, messaging their tired feet, or making themselves comfortable for the night.

“How far did we walk today?” asked Beeman Glieberman.

“Fifteen miles,” answered Ivo Kane.

“It has to be more than that,” said Aakesh Mouliets.  “I have walked this far many times back in Brechalon.”

Staff paid little attention to the conversation.  He was staring at the curious sight on the other side of the campfire.  All three of the lizardmen, having laid down their burdens, were lying on their stomachs with their chins pointed towards the fire and their tales pointed at the darkening forest.  They were pressed right up against one another.  In this position, they looked more like alligators than upright humanoids. Graham Dokkins sat beside them, using one of the creatures as a leather back support pillow.

A tremendous roar sounded somewhere to the south.  Both women made startled noises.

“Bloody hell,” said Kane.  “What kind of beast do you suppose that was, Staff?”

“I don’t know,” said Staff.

“Tyrannosaurus,” said Graham.  “I’d say it was a pretty big one too.”

The lizardman he was leaning against hissed something at him.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 12 Excerpt

Police Constable Saba Colbshallow and Police Constable Eamon Shrubb led the three men down Seventh and One Half Avenue toward the docks.  Though they had stopped short of getting the service revolvers out of the gun case, both policemen carried their truncheons on open display.  For their part, the three men looked nervously in every direction.  Several times, one of them shrieked when he saw a little blond girl walk by.

“Kafira,” said Eamon.  “Buck up, man.  She’s not even the right little girl.”

“Keep walking,” said Saba.

Saba had come in first thing that morning to find Eamon slumped over asleep at his typewriter.  That was not particularly significant in and of itself, but when he found out that the last thing the other constable remembered was a visit by a certain young sorceress, things looked more ominous.  Lon Fonstan in cell one was asleep, and upon waking at first, claimed not to have seen anyone at all.

“Maybe we can have a little magic tell us what you’re not remembering?” Saba had said.

“Oh yeah?” Fonstan sneered.  “Who you going to get to do that?”

“Maybe Zurfina.”

“I don’t think so,” had said Fonstan.

“I’ll bet Mother Linton could do it.”

Fonstan had chewed on the possibility for a moment.

“Well, Senta came in to say hello.  She was only here for a minute.  Gave me her best.  Said goodnight.  End of story.”

“And you didn’t see or hear anything unusual in the cell next door?”

“I was busy reading the book you gave me,” said Fonstan, holding up Pilgrimage into Danger.  “I quite like the part where they have to fight off the adulterous women.”

“It’s supposed to be metaphorical,” Saba had suggested.

“Well, I didn’t see or hear nothing.”

Saba suspected that his double negative hid the truth in plain sight.

As for the three men in cell number two, they all had seemed in perfectly good health, with the exception that all three had soiled their pants sometime during the night.  The stories they had told of the demon child who had visited them with plagues, while fantastic, were not dismissed by the police constables.  All three were adamant about booking passage on the S.S. Majestic as soon as it came into port, an idea both PCs thought had merit with or without sorcery.  The men had demanded protection on their way to the ship.

The formation reached the dock area, where a fourth man met them.  He had been present for the first run-in with the lizzies, which the constables had managed to stop, but apparently was at home when the second incident involving the slapping of the lad had occurred. He had arrived in Birmisia with his three friends and had decided that if they were leaving, he would leave as well.

“Oh blooming heck!” said one of the men in custody, scrambling at once to hide behind his fellows.  “There she is.”

Sitting on a wooden crate not fifty feet away, wearing a multihued blue dress, was a twelve-year-old blond girl.  She had her hands crossed in front of her chest and her feet crossed at the ankles.  She definitely had her eye on the four men.

“You’re the law!” squealed one of the men.  “You’ve got to protect us!”

“Eamon, take them and see that they are able to purchase steerage class passage back to Brech,” said Saba.  “I’ll see about our little friend.

He walked across to stand in front of where Senta sat.

“You know you could be charged with assault, aggravated assault, assault on a police constable, interfering with a police investigation, and illegal entry into a secure facility.  I imagine I could find several more charges if I opened up the Corpus Juris.”

“I doubt you’d be able to hold me.”

“Don’t get too cocky.  Mayor Korlann and his daughter may be very fond of you…”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Senta.  “I doubt your jail would be able to hold me.  And if by some chance it did hold me, how long do you think Zurfina would allow it?”

“Zurfina has to follow the law, just like everyone else.”

“That’s why you were at our house about to experience life as a marsupial or a toad.  But you’re about the only one in Birmisia with bullocks like that.  Zurfina exterminated what… a hundred thousand lizzies?  Nobody has come to call her on that.”

“That was a time of war.”

“Yes, sort of.  Well, I’m done being afraid of anyone because they’re bigger or stronger, or because the law says I have to be.  If somebody gets in my way, I’m going to knock them down, hard.”

“These men aren’t in your way,” said Saba.  “In fact, they’re doing their damnedest to get out of your way. They’re leaving the continent. Leave them alone.”

“I’m not even here for them,” said Senta.

“Then what, pray tell, are you here for?”

“I want to see who gets off the ship.  There’s another practitioner of the arts aboard.”

“Great.  You going to kidnap them, like Zurfina did?”

“Probably not.  This one’s a great deal more powerful that Miss Jindra.  I just want to get a butchers.”

Saba sighed.

“Pick which road you walk down carefully, Senta.”

Then he turned on his heel and followed after Eamon and their charges. Once the four men had their tickets, they went aboard the ship.  It wasn’t going to leave port for another four days, but Saba doubted that the men would step back on land before then.  The two constables strolled back from the dockside to the opposite side of the street.

“That girl is going to get herself into a pack of trouble,” said Saba.

“Those tossers only got what they deserved, if you ask me,” said Eamon.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 11 Excerpt

It was ten days later, on the fifth of Festuary that the construction train, loaded with hundreds of workmen and laying track as it went, reached Port Dechantagne.  By the time the train was within eyesight of the station, there were already more than two hundred people standing by to watch history in the making, and when the last track was laid that would bring the train and all future vehicles like it, parallel to the station, there were more than twenty thousand spectators, standing on the station platform, filling the entire clearing, and lining the street in both direction as far as the eye could see.  Most of those present were unable to see much of anything because of the crowds, however many of the children and a few of the adults discovered that climbing a large pine tree offered an excellent viewing opportunity. Forty feet off the ground, in the massive pine directly across Forest Avenue from the train station, four twelve-year-old children and a large steel-colored dragon perched on branches and watched the activity below.

“I’ve never seen so many people in one place before,” said Hero.

“It’s a pretty big crowd,” agreed Graham.  “I’d rather come back when the first real train pulls in.  Trains are ace, but this one hardly moves.”

“How fast do they go?” wondered Bessemer.

“Really fast.  On a straight shot with full steam, I’ll bet you couldn’t even catch it.”

“Hey you guys, be quiet,” said Senta.  “Mrs. Government is going to speak.”

The governor was indeed standing on the station platform ready to address the crowd.  She wore a bright blue dress with a tuft of brilliant white lace over the bustle and cascades of white lace down the skirt.  She was flanked on either side by the other movers and shakers of the colony, including Mayor Korlann, Miss Lusk, Dr. Kelloran, Terrence and Yuah Dechantagne, and Hero’s sister Honor, as well as the new High Priest, Mother Linton. Even Zurfina, who usually eschewed crowded gatherings, was present.  It was she who had provided the magical megaphone that Governor Dechantagne-Calliere now brought to her mouth.  It was much smaller than similar devices Senta had seen used by ship crews and officials at cricket matches, only about eight inches long, but when she spoke into it, everyone in the area could clearly hear the governor’s voice.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she said.  “Welcome to the dedication of the Port Dechantagne train station.  I have a few very brief remarks.”

“Oh boy, here we go,” said Graham.  “Any time they say they’re going to be brief, they’re not.”

“They who?” wondered Senta.

“Speech-makers, that’s who.”

As far as the children were concerned, Graham’s suspicions were well founded.  Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere spoke for more than twenty minutes, recounting the history of the colony from the arrival of the battleship Minotaur, followed by the refugee ship Acorn, through the great battles with lizardmen and the destruction of the lizardman city-state to the southeast.  She went on to the recent expansion of the town, and continued with a list of the businesses that would soon be opening in the colony and the benefits that each would receive from the arrival of the railroad line from St. Ulixes. By the time she was done, all four of the children were completely bored.  They were certainly in no mood to listen to additional speeches, but more speeches seemed to be on the agenda, because no sooner had the governor stopped, than she passed the megaphone to Mother Linton.

“This is bloody awful,” said Graham.  “Let’s go do something else.”

Hertzel nodded his agreement, though whether he was agreeing that it was awful, or that he wanted to do something else, or both, was unclear.

“What do you want to do?” wondered Senta.

“Let’s go ride the dinosaurs,” suggested Graham.

Hertzel nodded again.

“I don’t think that’s safe,” said Hero.

“Of course it’s not safe,” replied Graham.  “It wouldn’t be any fun if it was safe.”

“All right,” said Senta.  “But you boys have to help us down.”

The two boys helped Senta and Hero, both of whom were prevented from being truly arboreal by their large dresses, from branch to branch, finally lowering them to the ground, by their hands.  A moment later the boys dropped down beside them.

“Are you coming?”  Senta called up to the steel dragon.

“No, I’m going to listen to the speeches.”

Shaking their heads at the inscrutability of dragons, the four children tromped through the snow, walking between the trees of the forest lot so that they could come out on the street beyond the massive throng of people. They stepped out onto Bay Street about a mile north of the station and they followed it another mile till they reached the Town Square, which was as empty of human life as they had ever seen it. A single lizardman was crossing from east to west, carrying a little package.

“I wonder if anyone is at Mrs. Finkler’s this afternoon,” said Hero.  “I wouldn’t say no to some hot tea before walking all the way to the dinosaur pens.”

Graham stopped to think and Senta laughed aloud at the expression he managed to screw his face into.  It was obvious that he wanted to get out and ride the dinosaurs before any responsible adult had a chance to get there and stop him.  On the other hand, he was as cold as the rest of them, from sitting in the brisk air high in a tree for a good long time, and then walking miles through the snowy streets.

“If you only had a steam carriage,” said Senta, in a teasing voice.

“Yes!”  He grabbed hold of the fantasy with both hands.  “Do you know how quick we could get from the train station to the dinosaur pens in a steam carriage like the ones Captain Dechantagne brought for his wife and his sister?”

“How quick?” asked Senta, who despite growing up in the great city of Brech with hundreds, perhaps thousands of steam carriages roaming the streets, had never actually ridden in one.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Saba Colbshallow rapped his knuckles on the front door of the five-story structure, again, louder than he had before, but there was just as little response as there had been the first time.

“Police constable!” he called.  He waited a bit longer, and was just about to leave when he heard a distinctly sultry voice from inside.

“Who is it?”

“Police constable,” he said again.

The door opened and Zurfina stood in the doorway, her strange little leather dress displaying a good portion of her breasts with their star tattoos as well as her long legs.   Her thigh high boots had such high heels that she could almost look Saba in the eye.

“Yes?  What is it?” she said, with the air of someone who had just been interrupted in the middle of something vitally important.

“May I come in?” he asked.

With an exaggerated sigh, the sorceress turned her back and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open.  Saba followed her in and looked around the large room that formed the lower level of the structure.  It was, he thought, a surprisingly mundane looking combination of kitchen, parlor, and dining room.  The place was tidy and organized, none of the furnishings looking particularly worn or new, expensive or poor.  Zurfina waved her hand and the door slammed shut behind him, causing him to jump a little.

“Well?”

Saba swallowed.  He had known Zurfina for four years now, and found her just as wondrous, mysterious, and fascinating as he had when he was sixteen.  He had of course grown up to be a police constable, but she had grown to be a legend. She was an attractive woman: not as beautiful as Mrs. Dechantagne of course, not as charming as Mrs. Dechantagne-Calliere was at least capable of being, and nowhere near as adorable as Miss Lusk. Neither did she have the curvaceous figure of Dr. Kelloran.  But as writer Geert Resnick wrote in his novelThe Pale Sun, “the painting that most draws one to it, is not the most beautiful, but the one hanging to the wall by the most tenuous thread.”  Zurfina held the same appeal as a fast horse, an unstable bomb, or a canoe in a river filled with crocodiles.  And there was power.  Power was always appealing.

Zurfina sensed his hesitation and moved to stand very close to him.

“Now, little Saba,” she said, with exaggerated slowness.  “What brings you to see Zurfina the Magnificent?”

Saba had perfected his stare: a piercing look that let those he was interviewing know that he would brook no nonsense.  He gave the sorceress one of these stares, but it didn’t seem to work as well as it was supposed to.  She stepped a little closer and he suddenly realized he could smell her breath.  It was minty.

“Little Saba.”  Her charcoaled grey eyes seemed to be looking at something just below the surface of his face.

He swallowed.

“Police Constable Colbshallow,” he corrected.

She leaned forward so that the tip of her nose was only an inch from his.

“Little Saba,” she repeated.  “There’s something you’ve been dying to tell me.”

“No there isn’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here about a Miss Amadea Jindra.”

Zurfina leaned back and scrunched up her nose.  “Now what business is that of yours?”

He retrieved the notepad from his coat pocket and flipped it open.  Turning so that he had better light to read by, he took the opportunity step away from the sorceress.

“It was reported that you kidnapped, um… acquired Miss Jindra from the deck of the S.S. Arrow four days ago, and no one has seen her since.”

“I say again, what business is it of yours?”  Zurfina spoke distinctly, chopping each word as if came out of her mouth. The temperature of the room dropped several degrees.

“You cannot simply snatch people off the street…” His voice trailed off as he noticed the sorceress’s eyes flashing.

Zurfina folded her arms across her chest and raised one eyebrow.  At that moment the door swung open and Senta walked in. Her bright pink dress peaked out from beneath a heavy white overcoat, with a fur trimmed hood.  She was carrying a large bed pillow under each arm. She kicked the door shut with the heel of her shoe, and walked over to stand next to the sorceress.  She looked first at Zurfina and then at Saba.

“Okay,” said Senta.  “What’s going on?”

“Little Saba was just telling me what I can and cannot do.”

“Well, this isn’t going to end up well, and you know who will have to clean up the mess?  Me, that’s who.  Here are your pillows,” Senta shoved the pillows into Zurfina’s hands.

Once the sorceress had taken the pillows, Senta took Saba by the hand and led him toward the front door.

“Let’s talk outside.  I love the smell of pine trees and chimney smoke.”  She led him outside, closing the front door behind her.  “What exactly are you doing?”

“Conducting police business.”

“Stopping me from taking care of those wankers who shot Bessemer has gone to your head, eh?”

“This is my job.  This is what I do,” said Saba.  “I protect the public peace.”

“And do you ever think about how you would do that job if you were turned into, say, I don’t know, a pig?”

“A pig?”

“Maybe a pig.  Could be anything really.  I thought I was about to see a Police Constable shaped lawn ornament.  But then I don’t have Zurfina’s wide experience and peculiar wit.”

“Well I have to go back in and talk to her.”

“Did they have to take your brain out to make that helmet fit?”

“That’s not funny little girl.  I have to find out what she did with Miss Jindra.”