Commentary, Hunt for the Majestic No. 1

We return to the world of the Long Nines for a story set in the traditional home of that infamous gang of pirates: the East Indies. It occurs prior to the Cannon stories published to date, in late 1927. I’ve wanted to write it for some time now, since it focuses on the Long Nines at a time when piracy was a bigger element in their oeuvre, before their transition to more generalized adventurers and scoundrels in the later 1920s and 1930s.

I have a few thrilling new locations in mind, which I’m excited to share as the story progresses. Enjoy!

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Schedule update (again)

You’ll notice a lack of WIPjoy posts and a lack of book review posts. My apologies; one of them is my fault, and the other is my fault for not riding my contributor a little harder.

Regardless of what I get done this week, regular posts will resume August 1st.

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Upcoming schedule

Another month or two passes, and once more, I must leave Sif, Falthejn, and company by the wayside for a while. I’m looking forward to diving back into their ongoing adventures next time I feel like I need a break.

I have a few things planned to round out July. First: WIPjoy posts! Those will happen Friday, and then Tuesday and Friday next week. We’ll round out July with a book review from occasional contributor Nasa, and then charge into August with the Long Nines, featuring in Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 20

They returned to the Akademi der Luftsmagiker without further incident, though they jumped at every shadow. Or, at any rate, Einar and Lilja did. Sif wasn’t about to try to jump given the battering she’d taken.

When they arrived, Einar rolled the page with the shining hand into a tube and slipped it into his sleeve. “We’ll talk soon,” he said, bidding them good night.

Sif didn’t strictly need the help, but Lilja nevertheless stayed by her side until she had managed the staircase and was safely in her room. Sif gingerly sat on the bed.

Lilja hovered in her doorway. “I don’t like this.”

Sif smiled. “We’re alive,” she replied. “Tomorrow, we’ll tell someone what we saw. That’ll be the end of it.”

“I hope you’re right. Good night, Sif. Feel better.” Lilja pulled the door closed and was gone.

Sif sat in bed for some minutes after she left. Eventually, she came to a decision. Rummaging in her trunk, she found a quill and a sheet of paper. She pulled her chair up to her desk and slowly, laboriously began to write:


Falthejn Arnarsson,

I hope you’re well. We hear next to nothing about the war. I’m settling in well at the Akademi. When you’re in den Holm, you’ll have to meet my friends. Hrothgar, Alfhilde, and Jakob have built a house, and I visit every Halfdanstag. They send their greetings, and told me to invite you to dinner the next time you’re here.

Sif paused, set her pen down, and flexed her fingers. The quality of her handwriting was improving, but it still hurt to do very much of it in one sitting. Unfortunately, she had a lot left to write. She took up the pen and put to paper a description of the night’s events, including every detail she could call to mind.

She set the pen down again, squeezed her hand, and added a coda.

I would appreciate your advice. I don’t know what these magiker were doing under the sign of the shining hand, but I don’t like it, and neither do my friends. We’ve told our master here, Herre Leifsson, but I trust you more than I trust him. Should we be worried? Are we in danger? I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope we see each other soon.

Sif signed the letter, let it dry for a few moments, then folded it and slipped it under her pillow. She would send it in the morning.

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WIPJoy Month: The Star-Studded Black

I’ve kind-of announced The Star-Studded Black on Twitter and Facebook, but it’s time to do so officially here, too.

The Star-Studded Black is a full-length novel due for release in 2018, a follow-on set in the same universe as my debut novella We Sail Off To War. It follows the exploits of war correspondent Lloyd Church and gunboat captain Aubrey Harper as they face off against the Exile Navy in a new theater of the Exile War. As my most important current work in progress, it’s currently taking part in WIPJoy, a month-long question-and-answer social media event in which I tell you a little about it.

You can find more information on my Twitter or Facebook pages (see the links in the sidebar). Alternately, starting on Friday, I’ll be reproducing my WIPJoy answers here on a weekly basis, so those of you who avoid social media can see them too.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 19

“I’ll live,” Sif replied, sitting straighter. Against her better judgment, she stood slowly. Lilja rushed to her side to help her up, bracing her as she swayed. “There’s Einar,” she said. Lilja half-turned.

Einar strode up to them, wearing a grim look. In his hand was a sheet of paper. “I found this.”

“It’s blank,” Lilja said, taking it and turning it over.

“Look closer.”

Sif blinked against the fuzziness in her head. Things were beginning to come back to her. “Did you find anything else?”

“Why?” Einar replied. “What did you see?”

“Magiker,” Sif replied. “A circle of them around the pool. And—” It was on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t quite bring the picture of the scene to mind.

Lilja frowned at the paper. “I still don’t see anything.”

Einar waved at her: quiet. “Sif? What else?”

Sif closed her eyes and focused. “A body,” she said suddenly. “In the pool.”

Einar shook his head. “All I found was the paper.”

Sif took it from Lilja. She could feel the tug it had on the weave. It was a page from a book, if she had to guess—three clean edges, one roughly torn. There was no writing on it. She raised her eyebrows at Einar.

He took the sheet back and frowned at it. “Was that flash magical?” he asked. Sif nodded. He held his hand up with a flourish and passed it over the front of the sheet, touching the weave and feeding energy into the paper. An image appeared: a palm, held up with the fingers all pressed together, in glowing silver.

“A shining hand?” Sif said. “What does that mean?”

Einar shrugged. Sif looked to Lilja, who mirrored the gesture. “Whatever it is,” said Einar, “I don’t like it. Can you walk?”

Sif nodded.

“We need to leave.” Einar looked over his shoulder. “We can’t have been the only ones to see that light or hear the scream. You don’t even know how much trouble we’re in if they find us here and think it was us.”

“Lead on,” Sif said.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 18

Sif thanked the Twelve that Leifsson had gotten around to teaching resonances. Magnus Trollkarl’s books made reference to the technique but gave few hints on employing it, and her own experimentation had been fruitless. Without it, she certainly couldn’t have turned herself invisible and managed to creep through the park at the same time.

Invisible she was, at least to the eye. She could still leave footprints, or snap a twig by stepping on it, and a magiker looking for her would see her. She made her way carefully into the middle of the park, some fifty yards from where she’d left Einar and Lilja. She squeezed through a gap between two edges, caught sight of hooded figures ahead, and slipped into the shadows behind a tree trunk.

There were eight of them, standing in a circle around the small pool at the exact center of the park. An eerie light filtered between them. Sif couldn’t see where it came from.

The figures broke into a chant. Sif felt the strain on the weave grow as power built in the circle. She took a few experimental steps closer. The circle of magiker paid her no mind. As she came nearer, she saw the center of their attention: a body in the pool, fully underwater, not breathing.

From all around came a murmur, building to a cry, then a wail, then a shriek. One of the hooded figures raised its hands. A blinding light flashed. Sif felt the shock wave a moment later, picking her up off her feet and throwing her backward. The last thing she thought was, “Not again.”

She hit the hedge she had slipped past, went straight through it, bounced along the ground to a stop, and was still.

 

She awoke to find herself propped up against a tree. She heard Lilja’s voice repeating her name, with growing insistence. A hand repeatedly patted her cheek and shook her by the shoulder. She waved it away and heard a gasp, then what sounded like a relieved sob. It occurred to Sif that she had not yet opened her eyes.

Lilja crouched in front of her, a frantic look on her face. “What happened?” she said.

Sif shifted against the tree. Everything hurt, if a little less so than the last time she had been thrown through the air by magic. “I was hoping you two had figured it out.” She looked side to side, a note of worry creeping into her voice. “Where’s Einar?”

“He went to look around,” Lilja said. “Are you okay?”


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 17

“Illusions,” said Lilja. “Interesting.”

Sif nodded enthusiastically. “I can’t believe illusionism doesn’t have a guild of its own. You can do so much.”

“It’s less about how useful it is,” Einar said, “and more about how bad it is for the weave. Making a whirlwind or a firestorm—those don’t just happen. Making someone see something which isn’t there? That happens all the time already.”

Sif canted her head. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Torgrim Alvarsson put it in those terms during our game,” Einar replied.

Sif’s eyebrows went up. “Maybe I should learn how to play after all.”

The others laughed. To Sif, it was oddly loud. She frowned. Something felt wrong. Lilja and Einar carried on talking as Sif tried to figure it out. Suddenly, it came to her. She stopped mid-step. “The rivers,” she blurted out.

Lilja gave her a close look. “What?”

Listen,” Sif said.

Einar and Lilja exchanged a look, but obliged her. The Hrimdal and Heimdal, the two rivers which frame the High Quarter north and south, and met at its east end, were broad and fast-flowing. The thunder of their passage was the ever-present undertone to the whole of the district.

Now, though, that roar was muffled, whisper-quiet. Even the wind through the lodgepoles of the park to their left was louder.

“Huh,” said Lilja.

Sif stiffened. She felt an unpleasant buzzing in her teeth. She knew that feeling. “Someone is working magic,” she hissed.

Lilja tensed. Einar opened and closed his hands, looking side to side. “Where?”

Sif lifted a shoulder, closed her eyes, and pushed her awareness beyond the bounds of her body. She saw it immediately, a twist in the weave centered in the park. “There,” she said.

 

Einar was ready for action. If a magiker was working his craft in the High Quarter off of guild grounds, he was sure to be doing something illegal.

Sif moved her hands in a form Einar didn’t know, then spoke a few rising syllables in ælfish, then simply disappeared.

“Sif!” Lilja shouted, near panic. Einar put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“I’m right here,” said Sif’s voice. A dimple appeared in the fabric of Lilja’s sleeve. Lilja made a high-pitched ‘eep’. “It’s an illusion.” There was a moment’s silence. “Stay here. I’m going to take a look.”

“Wait,” Einar said. There was no reply. He glowered.

Lilja looked up at him, concern clear in her eyes. “She’s going to be okay, right?”

“I don’t know.”


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 16

The trio ascended the stairs up to the entrance, then entered through massive wooden double doors which swung smoothly and silently on their hinges. The outer face of each door bore carvings, ælfish symbols and runes alike. To a magiker, they hummed with power.

Lilja looked around the lobby with poorly-contained awe. Sif recognized the expression. She wore the same one the first time she stepped through the Rikesarkiv’s doors, and into the three-floor atrium behind them. Staircases to either side switchbacked upward, lit by enormous candles atop ornate candlesticks. The smell of old paper was thick in the air.

Further into the building, a man sat reading at a long wooden table, surrounded by safety lanterns rather than naked candles. Their light, shining through a layer of water contained in glass which would serve to douse the flame if the lantern were dropped, swirled in dancing patterns.

Sif approached the desk. “Good evening, Agust Knutssen. I didn’t expect you to be here so late.”

The man peered over the top of his book. “Sif Hrothgarsdottir! How nice to see you.” His gaze flicked between Lilja and Einar. “Who’s this?”

“My friends,” Sif said. “Lilja Orrisdottir and Einar Goransson. Aspirants at the Akademi. Lilja, Einar, this is Agust Knutssen. He’s the senior keeper of the Arkiv, and a skilled trollersmagiker too.”

“Your friend has the heart of a scholar,” Knutssen informed Sif’s companions. “What do you have for me?”

“Returns,” Sif said, placing her pair of books on the table. “Magnus Trollkarl’s Principles and Illusions.”

Knutssen glanced over the cover of each book with an approving look. “Excellent.” He turned in his chair and took a hefty ledger from a shelf behind him, flipping through its pages, dipping a pen in an inkwell, and making a note. “Would you like to take anything with you?”

“No, thank you,” Sif said. “I have enough to practice for now.”

“As you like it,” Knutssen replied. “Good night.” He returned to his book before Sif could say anything else.

Sif motioned to the others, then led them outside.

“What a strange man,” Lilja said.

Sif frowned at her. “He’s nice,” she protested.

Lilja held up her hands defensively. “I never said he wasn’t.”

Einar patted Lilja on the shoulder. Sif could have spotted Lilja’s blush at a hundred paces, but somehow, Einar seemed not to notice. “You get used to him,” he said. “He’s helpful.”

Sif heaved on one of the doors, and it swung ponderously open. The three luftsenmagiker returned to the cold of the night.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 15

Sif quick-stepped up the spiral stairs to her room, past the main hall. For the first few weeks, the climb had winded her. Now she barely noticed. She grabbed a pair of books, stacked on the end of her bed, and headed back to the main hall.

She found Lilja in a small crowd, focused on a tafl board. Einar sat at it, across from an elder luftsmagiker. Alvarsson, Sif thought. They played on the herald’s board, nineteen spaces on each edge. Einar played the king’s side, aiming to get his king to one of the marked corner spaces.

Sif had no head for tafl on the smaller boards, and was even more lost on the herald’s board. She could tell, though, that it was near the end of the game. Einar had some pieces outside Alvarsson’s strengthening cordon, but not enough. They played out a few more moves. The cordon tightened. Einar made a daring capture, and suddenly the way was clear. A double line of Einar’s white pieces formed a channel, keeping Alvarsson from blocking the king’s escape.

Alvarsson looked up from the board. “Beginner’s luck.”

“Probably,” Einar agreed. “Thank you for the game, Herre Alvarsson.”

Alvarsson harrumphed and offered his hand. Einar shook it, dipped his head respectfully, and stood. He faced Sif and Lilja. “Time to go?”


 

“I can’t believe you beat Torgrim Alvarsson,” Lilja said as they descended the spiral stairs a few minutes later. “He’s practically a legend.”

Einar shrugged. “I started playing before I could walk. My father puts stock in learning, and books you don’t plan to sell are too heavy to bring on the road. A tafl board is much easier.”

“I never learned to play at all,” Sif said.

“I can teach you,” Lilja said. “With Einar’s help, if that’s okay.” She looked sidelong at Einar, then away.

Sif laughed. “Maybe if I wasn’t learning to read at the same time,” she said. “Thanks, though.”

 

Shivering, Sif pulled her cloak tighter. She toyed with the idea of making herself a pocket of warm air to walk in, but that idea had two problems. First, it was against the rules. Second, her friends would laugh. “How are you not freezing?” she asked.

Einar and Lilja smiled knowingly at one another. “You get used to it,” Einar said.

“Or you’re born used to it,” Lilja added. “That’s the easiest way.”

They strolled along one of the High Quarter’s broad avenues, past a neatly-kept line of lodgepole pines marking the edge of the district’s large, central park. The avenue met another fifty yards ahead, and across that street was the Rikesarkiv.

Though each guild maintained its own library, the rarest and most valuable volumes went to the Rikesarkiv av Magiskverk, the central repository for all knowledge relating to the working of magic. It was the second-largest library in the Norrmanrike, behind only the old Kungligarkiv in the capital.

A tremendous stone edifice, it was larger than any of the guilds. Shorter, of course, than the Akademi der Luftsmagiker, but it had greater bulk, fifty yards across the front, three floors tall, and a full hundred yards from front to back.

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