The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 12 Excerpt

“Good morning, Iolana,” said Radley Staff as he entered the library.

“Good morning, Father,” replied Iolana, turning to the next page of The Girl from Beneath the Earth.

“Still working your way through Inspector Colbshallow’s books?”

“Yes, Father,” she said, turning the page.

“I wouldn’t think you would find them all that interesting. They’re written for young men.”

“They just speak to me,” she said, turning the page.

“Are you actually reading that?”

“Yes, Father,” she said, turning the page.

“How can you read that fast? Do you skim through the words?”

Iolana stopped and took the sterling silver bookmark embossed with the Dechantagne family crest from the lamp table, placing it between pages 44-45 of the tattered paperback, which she set next to the unlit lamp.

“No, I don’t skim. It’s all about training one’s mind to recognize an entire sentence at a time instead of only a single word. People do it occasionally without even realizing it. It comes naturally. For instance, you may read the letters B A S S, but how do you know if that word rhymes with ace or ass? Your brain tells you because it sees ahead to the rest of the sentence. So you read ‘the bass is the largest instrument in the orchestra,” or “the bass fishing is best in the lakes of Booth.”

“I see.” He sat down in the other chair. “So what is this book about?”

“They’re all essentially the same. A plucky Brech hero must make his way through dangerous terrain, fight hordes of frightening monsters, and defeat evil masterminds in order to rescue an exotic princess. This particular princess comes from a hidden world beneath the surface where humans are enslaved by a race of intelligent but evil burrowing insects.”

Mr. Staff laughed. “And this speaks to you? Do you identify with the princess or the hero?”

Iolana shrugged. “All I can say is that I don’t see myself as a burrowing insect.”

“Glad to hear it. Remember, we are going hunting tomorrow.”

“I don’t think I will go this time. I have too much to do.”

“You have to go. I planned this trip weeks ago, and besides, it was your idea. What exactly is monopolizing your time lately? I feel like I hardly ever see you anymore.”

“I’ve been spending time with my friends.”

“It’s not a boy, is it? Do I have to start sending a chaperone with you everywhere you go?”

“I assure you Father, there is no boy interested in me. I’m either too young, or too smart, or too famous, or too stuck-up, or too ugly to be bothered with.”

“You aren’t ugly, Iolana,” he said. “But the rest of those are all true. So you will be ready to go tomorrow at 7:00 AM.

“As you say, Father,” she said, taking up her book again.

“You must help me see to Terra. I’m still not sure about taking her with us. I had the devil’s own time convincing her mother that she should be let out, so you will need to help me.” He stood up. “Still, she seemed more worried about Augie. I think she’s had a premonition that he will die young.”

“That’s silly.”

“Of course it is.”

“It’s far more likely that Augie will outlive Terra or me.”

“Why do you say that? Women usually live longer.”

“I wasn’t speaking of men and women, but of Dechantagnes,” Iolana explained. “Mother was the middle child and she outlived Uncle Terrence and Uncle Augie. Our grandfather was a middle child, the second of four. His older brother was killed in the Bordonian War, while his younger sister died of a fever and his younger brother was shot in a disagreement over a gambling debt. If one were to extrapolate from history, one would have to assume that Augie was destined to survive both his sister and me.”

“Don’t forget, you’re a Staff,” said her father, before he exited the room.

“At least according to my mother and Zurfina,” said Iolana quietly. “Two women, neither noted for their adherence to the truth.”

Sixteen minutes later, Iolana closed The Girl from Beneath the Earth and returned it to the crate sitting along the south wall. She skimmed through the container for the book she would read tomorrow, finally picking up Slave Girl Captive of the Pirates before tossing it back into the box with the realization that she wouldn’t have time for it the following day. The rest of her morning reading was cut short too.

“Kayden!” she shouted out the library door. “Where in Kafira’s name is my Gazette?”

The lizzie major-domo stepped close to her. “Khikhiino tacktotott.”

“No one is to get that paper before me. Khikhiino Iolana.”


“Not even my mother.”

“You whant I get?”

“No, there’s no sense you getting fired over my newspaper. If you see her set it aside, grab it and save it for me. I’ll read it tonight.”

“Yess Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”

“My name is Iolana. I know you can say it.”

“Lizzie name is Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”

“While I admit that ‘Child of the Sunrise’ has a certain ring to it, I’m only too aware that the same words also mean ‘Pest of the Sunrise.”


The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 6 Excerpt

“So, how was it?” asked Honor McCoort, leaning over the table.

Yuah Dechantagne shrugged.

The two of them sat at one of the tables in the outdoor portion of Finkler’s Bakery, Port Dechantagne’s first eating establishment. The outside portion had recently been expanded to twelve tables, but the inside remained small, accommodating only three. Summer squash soup and cress sandwiches on herb bread were the order of the day.

“The play was very nice,” said Yuah. “I thought the young lady in the lead was smashing.”

“How about dinner?”

“Oh, Café Ada is always lovely. They had wiener schnitzel in honor of Oddyndessen.”

“And Mr. Wissinger?” asked Honor, leaning forward once again.

“He is a brilliant man—a pleasure to talk to.”

“That sounds like faint praise indeed.”

“I can’t help it,” said Yuah. “He just seems so old to me. He’s my father’s friend.”

“Yuah, he’s not that much older than you. You’re forty-seven. That’s no longer middle-aged.”

“My body may be forty-seven, but my brain still thinks I’m thirty. I still expect some handsome young cavalry officer to sweep me off my feet.”

“I can understand that,” said Honor. “Maybe it isn’t realistic though.”

“Says the young woman married to a still younger man,” responded Yuah. “Don’t presume to understand me until you’ve spent a day in my corset.”

“I’m not that young,” said Honor, absentmindedly running her fingertip down the length of the scar that ran from her cheek to her chin. “It’s not my fault that Geert is younger. Who else would have a one-legged woman with a scar face?”

“You’re face is beautiful,” said Yuah, her eyes starting to fill with tears.

“Now, don’t start that.”

“I can’t help it,” said Yuah, as the tears spilled over. “It’s all my fault. You were almost killed and it’s all my fault!”

Honor got up and stepped around the table, and hugged her friend from behind.

“It was an accident.”

“I forgot to set the relief cock! It was my fault!”

Honor stepped to the side of the chair and Yuah hugged her, pressed her face into the younger woman’s bosom, and wept.

“It was a long time ago, and it was an accident,” said Honor, running her hands over Yuah’s hair. “I don’t blame you, and if I did, I would have forgiven you by now anyway.”

After about three minutes, Yuah gained control of herself and Honor returned to her side of the table.

“Now, do you feel better?”

“No. I feel horrible.”

“Well, show me that stiff Brech upper lip. You’re only allowed a twice-annual cry about my accident. Now people are looking at you.”

“I don’t care if people look at me,” said Yuah, not bothering to check. “They look at me all the time anyway. I might as well be doing something worth watching. Oh, no.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve gotten snot all over your dress.”

“So you have,” said Honor looking at her simple but nice brown dress. She picked up her napkin and wiped it. “Well, it will all come out in the wash.”

“Why are you never upset about anything?”

“That way you can be upset about everything,” explained Honor, “and we even out.”

The two women stopped speaking as a tall man in a black suit with a green waistcoat stopped beside their table. He appeared to be in his late forties, with a touch of grey in his dark brown hair. There was no grey in his handlebar mustache.

“Mrs. Dechantagne? Pardon my intrusion.”

“Do I know you, Mr…?”

“Galbright. We met at your sister’s office a week ago.”

“Oh, yes. My sister-in-law’s office.”

“Yes, of course. When we were introduced, I did not realize that you were entertaining suitors, or I would have given you my card.”

He stuck out his hand containing a social card. Yuah looked at it like it was a poisonous snake.

“Pardon Mrs. Dechantagne, Mr. Galbright,” said Honor, reaching out and retrieving the card. “She’s out of sorts this morning.”

“I quite understand. I caught you both unawares. Please pardon me. I look forward to seeing you again, Mrs. Dechantagne.” He bowed at the waist, turned on his heel, and walked out of the eatery.”

“Ask and ye shall receive,” said Honor.

“What are you talking about?”

“Didn’t he look like a handsome cavalry officer?”

“No. He looked like a middle-aged shipping tycoon.”

“Well, what do I know?” Honor pushed the card forward. “It seems the word is out that you are receiving callers. There will be many of these forthcoming, I imagine.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 11 Excerpt


“We have arrived!” said Hsrandtuss loudly, as he waved at the land ahead.

From the small hillock upon which he stood, he could see a long, flat plain, and beyond that a large hill with a rocky outcropping on one side and upon the other a gentle slope down toward the shores of the briskly flowing river. In the distance was the vast forest of pine trees and maples, as well as sussata, for which the humans had no name. A great herd of sauroposeidon roamed along the forest edge, while closer were huge numbers of iguanodons and triceratops.

“We can all see that we are here,” he heard someone mutter behind him. He thought it was Szakhandu.

“Shut up,” ordered Sszaxxanna, cuffing whoever it was with a clawed hand. “This is a great moment.”

They had left the dragon fortress a full thirty days earlier with a mission to found a new city to the east, not far from the ruins of Suusthek. Suusthek had been a great city, but its ruler Ssithtsutsu had overstepped himself when he had tried to wipe out the soft-skins. Even without the aid of the young god, the humans had wiped out his warriors, and their witch-woman had left nothing where Suusthek had been but a very large smoking crater.

It had taken Hsrandtuss a few days to recover from his ordeal beneath the ancient stones of the fortress. Afterwards he spent several more days in celebratory feasting and drinking, and it took a few days to recover from that too. Then Yessonar had met with him alone. He could still remember the heat radiating from the dragon as he stood beside the great head, which lay upon a huge pillow of tyrannosaurus skin.

“That was quite a show of bravery, and totally unnecessary, I might add.”

“It was nothing,” said the king, but he couldn’t help but flush his dewlap.

“There is no other of your race that I trust more than you. Did you know that, Hsrandtuss?”

“I don’t know what to say, Great Yessonar.”

“It is twice as important to listen as it is to speak. That is why you have two ears and only one mouth. I have seen something in the future, and I need your help to turn the events the direction I desire. I am sending you east on a great mission. It will be difficult, but you can succeed.”

“I will succeed,” Hsrandtuss had proclaimed.

“Is this where we are going to build Zis Suusthek?” asked Ssu, stepping close to her husband, and forcing his mind to return to the present.

“This is where we will build our city. But it will not be called Zis Suusthek. Ssithtsutsu ruined that name forever, may a curse be upon the eggs of all his females. We shall call our city Yessonarah after the young god, to show that we are favored by him above all others.” He turned to Sszaxxanna. “Have the captains bring their people to that hill. We will make our camp tonight on the site of our city.”

When they had left, they had taken almost every lizzie at the fortress, though Yessonar would not have to go without worshippers for long. The line of supplicants was just as long on their way out as it had been on their way in. Looking at the great dragon curled up at the base of the large outdoor amphitheater, Hsrandtuss thought that he looked pleased to be left alone if only for a few minutes. Of course even as they were leaving, Khastla the envoy was making his way down the steps to task the god with something else. Five thousand lizardmen had been divided mostly along clan lines into ten groups, each led by a captain who reported directly to the king. Yes, Hsrandtuss was used to hearing “great king” from his wives. Now he would hear it from everybody.

It was growing dark before the last of the great pilgrimage arrived on the hill. Huge bonfires had already been set up by the first arrivals to help deter any predators, though even the family of gorgosaurs spotted late in the afternoon would have thought twice before approaching such a large group of Hsrandtuss’s people. The king lay down near the largest fire and pointed his nose toward the flame. Soon Kendra and Ssu were on either side of him and he could see the other wives taking their places nearby. Except for Sszaxxanna. She was somewhere, bringing some plot or other into fruition, or starting a new one. Hsrandtuss didn’t give her a lot of thought. He just closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Then next morning, the king met with all of the captains. He assigned each of them a job to oversee. Some were responsible for locating the appropriate stone for wall construction and to start quarrying it. Others were responsible for felling trees and cutting them into logs, which would be even more vital. Still others organized workers to dam the river and to cut irrigation canals. A particularly large individual named Straatin was placed in charge of the hunters who would supply the meat necessary to fill so many bellies. Finally, an old and grizzled veteran named Hunssuss was held back to consult with the king on the layout of the new city. They discussed what buildings needed to be constructed where, while a group of warriors used shovels and spears to gouge out the outlines of the buildings in the earth.

By the end of their first full day on the site of Yessonarah, there were already huge piles of cut logs and hundreds of fires around the hill illuminating thousands of lizzies feasting on raw meat as they were warmed by the flames. Hsrandtuss was pleased.

After eating a pomegranate and a bit of iguanodon for breakfast, the king climbed to his feet and looked around. The only one of his wives nearby was Szakhandu.

“Come and walk with me,” he ordered her.

She fell into step behind him as he walked down the hill and toward the river. The trees on either side of the game trail had already been cut and it was easy to see the best spot for the dam, right where the two banks came closest to one another, just after the river had made a lazy turn to the left. Workers were already creating a roadway that would lead to the site.

“So what do you think, Szakhandu?” asked Hsrandtuss, breaking the silence.

“Think about what, Great King?”

“About the site of our new city.”

“It is not for me to say, Great King.”

“Stop dipping my tail in the lake with this ‘great king’. I know what you think of me. I’m just a half wild brute that took you away from your comfortable home in Tsahloose. I know you say as much when you are among the other females.”

He glanced at her. She opened her mouth, ready to plead her innocence, but then closed it and dropped her chin.

“I am sorry, Great… husband.”

“What are you sorry about exactly, Szakhandu? Are you sorry that you said unkind things about your king and husband, or are you sorry that you are the wife of a wild brute?”

“I am not sorry about that. I said those things, but I didn’t really mean them. When I am angry or frustrated my mouth becomes a feathered runner. I am sorry if I upset you, but I do not wish to return to Tsahloose. I never have. I have more status as your wife, and once this city is built, I will have even more.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Zoantheria soared above the lizzie city of Xiatooq. It couldn’t have looked more alien in her eyes if it had been on another planet. Surrounded by great walls of copper-colored stone more than a hundred feet tall, the city faced the empty plain that surrounded its northern side, while its southern side climbed up the slope of a great mountain, higher and higher, built upon terraces carved into the rock. Xiatooq was filled with round structures, large and small, that tapered near the top so that they resembled giant hornets’ nests dotted with windows. The higher up the slope one traveled, the grander these structures were. The city was all the more impressive because this was not just any mountain. It was a massive volcano with an open caldera at the top, out of which belched a constant stream of black smoke and white steam. Occasionally, blobs of red lava were tossed up into the air.

The coral dragon was still musing on the strangeness of the sights below her, when something shot out of the city directly at her. She swerved, but the object, nothing more than a streak of blue, swerved with her. Then it hit her in the midsection. It was another dragon, a little more than half her size: one with shining scales of dazzling sapphire. The newcomer opened its mouth and sank its fangs into the base of Zoey’s neck, while it’s claws raked her belly.

Zoantheria rolled onto her back, using all four limbs to pry the beast from her. She folded her wings and dropped from the sky. For nearly thirty seconds, the two struggled, the coral dragon trying to pry the other from her body, and the sapphire dragon seemingly determined not to let go. At the last moment, Zoey threw out one wing, flipping them both over and they crashed into the stone street, the coral dragon on top.

Dazed from the same amount of force that had not so long ago killed a kronosaurus, the coral dragon staggered to her feet. The sapphire dragon lay unconscious on the ground. She grabbed it at the top of the neck, wondering whether to cast a spell or merely bite its head off. But she paused. The shining blue dragon was beautiful. A dozen spikes poked back from behind its face, but unlike any other dragon that Zoey had seen, including the one in the mirror, this one had no whiskers. Instead, a small horn grew from its chin, pointing downward.

Suddenly two solid blue eyes opened. The sapphire dragon sucked in a huge breath. Zoey squeezed her claw until the airflow was cut off.

“Would you like to belch that fire in some other direction?” she asked. “Or shall I simply wait to see if you pop, like a big balloon?”

“I submit,” came a small, breathless voice.

Zoey released her hold. The other dragon looked at her for a moment, and then turned and breathed a huge gout of flame into the sky away from her.

“You’ve won this time, ugly one.” The sapphire dragon’s voice was clear and bright, like a silver bell.

“Ugly? Explain yourself, you blue freak!”

“You were flying over our city—an intruder.”

“I was invited, you half-wit.”

“Invited by whom?”

The coral dragon just pointed up at the top of the volcano.

“He didn’t tell me.”

“Why would he tell you anything, foolish child? What are you anyway?”

“I am Xenarra, the Goddess of War.”

“Some goddess! Some war! I beat your ass.”

Zoantheria looked around. A vast see of lizzies surrounded the two dragons. They were different than lizzies elsewhere. They were larger, with bumpier and darker skin, and they wore animal skins as clothing. The lizzies watched the dragons, whom they worshipped as gods, in silence. Then she saw him, sitting on the edge of a roof, above a crowd of lizzies, a dragon, no bigger than a pony, with emerald green scales, as bright and shiny as those of the sapphire dragon.

“And you, whelp? What are you?”

“I am Urie,” he said, his voice sounding like a teenaged boy. “I am the God of Life.”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “All around me—idiots with delusions of grandeur.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 10 Excerpt


Baxter threw the child up into the air as she squealed. He caught her, and holding her at arm’s length, made a silly face. Then he did the whole thing over again. Senta glided up behind them and wrapped a long white arm around his shoulder.

“I’m going to be jealous if you spend all the time with the child.”

“Children need attention if you don’t want them to grow up to be sociopaths,” he said, at last pulling baby Senta in and blowing on her neck.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“You don’t know how much a person can miss human companionship until you’re in that situation.” He placed the little girl on the floor and stood up. Turning around, he took the woman in his arms and kissed her deeply. “I suppose I should pay you some attention too. Why don’t I show you right now?”

“Now?” she pretended to be shocked. “Right here in the daylight? With the baby watching?”

“It won’t harm her to see two adults showing affection.”

“I meant that baby.” She pointed to the tiny coral-colored dragon balanced on the corner post of the bed.

“Gawp,” it said.

“Why don’t you put that damned animal back in its carrier?” he said, releasing her from his arms and stepping back, careful that the child was out from under his foot.

“Don’t be cross,” said Senta. “I’ll put her in the other room, then I’ll feed little Senta. She’ll fall right asleep and then we’ll have two or three hours all to ourselves.”

“Fine,” he said, only slightly mollified.

The sorceress ordered the dragon into the adjoining room, which was little more than a closet really. Even though they had the largest suite on the S.S. Windlass, which was the largest Brech dirigible—quite a bit bigger than the Frühlingshuhn—it was still only a collection of three very small rooms. Then she sat down with the baby and attempted to give her a bottle. She did take it, but fussed when her mother tried to burp her, until she was given over to Baxter, who completed the job and had her asleep inside of five minutes.

“Now where were we?” he asked, unbuttoning his shirt.

“I hate to spoil the mood,” she said, “but there is a man spying on us outside that door.”

“What kind of man?”

“A wizard.”

“A government wizard or a freelancer who’s out to get you?”

“Does it matter?” she asked.

“It does to me. King and country and all still means something to me.”

“Very well,” she sighed. “Uuthanum.” She waved a finger toward the door. “He’s from the Ministry of War.”

“All right.” Baxter went into the third room of the suite, the tiny parlor, and then out the door from there to the hall. Senta could hear a brief tussle in the hallway outside. Then Baxter entered through the bedroom door from the corridor. In his right fist he carried a man in pin stripes by the scruff of the neck. The man was clutching at his throat and fighting for breath.

“I doubt he’ll say any magic words for a minute or two. I don’t suppose he’ll be able to answer any questions either.”

“Oh, I don’t want to interrogate him. I just want him to go away.” She raised her hands above her head. “Rezesic edios uuthanum illiam vor.”

The man in the pin stripes disappeared with a pop.

“Where did he go?” asked Baxter, looking at his right hand.


“I was holding him.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t miss.”

“Did he make it back to Greater Brechalon?”

“Probably. If not, then somewhere between here and there.”

“We’re a hundred miles out to sea.”

“Then he picked an extremely poor time to spy at my door,” said Senta.

Once again she snaked her arms around his neck and moved her face very close to his. She breathed on his mouth, but waited for him to kiss her. He did. Then stepping away, he quickly undressed, but not before creating a little bed on the floor with two blankets and placing the sleeping baby there, safely out of the way. Senta snapped her fingers and seven layers of clothing seemed to just fall off of her and onto the floor. She was reclining naked on the bed when he joined her. They made love. She enjoyed the way that he made love to her. It was never the same way twice. Never the same touches. Never the same order. He must have had a lot of practice, she thought, though that didn’t bother her. As she lay bathing in the warm afterglow, just dozing off, it occurred to her that she might never get tired of this. She suddenly woke when he took her by her shoulder and thigh, flipped her onto her stomach, and pulled her to her knees. No, she might never get tired of this, she decided.

It was almost two hours later when she woke up. Baxter’s face was right in front of hers and he was awake, staring at her. She smiled.

“Satisfied?” he asked.

“What are you talking about? I don’t enjoy that. It’s horrible and I just put up with it because you’re a man and you have those horrible urges.”

“That wasn’t what it sounded like.”

“That was all for your benefit as well.”

Suddenly there was a crash and little Senta began crying. Both adults sat up to see that she had pulled a lamp off the occasional table along the wall and onto her head. The glass had shattered upon hitting the floor.

“Kafira damn it all!” shouted Baxter, jumping up, and in three quick steps scooping the baby into his arms.

With a wave of her index finger, the sorceress sent the pieces of the lamp back up onto the table where it reassembled itself.

“There. All better.”

“I wasn’t worried about the bloody lamp,” he said, examining the growing lump on the child’s head. “What if that thing had been lit?”

“Then we would have all died in a horrible conflagration. You know the lamps on airships don’t even have oil in them. Calm down.”

The Dragon’s Choice – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Twelve thousand miles away from Birmisia and the rest of the huge continent of Mallon, on the other side of the world, was the much smaller continent of Sumir. Thousands of years earlier, it had been the home of the ancient civilizations of Zur, Argrathia, Ballar, and Donnata. Now it was home to the powerful kingdoms of Mirsanna, Bordonia, and most powerful of all, the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon.

Nineteen year old Brech Prince Clitus sat in his office, carefully examining a map of the northern third of Sumir, which included the land of Freedonia, which was both in theory and in fact a vassal state of Brechalon. His finger traced a line from Bangdorf to the industrial cities of Butzbach and Hagerforte to the coastal cities of Friedaport and Eineburgh. He frowned.

“And these acts… these bombings are politically motivated?” he asked. “You’re sure of it?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” said a man in a dark suit and dark glasses, seated across from him. “They are political and they are organized. These aren’t random events. They’re designed to destabilize Brech power in Freedonia.”

“What is the Prime Minister doing about it?”

“He’s… he’s still waiting for guidance from the King.”

Clitus rolled his eyes. “And my father has nothing to offer.”

“He’s not concerned. He calls them ‘isolated events by a few ne’er-do-wells.’”

“What about my brother?”

“I doubt the Crown Prince knows anything about what’s going on in Freedonia, or elsewhere outside either Sinceree Palace or Madame Fleurchaud’s establishment.”

The prince closed his eyes and rubbed his temple.

“And what about Madame Fleurchaud’s?”

“Your Highness?”

“Are there loose ends to be attended to there, Mr. Meanie?”

“It’s an open secret that your brother is a regular there, but as of yet, none of his… um, companions have come up pregnant.”

“That’s something, at least,” said Clitus. “I feel like I should celebrate.”

“What do you want me to do, Your Highness?”

“About my brother—nothing. Keep an eye on things in Freedonia. Do we have any magic assets we could use?”

“Not much. I have a few people in the War Ministry, but we used to count on the Zenith.”

“Yes, well they’re gone and they’re not coming back.” He sighed. “We may need to build something like the Zenith for ourselves. One thing that we will make clear from the very beginning though, is that they are to stay as far away from the Birmisian Sorceress as possible.”

“I could locate one or two high-level wizards that could start such an organization. Your Highness could write to Lord Dechantagne. He could let her know that we’re no threat to her—it would help recruiting if we were proactive there.”

“Yes. I’ll write him,” said Clitus. “I’ll also go see his cousin. She can guarantee that our message gets to the Drache Girl’s ear.”

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Chapter 9 Excerpt


“Why must you embarrass me in front of the governor?”

“What are you on about now, Loana?” asked Saba Colbshallow.

“You, discussing those horrible books.”

“Well at least I didn’t bring up Sable Agria. Why don’t you go on up to your room before you get yourself any more worked up than you are already?”

Saba’s mother had turned in an hour earlier, and the remainder of the family had sat quietly listening to the mechanical music box as DeeDee’s eyes slowly glazed over. Now she was asleep in her father’s arms.

“Aren’t you coming up?”

“Yes, I’ll be along shortly. I just want to listen to this song one more time.”

Loana gave a curt nod before turning and starting up the stairs. Saba watched her enormous bustle, sway from left to right as she negotiated the steps. As soon as she was out of eyesight, he raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Risty, their lizzie butler, quickly slipped a cold bottle of Billingbow’s into his hand, the cork already removed. Then he rewound the music box and placed the needle back at the start of the cylinder. Saba finished his soda water just as the music finished, and Risty was there to take the bottle away. Rising to his feet, only difficult because of the added weight of his daughter, Saba headed for the stairs. DeeDee had her arms around his neck and her legs wrapped around his waist. Placing a hand under her bottom, he stepped slowly upward.

Sandy, the nurse lizzie, was there to change DeeDee into her night clothes when Saba set her on her bed. He kissed her on the forehead and rounded the corner to his own room. Slipping into his nightshirt, he slid beneath the cool sheets, not even glancing at the door to his wife’s adjoining room.

Saba left early the next morning, before anyone in his family was stirring, including his mother. Even the five-story police station was quiet. The night shift was still on duty, and it would be another hour before the morning shift arrived. The desk sergeant, Corman, leaned against the counter, half asleep. A PC, Loewy, was taking notes from two women, apparently working girls, seated on the bench in the lobby. He gave a sloppy salute as Saba passed him on the way to the elevator. Throwing the lever, Saba sent the elevator car upwards to the second floor.

The chief inspector’s office was a large, beautifully paneled room with several huge windows along the outside wall. Another wall, this one behind the desk, was covered with photographs of Saba with various city officials at groundbreaking ceremonies and the like. Walking around the large desk, he sat down on the plush leather chair. Sitting on the right corner of the otherwise mostly clear wooden surface was a stack of folders. Each held the case files for an unfinished investigation. He pulled the top one from the stack and opened it, skimming the summary.

Nothing new had been discovered about the bomb that had been set off at the shipyard. Constables had found and questioned the lizzie that had placed it. He couldn’t identify the human that had hired him. To most of the lizzies, the humans were just as hard to tell apart as the lizzies were to most humans. Pieces of the bomb had been recovered, but they had led to nothing. All they had to go on was Wizard Bell’s description of a man about forty, with dark hair, whose name began with an “s” sound.

A knock at the door was quickly followed by it opening and Wizard Bell sticking his head inside.

“Are you busy, Chief Inspector?”

“Come in,” said Saba. “Now I know you’re a wizard, Bell. I was just thinking about you and here you are.”

“Fortunate happenstance,” replied the wizard, closing the door and starting across the room.

Bell wasn’t wearing his helmet and his uniform seemed, if anything, even looser than the last time that Saba had seen him. He sat down in one of the two chairs in front of the desk.

“I was just going over the case file for the bombing,” said Saba.

“Nothing new on that front.”

“Do you think our Mr. S managed to get out of the colony? Maybe he was on his way before the blast.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Have you learned anything else with your magic?”

“I have scried several times but haven’t been able to find out anything more,” said the wizard. “It’s more of a feeling that I have. I think he’s still here in Port Dechantagne.”

“I just hope we can find him before anyone else gets killed.”

Bell nodded his agreement.

“Have you eaten?”

“This morning?”

“This year. You look thin.”

“I’ve lost a bit of weight. It’s the magic. It puts me off my meals.”

“What would you say to a bit of breakfast now.”

“I suppose that would be all right.”

Stepping around the desk and walking to the door, Saba grabbed his coat and hat from the rack where they had been hanging for several days. He usually wanted them on the way to work this time of year, but didn’t need them in the afternoon when he went home, and so often forgot to take them. Bell followed as they travelled the length of the hallway and stepped into the elevator. At the bottom of the stairs they ran into Eamon Shrubb.

“We’re going to breakfast,” said Saba. “Interested?”

“I’m just coming on. I’ve got to take the desk.”

“Get Wilkes to take it,” said Saba.

“Well, if it’s an order.”