Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Almost a thousand years of history was in this room. From humble origins to real power the might of the Strega was untold.
“Dragon kind once ruled this world. There is a reason they persist in our legends. The beings we call the Gods, drove them from Earth banishing them to the voids of space and time. But they have secretly continued to hold influence here. The Gods as we know them are waning. Belief isn’t there with the masses any longer. The white god holds some sway as the old ones scrabble for the scraps. The Dragons seek allies for their return. There is much power in the hands of men. That must be subdued before they can openly act. Our pact with them will accelerate that timetable. We will get out revenge on those calling themselves Americans and at the same time weaken the barriers allowing our ally access to this world.” Ysabel smiled.
“But that doesn’t explain why they are coming here?”
“Ah, yes. They are delivering something. Our price for the alliance. Nothing is free in this world. Everything has a price. You just have to be willing to pay it. Prepare the men, the Coven will meet in session shortly.” Ysabel watched him leave.
“Did you hear?” Ysabel spoke into the room.
“I did. The Dragons are a wild card in our plan. If the book they hold wasn’t so important I would advise leaving them be.” Set’s voice seemed to come from the very walls. Even Ysabel shivered when the God spoke.
“Are you sure there is no other copy available?” Ysabel backed up to her throne and sat down.
“There is but it is protected by forces far greater than the you can overcome. The Dragon’s copy is easier to obtain.”
Ysabel persisted. “Is it off planet like their copy?”
“It is now. My agents were about to claim it in Haiti when it vanished. Someone has been meddling and breaking the rules along the way.” Set almost growled the last part of his statement.
“Another God?” That worried the Strega Queen. The Gods were fickle and very troublesome.
“Yes. Athena has been collecting knowledge for centuries. What her ultimate plans are is unknown. If you see an owl nearby kill it. She has spies everywhere.”
“Yes, Milord. Can we raid her storehouse? If she has claimed it the knowledge there must be great.” The very idea made Ysabel’s head spin.
“Put it from your mind. The library of Alexandria is protected by space and time. For now it is untouchable. If we can upset the balance here on Earth you may gain access. Time will tell.”
“Milord, Set?” Ysabel called out to the God but he was gone. If the library still existed it could advance the Strega’s cause more than siding with Dragons. She would have to consult the Oracle and her historian.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Yet another Snippet. This time it's from Taki Drake. Here is the first look at Coven Codex, Book two in the Standard of Honor series
The large vehicle was buried under the accumulation of odds and ends from over a half-century. Uncovering it was a tremendous effort. If only Zhanna and Mary had been working on it, unburying it would’ve taken them days. Showing an organizational skill that Zhanna had never suspected, Mary had asked for help from the village in general. Two of the mercenaries that were in town between assignments had volunteered to help. Willie and Mark were middle-aged and serious, veterans of many contracts. They had both worked with Zhanna’s brother and came in to help, silently and without looking her directly in the face. She wasn’t sure if it was guilt or something else but was simply pleased with their assistance.
The two mercs were joined by a young man that was not from the village. In fact, no one in the village had ever seen him before. He had arrived earlier that morning, walking in from the main road. His body showed the gangliness of teenage years. Looking a bit like a mobile scarecrow, he had jerky movements and hunched shoulders. His dark hair and eyes reminded Zhanna of others in the village, and he looked faintly familiar. She just couldn’t remember where she had seen him, but she was positive that she had seen him before.
His mumbled introduction had been simply his name, Ivan. He asked no questions. Instead, he got to work immediately and continued with a focused ferocity that surprised all of them. The two women were glad he was there because his efforts added to that of the mercs made sure that the job was done quickly. Every once in a while, Zhanna would look up to see that he had been watching her. His quickly shuttered expression of desperate hope made her uncomfortable, and she had hoped that he would say something to her about why he had come.
It had been several hours, and he had not said anything to her. However, he certainly knew how to work. With the five of them all doing what they could, it only took a couple of hours to dig out the vehicle so that the tarp could be pulled away.
Zhanna feared that after all this work that the vehicle was not going to be any good. Mary had insisted that the car was something that her great-grandfather had gotten as a reward for his mercenary work and that it should be in working order. Zhanna hoped Mary was right.
Finally, they were at the point where the vehicle was no longer buried, and the surrounding floor space had been cleared. It was time to see what they had.
<< If I had a horn, I would blow it. But since I don’t, I won’t. >>
<< Dascha! This is serious so stop trying to make me laugh. >>
Willie and Mark each grabbed a corner of the tarp and peeled it away from the car, like a banana skin being pulled off the fruit. In the dim light of the shed, they could all see the vehicle.
At first, Zhanna did not know what she was looking at. The car was massive, with dusty dark blue paint and chrome trim. The Russian-made Buick looked more like a tank than it did a modern car. But the glass windows were without defect, and even the paint seemed to be in good condition. Considering its age, it was better than she had any right to expect. Breathing a sigh of relief, Zhanna looked over at the other woman happily. Smiling tiredly, the young witch said, “It looks amazing! Thank you so much, Mary.”
Mary just nodded, offering up her own exhausted smile. The two women watched quietly as the three men dusted off the vehicle, closed opened valves, checked a variety of fluids, and added gasoline to the empty tank.
Dascha was watching these preparations with an unblinking stare and motionless pose. Turning her eyes to follow the cat’s intent gaze, Zhanna watched for a while before addressing her familiar, << It looks like some form of arcane ritual, complete with chanting. >>
<< A new spell of transportation? Not one I’m familiar with. >>
<< Oh dear, first snark now bad puns. >>
<< It’s a new skill. >>
The car had seen better days. It was filled with dust and anonymous debris gathered through decades of hidden existence. The three men had been extremely enthusiastic throughout the process. Zhanna had heard but never experienced before, the affinity men seemed to have for vehicles. It was on full display as the men exclaimed in the discovery of features and functions, happily analyzing the size and capability of the car.
The younger man, Ivan, was especially taken with the vehicle. His rather solemn face lit with enthusiasm and he became far more animated than when Zhanna had first met him. She was conscious of the fact that he kept glancing sideways at her when he thought that she wasn’t looking at him. Briefly, she wondered what it was that he saw or wanted.
<< It’s a bit curious. I don’t think he is particularly attracted to you, but he really wants to ask you something. I just can’t tell what. >>
<< I know, Dascha. I can almost feel a desperate need for an answer, but I don’t know what to do about that. It certainly isn’t because he’s attracted to me. >>
<< Da, I know. I’m sure he would want you to have his kittens, but that’s not what he’s thinking about. A cat can tell these things. >>
<< Really!? Sometimes you are just disgusting! >>
<< It’s a feature. >>
Before Zhanna could continue their discussion, the tone of the men’s conversation changed. There was a note of worry that crept into their voices. The young witch straightened up from where she had been leaning against the wall and walked over to them.
“Is there some sort of problem?” she asked.
Mark answered her quickly, “Almost everything looks good, Zhanna, but this car has been sitting for so long that it is possible that it may not start. We are going to try helping it to start with assistance from one of our cars to see if it is capable of running. Whoever wrapped it up was smart enough to drain the gasoline and most of the other fluids out of it, so we don’t have to deal with a big mess. We replaced most of them and we think it should start but the battery obviously is worn down by age and lack of use.”
Zhanna’s look of incomprehension encouraged him to continue talking. He smiled briefly and said, “I think it will run, and if it does then everything but one problem will have been solved.” The young witch tilted her head in inquiry, so he finally got to the point she wanted to know. “Its tires are too old. They are almost powdered. We cannot patch tires that are this flat or are this full of holes.”
Willie chimed in, “Let’s first see how the engine is. That would be the biggest problem, and if that works, we can then deal with the tires.”
Just then, there was a sputtering and a ragged response from the engine. Spinning in surprise, Zhanna and the two mercs saw that Ivan had climbed into the front seat and started the car. It ran raggedly at first but soon evened out and began to produce a powerful but muted roar. The men excitedly hurried over to talk with Ivan and look inside the hood of the idling car. Ivan had a broad smile on his face and was cheerfully responding to the two older men.
<< Zhanna? That boy is a witch. He helped the car to start, magically. >>
<< That’s an interesting twist. Now I really need to know what he wants from me. >>
<< I will watch him. >>
Willie called out to Zhanna, “It’s running really well. Now if we had good tires it would be all set.”
Zhanna thought for a moment. All of the practice that she been doing with the spell books from Blagogarsk had been pure practice and drill. She hadn’t done anything that was practical with the spells yet, and it worried her that she didn’t know how to apply the theory of the base spell to the reality of need. Perhaps this was the place where she could try something.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “I think I may know something to do. It may not work, but I think it’s worth a try.”
All three of the men stared at her, some in question, some in challenge.
Dascha asked, << Are you sure you want to try this? >>
<< I am not sure that I want to, but I think I need to. >>
“Mark, tell me what a sturdy tire would look like and its characteristics. I know nothing about cars, and I need to have an understanding of the tires before I can try a spell.”
Willie interrupted, saying, “I have never heard a spell that would do something with a tire. Are you sure this is something that you can and should be doing?”
Although she had expressed her doubts to Dascha, Zhanna was tired of putting up with disparaging remarks. She responded evenly and forcefully, “I think it’s a reasonable way of testing a spell. It’s one that I’ve learned recently, and this seems like a good place to try it out, providing that you two can tell me what a tire is supposed to be like. If you can’t tell me, I will find somebody else who can.”
Mark said placatingly, “I can certainly tell you what a tire is supposed to be. Just because we’ve never heard of a spell like the one you’re talking about, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And I, for one, would be interested in learning useful spells if you find and test them out.”
It was obvious from the expression on Willie’s face that he didn’t necessarily agree but he wasn’t willing to confront Zhanna again right now. He simply stepped back with a skeptical look plastered all over his face, folded his arms across his chest, and waited.
Mark began to explain the use and shape of a car tire. He talked about the tire shape and that it was attached to the vehicle with bolts. He covered the desire to make the tire impermeable so that it did not easily go flat. He also explained that the tire outside was made of rubber. He stressed the need for sturdy tires that would not wear out quickly on rough roads. It was a very short introduction to a topic that he obviously loved, distilled down into only a few sentences for the young witch’s understanding.
Once Mark was done, Zhanna motioned the men away from the vehicle. She could feel the weight of Mary’s gaze on her back and the comforting presence of Dascha along their familiar bond. Mentally centering herself, Zhanna waited until she felt stable and subvocalized the words of the spell just like she had done in practice. Holding the shape and characteristics that Mark described in her mind, she gathered her will and intent, channeling them along her arms and through her open hands toward the car.
There was an explosion of light and a muffled sound. The car jerked and raised as the old tires were replaced with unflattened versions. The air resonated with a curiously muffled clanging sound that shivered through the spectator’s bones and rattled the walls of the shed.
All three men wore identical looks of disbelief on their faces. Willie slowly approached the vehicle as if he were afraid that it would either disappear or somehow attack him. He touched the fender of the car with a hand that shook slightly and bent over to examine the tire. Straightening quickly, face paled in surprise, he took one step back and spun in place to stare at Zhanna. “It looks like a new tire!”
Looking slightly calmer, Mark walked over to the vehicle. He didn’t bend down, but he looked at each of the tires in turn. After going around the vehicle once, he marched over to Zhanna, planting himself directly in front of her. He looked her in the face, half in entreaty and half in challenge.
“They look perfect. Totally perfect.”
“I just tried to create the things that you had told me about,” responded Zhanna.
Mark stared at her wordlessly for an instant more before walking back to the car. Ivan had approached it while Zhanna and Mark were talking, carefully examining each of the tires in turn. As Mark rejoined him, Ivan addressed the older man, “There are no tire valves. How will we refill the tires?”
“Zhanna, how much air pressure did you put in the tires?” asked Mark.
“Air? You didn’t say anything about air!” answered Zhanna.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Lawyers. By Set I hate lawyers. It doesn’t matter that Henry was a lawyer or that his death has brought about my new fortune. I found myself standing in Henry’s office looking at the books and community awards on the walls.
One of his partners stepped into the room without knocking first. “Ah, Camilla. Thank you for coming.”
I looked up and frowned. Zacharia MacDonald was the definition of a slime ball lawyer. Henry may have been crooked but at least he wasn’t a pervert. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to knock first before entering a room?”
Zack paused and turned toward the door. He laughed. “This is my firm now. Why would I knock in my own office?”
There is was. I shook my head. Now I see why they wanted me here. “Your office? Was there a board meeting that I was unaware of? I was under the impression that you were the junior partner here.”
My stressing the word junior made Zack frown at me. “I’m the one next in line. That puts me in charge. That’s why we asked you here. To inform you of that fact. It’s been six months. Time to move on.”
“Why don’t we have this conversation in front of that board. That way it’s all legal like. Since you are supposed to be lawyers.” Grabbing my purse off Henry’s desk I slung it over my shoulder. Pushing past the slime ball I left the room.
Henry’s building was three floors. Henry didn’t like sharing all that much and the entire upper floor was his. It held a conference room and secret vault. I doubted the others knew about the vault. Below us on the second floor was the boardroom and junior partner offices. The main floor was where all the work took place. I took the elevator down to the second floor accompanied by Zack.
“We just want to talk. Everything is set up in the boardroom.” Zack led the way out of the elevator. He had a smile on his face.
“Let’s just get this over with.”
The room was filled, which surprised me. They went all out for this one. The board was a general partnership originally made up of Henry and the other four partners. Those men were here along with what looked like every associate and assistant employed here. Sitting in the corner was Henry’s former assistant Lori Lokitty. It was her that gave me the means to deal with these greedy men. I winked at her when she caught my eye.
“If you would take a seat Mrs Frederick, we can begin.” While I knew who Zack was, I didn’t know the other partners except by name.
“And you are?” I gave the older man a sharp look.
“Peter Gan. It was I and the rest of the junior partners that asked you here.”
“I’ll stand, thank you. So what is it you want from me?” I gazed out at the crowd.
“OK. We thought we would ease into this but here we go.” Gan held out an envelop towards me.
“This is the buy-out package we have put together for Henry’s shares in the business. You will find it’s very generous.”
I took the envelope and opened it. From the corner of my eye I could see the other partners nudging each other and smiling. The check inside was generous. I scanned the settlement paperwork. It was as Lori told me. They wanted all of Henry’s shares in the firm. But they forgot a couple of rather important things. I smiled as I closed the envelop. “Interesting. And I should take this offer, why?”
Peter started to say something but Zack laid his hand on his arm stopping him. “It’s illegal in this country for a non lawyer to hold any kind of position on a law firm board. You have to sell Henry’s position.”
“It’s not enough. I want you to double it.” I looked Zack in the eye.
“Double? That’s insane. You have to sell his position, Camilla. You don’t have a choice.” Peter almost shouted at me.
Since I was still standing I could see everyone in the room and they could see me. “Don’t I? Henry left everything he owned to me, his loving wife and the mother of his children. I recognize that a non lawyer cannot be on the board of a law firm.”
Both Zack and Peter smiled and nodded to each other.
“But. I’ve been offered quite a bit more than this amount for Henry’s shares.” All the members of the board sat in shock.
“What! You can’t do that!” Zack jumped up out of his chair.
“Sure I can. There is nothing in the charter of this particular law office that forbids it. In fact Henry had a running list of law firms that made offers. Currently this is the high bid.” Pulling out a card I tossed it at Zack.
Both men peered at the card, flipping it over to check the law offices information. Peter said something to one of his assistants who stood and walked briskly from the room. Peter spoke first. “Camilla, how long have you had this?”
I tried to not smile. The card was from one of the biggest law firms in Rochester. They had a reputation of being unethical and would do anything to win their cases. The representative that spoke to me said they were branching out and thought Henry’s law firm perfect for their needs. “A couple of months. The offer is still good by the way. I actually gave you the low number. They have mentioned spending at least ten percent more. If you double the offer you gave me now you can prevent the bidding war.”
“That’s highway robbery!” Peter showed the other members of the board the offer from Rochester.
It was interesting to me to watch the reactions of the lower ranking members when the name of the firm was mentioned. Many had looks of disgust on their faces. The assistant returned with a packet of files and set them between Peter and Zack. As she whispered into Peter’s ear he pulled back and looked at her in shock.
Zack grabbed the files and opened them. After reading the top page he passed it to Peter. I gave them several moments to freak out before speaking again. “As you can see, I’m not lying. Henry borrowed the money to start this firm from both his family and from me. Do you really think that I would allow him to cut me and my daughters from any future financial dealings? My mother didn’t raise a fool. It is totally and completely within my rights to sell his share to another firm.”
“We can’t give you double. There isn’t enough liquid funds in the firms coffers to cover an expenditure such as this. The very best we can do is this.” Peter scribbled a number on a pad.
I glanced at the number. I ask for ten million he offers seven. Interesting. Lori was the one that told me how much to ask for. The firm had right at eight million easily available without tapping their individual funds. This much I knew for an absolute fact. “Add an extra five hundred thousand to that and I’ll take it. If not I call Rochester.”
Peter and Zack exchanged glances again. “Deal.”
“Excellent.” Reaching into my purse I pulled out a contract and offered it to them. “I have the deal prepared actually. Feel free to read it, if you like.”
Zack muttered as he took it. “You bitch. You planned this didn’t you?”
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
There was no warning. The blow that compressed her body and made it impossible to breathe arrived with no betraying sound, no visual clue. Dascha was stunned into momentary paralysis. Her body hung limply, and her mind spun around her skull in confusion. She could feel her fur rippling as she was lifted up into the air. The small cat was helpless and afraid.
There were too many things that she had experienced before for her to stay coherent. Even though the talons of the bird held her firmly and without injury, Dascha could once again feel those earlier talons that had pierced her body and had caused her to bleed so badly that she had almost died. All of the fear and pain that she had felt on that long-ago day crashed into her mind, momentarily overwhelming her ability to think and plan.
Only a split second had elapsed when she moved past her stunned amazement. << Not this crap again! What is with these blasted birds? >> she thought as she twisted her lithe body into action. There was no way she was going down without a fight.
Stretching as far as she could, the small black cat attempted to sink her claws into the legs of the bird that held her. In the back of her mind, she was surprised that she knew it was a bird. There were flying reptiles and other things that were capable of swooping down and grabbing her, but she had known instantaneously that it was a bird.
It was all up to her. There would be no rescue from this attack. No flying Savior. She needs to be able to do this for herself.
Spitting and yelling at the top of her voice, Dascha was stopped cold by an amused comment from her captor.
<< You need to build up a little bit more muscle before that’s going to work. >>
<< Glenfrey! Why on earth did you grab me like that? >>
<< Because we need to talk and you don’t exactly get email, do you? >>
<< You could have just had Henley call Zhanna, you know. >>
<< This is not about witch business. This is stuff about familiars, and we don’t talk to our witches about familiar business. >>
Dascha turned that over in her mind for a short while, thinking through the ramifications and possible meanings for the things that Glenfrey had left unsaid. She noticed that the steppe eagle had begun to land on a rocky outcropping and held her questions until they were settled on the ground and she could regain her feet.
Standing up and walking on slightly shaky legs after Glenfrey had released her, the small black cat seated herself about 3 feet away from her friend. Carefully wrapping her tail around her paws, she looked over at the huge bird and waited for him to talk. The time she had spent with Glenfrey and his witch, Henley, had taught her that attempting to hurry the bird would simply lead to additional delays.
Shaking his wings out and then settling him across his back, Glenfrey brought first one eye and then the other to bear on Dascha. Of all the things that she could have thought that he would say, what came from him next was so far down her list that it didn’t even appear.
<< Why have you not joined the gathering? Are you not going to the trials? >>
<< What trials? >> she asked.
<< The familiar trials. The ones starting soon. Everyone is gathering by the gateway without you. Did the other familiars not tell you about this? >>
<< Glenfrey, there are no other familiars with any of the witches in the village or even in the villages around where Zhanna lives. >>
The large bird considered what she had said. His thoughts came slowly back, << No familiars. That sounds like it is a bigger problem than I thought. >>
<< What did you think the problem was? >>
<< I thought perhaps that you had managed to annoy the other familiars to the point that they weren’t telling you or bringing you to the trials. After all, you do have a bit of a mouth on you. >>
<< Ha! Who was the person who wanted to teach me how to be snarky? I’m simply applying the lessons that I’ve learned. >>
Glenfrey totally ignored her retort, instead choosing to answer a different question.
<< We can explore the whole issue of why there are so few familiars later. However, we need to hurry if you’re going to make it back to the gateway before it opens and closes. >>
Dascha stared at her friend. He was not fidgeting, he was not looking sleepy and inscrutable. In fact, as best she could read the expression of a different species, he looked concerned and perhaps even a bit worried.
<< What are the trials, Glenfrey? And why do you look worried? >>
<< The trials are how familiars get training and establish rank. They only happen sporadically, and there are a good bunch of instructors for this one. >>
The young cat watched as the eagle started to move uneasily from foot to foot. Deciding that she would not subject him to a cross-examination, Dascha simply asked, << How long do they last? And what do I tell my witch about why am leaving? >>
<< I just tell Henley that I need to go to a meeting of familiars so that my training can be kept up-to-date. He has no problems with that, and you can always tell Zhanna to call him if she wants more information. >>
<< <> >>
Dascha had adamantly refused to leave without telling Zhanna in person what she was doing. The flight back to Zhanna’s house was made quickly. Even so, Glenfrey had gotten more nervous and irritable during the trip. Dascha knew something else was going on but wasn’t exactly sure how to bring the subject up again.
Glenfrey landed heavily on a fence post that was part of the boundary to the garden of Zhanna’s grandmother. The older woman had been weeding the garden as they arrived. With no sign of nervousness or fear, she moved over to confront the eagle.
Standing less than a foot away from the dangerous beak of the large predator, the small but sturdily built woman gazed deeply into the eagle’s eyes. She held that gaze for just a moment before a slight smile appeared on her face, and she turned to address Dascha.
“We had better go talk to her right now. You will have to hurry to be on time.”
Now completely confused, Dascha followed the older woman into the house and through the hall to the large kitchen. Zhanna was seated at the kitchen table with books opened up in front of her and an intent look on her face. Hearing her grandmother’s footsteps, she looked up with a smile.
“I am almost done with my homework, Baba. Do you want me to help with supper?”
“Not yet, dear. I still have weeding to finish, but I think that Dascha needs to talk to you first.”
The young witch looked startled. Her eyes flew to her familiar, and she immediately went down on her knees reaching a hand out to the cat. << Is something the matter, Dascha? You could’ve called me, and I would’ve come! >>
<< No, everything is all right. Glenfrey came to tell me that I need to go to a meeting and it is one that I didn’t know about before now. I might need to be gone for several days, and I didn’t want you to worry. >>
Zhanna’s eyes grew a little bit wider, and her expression shifted to deeper alarm. << Is it something I did? Are you in trouble? >>
<< I’m not in trouble, at least that I know of. Well, unless you count the mice that I dropped into that mean girl’s bag at school. >>
<< You did that? Boy, was she mad. She screamed and ran and then was embarrassed. I hope that she doesn’t find out it was you. >>
In the background, there was a smothered laugh from the older woman, but Zhanna was focused on her familiar and ignored her grandmother.
<< Glenfrey says that you could call Henley if you’re worried about it but that it’s just something that happens once or twice a year. I think he really wants me to go because I’m so new at this and there are no other familiars in the village. >>
A wave of love and acceptance exploded from Zhanna through the familiar bond. Dascha felt like she was gently held and petted. She could feel the edge of worry underneath that wave that was Zhanna’s feeling of her own inadequacies in their partnership. Sending a mental purr back at her witch, the familiar tried wordlessly to reassure the person that she loved above all others of her faith and devotion.
The trembling smile that showed on Zhanna’s face was the only thanks that Dascha needed.