The Young Sorceress – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger sprang suddenly from his cot, motivated by a particularly enthusiastic bedbug.  He was immediately sorry, as the pain in his back was exacerbated by the sudden movement.  He looked back down at the vermin filled, inch thick mattress, a few pieces of straw sticking out of a hole in the side, sitting on an ancient metal frame.  It was a sleeping place not fit for a dog. Then he laughed ruefully.  That was exactly how he and every other Zaeri was thought of here—as dogs.

The Kingdom of Freedonia, like the rest of the civilized world was divided in two.  There were the Kafirites, who ruled the world.  And there were the Zaeri, who had long ago ruled it.  Two thousand years ago, Zur had been a great kingdom, one that along with Argrathia, Ballar, and Donnata ruled the classical world.  Then a single dynasty of kings, culminating in Magnus the Great, had conquered the rest of the known world, and made Zur civilization the dominant culture.   Zaeri, the Zur religion, with its belief in one god, had replaced the pagan religions of the civilizations that Magnus and his forebears had conquered.  Even when Magnus’s empire had splintered into many successor kingdoms, the Zaeri religion had remained dominant.

Then a generation later, a Zaeri imam named Kafira had begun teaching a strange variation of the religion in Xygia.  Kafira had taught the importance of the afterlife, an adherence to a code of conduct that would lead one to this afterlife, and a general disregard for the affairs of the world.  Her enemies had destroyed her, but in so doing they had made her a martyr. From martyr, she rose swiftly to savior and then to godhead of a new religion, one that had spread quickly to engulf all that had been the Zur civilization.  In the following millennia, the Kafirites had converted the remaining pagans to the creed of their holy savior, thereby making it the only religion in the world of man—the only religion in the world of man save those who held onto the ancient Zaeri belief.

Now here in Freedonia it was no longer safe to be a Zaeri. First it had become illegal for Zaeri to be doctors or lawyers, and then actors or publishers.  Then laws had been passed which made it illegal for Zaeri to own businesses or property.  Finally entire neighborhoods became forbidden to Wissinger’s people and they had been pushed into ghettos, segregated from the other Freedonians.

Wissinger spent the day picking up garbage on the street. That was his job here in the ghetto. He had been an award-winning writer when he had lived in Kasselburg, but here in Zurelendsviertel he walked the street, a silver zed pinned to his jacket, picking up refuse.  At least people didn’t treat him like a garbage man. The other Zaeri knew him and respected him.  They asked his opinion about things.  They called him “professor” when they spoke to him.  It was not like that at all with the Freedonian soldiers who occasionally made a sweep through the ghetto.  They would as soon kick an award-winning writer to the side of the road as they would a street sweeper.

Back once again in his room, he pulled his tablet and pencil from its hiding place behind a loose board and continued writing where he had left off the day before.  He could not live without writing.  He wrote down what had happened that day, what he had seen, what he had heard.  He wrote about the death of Mrs. Finaman, brought on no doubt by lack of nutrition, and he wrote about her husband’s grief at the loss of his wife and his unborn child.  He wrote about the sudden disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Kortoon, and the speculation that they paid their way out of the ghetto.  And he wrote about the disappearance of the Macabeus family, and the speculation that something sinister had happened to them.

That night on his uncomfortable cot, Wissinger had a wonderful dream.  He dreamed that a beautiful woman was making love to him.  She licked his neck as she rubbed her naked body against his.  She whispered to him in some foreign language—he thought it was Brech.  When he managed to pull himself out of the fog of sleep, and he realized that it wasn’t a dream, that the woman was really here with him, he tried to push her off of him.

“Don’t stop now lover,” she said, a noticeably Brech accent to her Freedonian.  “I’m just starting to really enjoy myself.”

Wissinger pushed again, and slid his body out from under her, falling to the floor in the process.  She stretched out, lying on her stomach.  He stared at her open-mouthed.  Her long blond hair didn’t quite cover a fourteen-inch crescent moon tattoo at the top of her back.  Another tattoo, an eight-inch flaming sun sat just above her voluptuous bottom.

“Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

“I would have thought that was obvious,” she replied in a sultry voice.  “I’m here to warn you.”

“You… uh, what?”

“I’m here to warn you.”

She rolled over and stood up, revealing six star tattoos all over her front.

“In a short while, maybe a few weeks, the food supply to the ghetto will be reduced.  It will be reduced a lot.”

“They barely give us enough to survive on as it is.  They can’t cut it back anymore.”

“They can, and they will.”  She stepped closer to him.  “They are going to try and starve the Zaeri to extinction.”

“They won’t be able to.”

“No, it’s true, in the end they won’t.  But they will try and many will die.  Even worse things will follow.  Do you know how to get out of the ghetto?”

“I can’t leave.  People need me here.”

“No they don’t.  People like you, but they don’t need you and they won’t help you when things get very bad.  You have no family and when it comes to eat or starve, you won’t have any friends either—no one will.  I ask you again; do you know how to get out of the ghetto?”

“They say a Kafirite named Kiesinger will get you out if you can pay, but I don’t have any money.  I didn’t have any before I came here.”

“Here.”

The woman handed him a small leather pouch, though he had no idea where she could have had it hidden. He looked inside.  There was a small roll of banknotes and twenty or so gold coins.

The Drache Girl – Chapter 17 Excerpt

“Of course I gave him the rope,” said Iolanthe.

Yuah shuddered.  No matter how close she had come to Iolanthe as a compeer, she had never forgotten that her sister-in-law and former employer could be merciless.  It still seemed like being given a cold slap, to be forced to come face-to-face with that realization.

“Why did you give him the rope,” asked Saba.

“I thought about giving him a pistol.  It would have been a much more appropriate way to do it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t count on Mercy not to shoot me instead of himself.”

“He means, why did you help him kill himself,” said Yuah.

“She knows what I meant.”

“I don’t really need to explain it to you, do I Saba?  You have lived with us since you were born.  This family has been knocked down again and again, and I have done everything to build it back up.  After three generations of incompetence and stupidity, I have made the Dechantagnes a great family name again.  I will not let it be linked forever with treason.  Can you imagine a public trial and then an execution?  No, I will never allow something like that to happen.”

“He was your husband, though.”

“Yes.  He was. And at least he had the decency to take the honorable way out.”

Yuah couldn’t take any more.  She stood up and walked out of the parlor, down the hallway, and into the library. She stopped inside the door and took a deep breath.  Terrence was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs with a book in his lap. A pair of reading glasses was perched on the end of his nose, but he wasn’t really reading.  She stepped over to him and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Jerking her hand away from his shoulder as though it had been burned, Yuah turned and rushed back out of the room.  She leaned against the wall and placed both hands over her stomach.  She could feel the cane strips in her corset but couldn’t feel the life growing inside of her.  Continuing down the hallway, she stepped into the kitchen.  One of the lizardmen was sweeping the floor and a black-haired teenaged boy sat eating a sandwich in the corner.

“Can you drive me now, Marzell?” Yuah asked the boy.

It might have been difficult to find humans in Birmisia who were willing to work as servants, but it was surprisingly simple to find young men willing to serve as drivers for one of only two steam carriages on the continent. Terrence had given out that the position was open and had faced an avalanche of applicants.  He had narrowed the selection down to three boys, and had let Yuah choose her favorite.  She had chosen one of the Zaeri boys from Freedonia.  Marzell Lance was a serious young man of sixteen, with a shock of perpetually mussed black hair and brown eyes.  He always seemed to be hungry.  Though he had proven he could not only drive, but maintain the steam carriage, that was not why he had been chosen.  He, like so many coming from Freedonia, had arrived alone.  His sister, the only member of his family with him, had died on the ship.

Marzell jumped up and held open the outside door.  Yuah walked through and he followed.  The steam carriage was parked near one of the sheds.  It looked as pristine as it had when it had arrived on the ship from Greater Brechalon.  The minor damage caused by Yuah’s accidental diversion into a snow bank had been repaired, and from the rich black leather of the seats to the shining copper bonnet, it was clean and polished.

“I’ll have to fire up the boiler, Ma’am,” said Marzell.

“I know.  That’s fine.”

Marzell held out a helping hand for Yuah, as she stepped up into the passenger seat.  As she sat with folded hands in her lap, he stepped around to the back to light the boiler. He shoveled in several more scoops of coal for good measure as well.  Then, popping back around to the driver’s side, he climbed in.

“If I had known you were planning to go out, Ma’am, I would have fired it up earlier.”

“I know.  It’s all right.”

“Where did you want to go, Ma’am?”

“Please stop saying ‘Ma’am’.  I feel old enough as it is.”

“Yes, Ma’am.  Where did you want to go, Ma… Mrs. Dechantagne.”

“Take me to Miss Hertling’s home, please.”

Shifting the vehicle into gear, Marzell stepped on the forward accelerator, but with a still relatively cool engine, the steam carriage rolled forward very slowly.  It seemed as though it took at least five minutes to reach the gate, which was no more than fifty feet away.  Once the young man had gotten out and opened the gate though, steam had built up enough that they were able to start down the road at a respectable speed.  It was less than ten minutes later that Yuah was knocking on Honor’s door.

The front door of the small cottage opened and Honor stepped outside.  She immediately pulled Yuah to her and enfolded her in her arms.  Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes, but she bit her lip and fought them back.  By the time her friend let go of her, she had screwed her face back into order.

“Come in.”

“Just a minute.  I didn’t know if you were here.  I have to tell Marzell that I’ll be staying a few minutes.”

“Tell him you’ll be a couple of hours and that he should come back,” said Honor.  “Don’t argue. Just do it.”

Yuah did as she was told, and as Marzell took off with a whoosh in the steam carriage, she stepped inside the Hertling house and closed the door behind her. Honor was stirring the contents of a large crockery bowl with a big wooden spoon.  Her typical brown and black dress was covered by a white apron, now stained with a brown smear.

“I made Hertzel a cake last week, so now I’m making one for Hero.”

“Chocolate?”

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.