Tag Archives: teaser

Creative Friday: Story Excerpt!

For today’s Creative Friday post, I offer a teaser from my short story, “The Wreck of the Sarah Mohr,” which will be appearing in the DERELICT anthology that I’m co-editing with Joshua Palmatier (to be published by Zombies Need Brains). The story is set in the Thieftaker universe and, of course, stars Ethan Kaille, my thieftaking, conjuring hero.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt!

 

“The Wreck of the Sarah Mohr,”
©2021 D.B. Jackson

Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, 11 May 1767

Ethan Kaille limped northward on Treamount Street, newly earned coin jangling in his pocket, his mood far brighter than that of the grim men and women he passed on the damp, slush-covered lane. His jaw ached from a blow he’d taken from Nigel Billings, a blond-haired behemoth in the employ of Sephira Pryce, Boston’s most infamous thieftaker. He didn’t care. Nor did he mind the chill wind whipping across the city, or the low, dark clouds scudding overhead.

He had bested Sephira, collected his coin, and succeeded in delivering a punch or two to Nigel before putting the man to sleep with a conjuring. Now he was headed to the Dowsing Rod, the tavern owned and operated by his love, Kannice Lester, so that he might spend a bit of his hard-earned money on the finest chowder and Kent ale the city had to offer. All in all, a fine day.

Upon entering the tavern, he was greeted by the warmth of a grand fire in the great room hearth, and the aromas of bay and warm cream, roasted fish and baked bread. A few patrons stood at the bar drinking flips and ales, and others sat at tables near the fire, but the Dowser wouldn’t be full for another few hours.

Kelf Fingarin, Kannice’s hulking barman spotted Ethan as he walked in and had already filled a tankard for him when he reached the bar.

“Chowder, too, Ethan?”

“Aye, thanks. I’ll be at my usual table in the back.”

“Right. Kannice’ll be out shortly. She’ll want to see you.”

Ethan frowned. “That sounds ominous.”

“You had a visitor earlier. She can tell you more.”

More mysterious by the moment. Ethan set a shilling on the bar and carried his ale to the back. He hadn’t been seated long when Kannice emerged from the kitchen, accompanied by Kelf, a tureen of chowder held between them. She wore a deep blue gown, which brought out the pale azure of her eyes. Her cheeks were flushed, her auburn hair tied back, though as always a few strands flew free and fell over her brow.

Kelf said something to her and she glanced Ethan’s way, a smile on her lips. Matters couldn’t be all that dire.

The barman brought Ethan his chowder, while Kannice retreated to the kitchen again. She soon returned bearing rounds of bread, one of which she brought to his table. Placing it before him, she stooped and kissed him, her hair smelling faintly of lavender, a hint of whisky on her breath.

She sat in the chair adjacent to his. “I didn’t expect to see you here so early.”

“I had a good day.”

Her eyes fell to his jaw, which, no doubt, had already begun to darken. Ethan meant to heal himself before entering the tavern.

“Why do all your good days consist of beatings at the hands of Sephira Pryce’s ruffians?”

He grinned, winced. The skin around the bruise felt tight and tender. “In fairness, not all of them do. You and I have passed some very pleasant days without laying eyes on Sephira or her toughs. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

A reluctant smile crept over her features. “You found the gems you were seeking.”

“Aye, and was paid handsomely for their return.”

“And now you have a bit of coin to spend on me?”

“On you, on my rent, on the excellent chowders served here at the Dowsing Rod.”

“Well, I’d like a bit more spent on me.” She pulled from her bodice a folded scrap of paper, and held it out for him. When he reached for it, she pulled it back beyond reach. “Promise me.”

His smile returned. “I promise that all the coin—” He frowned. “Or at least most of the coin I make as a result of whatever you’ve scrawled on that parchment you’re holding, will be spent on you.”

Eyes narrowed, she handed him the paper. He unfolded it and read what was written in her neat, slanted hand.

James Hambly. Shipwreck. The Sarah Mohr. 7 tonight.

“Was it Mister Hambly himself who came?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice flattening. “Do you know him?”

“Not even by reputation. And the Sarah Mohr…”

“A ship, carrying goods in which he has a stake. He wouldn’t say more than that.” Her voice remained emotionless.

“You didn’t like him.”

She stared at her hands. “I barely spoke to him.”

“Kannice.”

“No, I didn’t like him.” She met his gaze. “He struck me as the sort of merchant who would have defied the non-importation agreements, and who cares only about the weight of his own purse. He said not a word about the ship’s crew. Only her cargo.”

“He came to a thieftaker. It’s my job to recover items, not sailors. And lest you forget, if I were a merchant, I might defy the agreements, too. It’s what Tories do.” He softened this last with a smile.

“Well, you’re not a merchant, and if I have anything to say about it, you won’t be a Tory for much longer.” She stood, then bent to kiss him again. “He’ll be back here at seven. If I’d known you were coming in so early, I’d have told him to arrive sooner.”

“No matter. Thank you.”

He ate his chowder and sipped his ale, trying to recall all that he had heard of James Hambly, which, admittedly, wasn’t much. The man lived in Newport or Providence—Ethan couldn’t remember which—and he had made a name for himself selling quality goods. He catered to the sort of clientele Sephira Pryce would have claimed as her own in her competition with Ethan: the prosperous and renowned. Likely, the goods lost with his ship would fetch a fair price, and that meant Ethan could demand a substantial fee for their recovery.

Why, though, would Hambly need him? Given the resources at his disposal, couldn’t he salvage the vessel and its contents on his own? And wasn’t this just the sort of job Sephira insisted should belong to her? Ethan’s jaw ached at the thought.

He finished his meal, and with hours left before the appointed time, left the Dowser for Boston’s waterfront. He hadn’t been at sea for many years, since his return from the prison plantation on Barbados where he served time for mutiny and lost part of his left foot to gangrene. Still, he knew a few men who worked the wharves, and had long been friendly with an old sea captain, Gavin Black, who, like Ethan, was a conjurer.

He learned little from the wharfmen with whom he spoke. They knew no more about Hambly than he did. His conversation with Gavin, however, proved more fruitful, though not particularly illuminating.

“Yeah, I know Hambly,” Gavin said, as he and Ethan strolled along Fish Street near Burrel’s Wharf. From his tone, Ethan gathered that he was no more fond of the merchant that Kannice had been. “I even transported cargo for him for a time. It’s been a few years now.”

“Is there a reason you stopped?”

Gavin glanced his way, his expression guarded. “I didn’t like what he had me carrying. I won’t say more than that.”

“Fair enough. Do you know anything about the Sarah Mohr?”

Surprise widened his eyes. “The Sarah Mohr is Lewis Gaine’s ship. Why, what’s happened to her?”

“Apparently she was wrecked. I don’t know where yet. When I learn more, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you, Ethan. I’m grateful.” He hesitated. “As for the cargo I handled for Hambly—it was…” He shook his head. “I never should have agreed to it. It wasn’t illegal, but I’m ashamed nevertheless. I’m sorry for speaking to you the way I did.”

“You owe me no apologies.” Ethan halted and proffered a hand, which Gavin gripped. “Thank you for your time, Gavin. I’ll be in touch when I can.”

Ethan left him by the wharves and headed back to the Dowsing Rod. The last of the recent storm had moved through, and the sun hung low in the west, golden rays streaming through layers of thick, gray cloud. A stiff wind still blew, and the air had turned cold—winter’s last gasp.

The Dowsing Rod was far more crowded when Ethan returned. Still, Kannice spotted him as he entered and cast a glance toward a lone man seated at a table near the hearth. Hambly, Ethan assumed.

As he approached the table, the man glanced up, then stood. He was about Ethan’s height, with dark eyes in a square, handsome face. Flecks of silver salted a head of dark curls. He wore a dark blue suit. A tricorn hat, in far better condition than Ethan’s rested on the table beside a cup of Madeira.

“Mister Kaille?”

“Yes, sir. Mister Hambly, I assume.”

“That’s right.”

They shook hands, and at a gesture from the merchant Ethan lowered himself into the opposite chair.

“I won’t waste your time,” Hambly said. “I have it on authority that you’re good at your work, you’re honest, and you’re discreet. That last is most important to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I also understand…” He faltered, looked around to see that no one was listening, and leaned in. “…That you are a man of diverse talents, if you catch my meaning.”

Indeed, Ethan did. Hambly needed help with something magickal, and someone had told him Ethan was a conjurer. No wonder he had chosen Ethan over Sephira. Ethan didn’t like the idea of strangers discussing his conjuring abilities. Spellers were still hanged as witches in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and Ethan had no desire to wind up with a noose around his neck.

On the other hand, his talents appeared to have earned him this job, whatever it might entail, so he couldn’t complain too much.

“How can I be of service, sir?”

This was all the confirmation Ethan intended to offer, and Hambly seemed to take it as such.

“I hired a ship to bring some goods up to Newport. Valuable goods.”

“The Sarah Mohr.”

“Just so. Unfortunately, the storm that battered the region over the past few days blew her off course, and rather than making port, she ran aground between Newport and here, on the shoal near Point Alderton.”

“South of Hull.”

“That’s right.”

“And where was she coming from?”

“She had followed the coastline north.”

This wasn’t exactly what Ethan asked.

Seeing his frown, Hambly hurried on. “Where she was coming from doesn’t matter. What’s important is that she beached. Several of her crew were injured. Some were killed.”

“And Captain Gaine?”

The merchant considered Ethan anew. “You’ve done your research. I suppose I should be impressed.” He straightened. “Gaine suffered a broken leg, and was borne to safety by the fittest among his crew. He should be fine. The ship itself is my primary concern.”

“She remains on the shoal?”

“For now. I fear a strong tide could pull her back out to sea, crewless and at the mercy of the surf. The night after tomorrow, the moon will be full. A spring tide could cost me dearly.”

“I believe I understand. But I’m curious as to why the uninjured crew can’t go back to salvage your cargo.”

“Forgive me, Mister Kaille, but you understand nothing.”

Ethan bristled. “Then, by all means, enlighten me.”

The merchant lifted a hand. “Forgive me. I phrased that poorly. But you see, I don’t need you to salvage the ship. As you say, Captain Gaine’s crew will see to that. Right now, though, they are being prevented from doing so.”

“Prevented? By what?”

He leaned in again. “Ghosts.”

 

SPELL BLIND Teaser #6!!

200SpellBlindSpell Blind, Book I in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, my new contemporary urban fantasy series from Baen, will be released tomorrow in hardcover! I’m very excited, and I hope you are, too. Here, for your enjoyment and enticement, is the last in my series of teasers from the book. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you.

I made my way to the Z-ster, Antoine’s laughter still ringing in my
ears. I had been preparing myself all day, planning what I’d do if I felt
the Blind Angel Killer’s power again. But like an idiot, I allowed the
kid to throw me off balance.

And so, when the red sorcerer suddenly had me in his sights again,
I was utterly unprepared. I tried to ward myself, knowing as I did that anything I came up with he could defeat, knowing as well what he was trying to do with these teasing encounters. But I made the effort anyway.

The feeling was much more vivid this time. I knew he was close.
Too close. I turned a quick circle, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be
able to find him. The hairs on my neck and arms stood on end and
my skin grew cold, as if I was in shadow and the rest of the city was in brilliant sunlight. If he had wanted to kill me in that moment, he could have, though I would have put up a fight.

But he was toying with me. For a split second, I thought I could
hear laughter. Not ’Toine’s, though I heard that, too. This was deeper,
more menacing, more elusive. I turned again, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from. But it was everywhere. Around me, above me, below me. It was in my freaking head.

You’re mine now, I thought I heard someone say.

And then it was gone. The laughter ceased, the sun shone on my
face and arms, a warm wind touched my skin.

Three times. Once outside of Robby Sommer’s place, once outside
of Robo’s in Tempe, and now here, in front of Antoine Mirdoux’s
house. Was there a connection there, something linking the three of
them to one another and to this sorcerer with the blood-red magic? Or was it mere chance, the random choices of this bastard who was
hunting me?

I should have been concentrating on those questions, trying to
figure out what Robby, Robo’s, and Antoine had in common with the
Blind Angel victims.

But all I could think was that he’d done this to me three times now.
He’d touched my mind with his magic; he’d tested my defenses and
seen how I would respond to an attack, how I would ward myself.
Three times.

There’s power in numbers. He knew me now. I was his. And the
next time, if he chose to attack, there would be precious little I could
do about it.

SPELL BLIND Teaser #5!!

200SpellBlindSpell Blind, the first novel in my new series from Baen Books, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, will be released the day after tomorrow. And in the meantime, here, for your enjoyment, is another teaser.

By the time I headed for the Z-ster, night had fallen and the moon
was up. It was well past a quarter full and bone white in a velvet sky.
And though we were still several days away from the full, I could
already feel it tugging at my mind, bending my thoughts, making me
shiver in spite of the warm air.

Describing the phasings to someone who wasn’t a weremyste was
like trying to describe color to someone who had been born blind.
Words weren’t adequate. The closest I’d heard anyone come to
getting it right was something my dad told me not long after my
mom died. We weren’t getting along at the time, and his grip on
reality, which had already become tenuous before Mom’s death, was
slipping fast. But what he told me then in anger still rang true to this
day.

“It’s like somebody reaches a hand into your stinkin’ brain,” he
said, “and swirls it around, making a mess of everything. The thoughts are still there—your sense of who you are and how the people around you fit into your life—but they’re scrambled. There’s no order, no time or space or story line. The boundaries disappear. Love and hate, rage and joy, fear and comfort—you can’t tell anymore where one ends and the next begins. And the worst part is, you know it’s happened—you know that it all made sense a short while before, and that now it’s gone. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

That was how it felt to me every time. You’d think after a couple
of hundred phasings—three days a month for half a lifetime—I’d get
used to it, or find some way to fight my way through. But each one
feels like the first. I’ve tried to brace myself, waiting for moonrise the
way I would a shot at a doctor’s office. It doesn’t do a damn bit of
good. As soon as the full moon appears on the horizon, I feel those
boundaries my dad talked about being sucked out of my mind.

That was the tug I felt now, with the moon shining down on me.
It wouldn’t happen until the end of the week, but already it was
reaching for me, testing my defenses and finding them as weak as
ever.

SPELL BLIND Teaser #4!!

200SpellBlindAnother day, another Spell Blind teaser. Spell Blind is the first book in my new series from Baen Books, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson. It comes out on January 6, just a few days from now! Enjoy this newest installment.

I hobbled into the alley, glancing down at my bloodied leg and
swearing loudly. Robby backed away from me until he bumped into
the scalloped steel door of an old garage. He pulled something from
his pocket and fumbled with it.

“Stay away from me!” he said, waving his hand at me. It took me
a moment to realize that he was holding a small knife.
I stopped and considered drawing my Glock, which was still in my
shoulder holster. I’m licensed to own it and Arizona law allows private citizens to carry a concealed weapon. And though I hadn’t been on the job in some time, I still felt more comfortable with a weapon at the ready. In this case though, I figured I’d learn more from Robby if I got him calmed down.

“Put the knife away, Robby. You don’t want to get hurt.”

“I said stay away!”

I started walking toward him again. “You really are an idiot, aren’t
you?”

In a way I hoped he would try to cut me. My leg was aching and I
was itching for an excuse to kick the crap out of him.

“I’m smarter than you think. I know that you guys want to nail me
for dealing, especially now that Claudia’s dead.” His eyes were darting from side to side, searching for any way out of the alley. He might well have been desperate enough to attack me.

“Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m not trying to pin
anything on anyone.”

“Bullshit, cop!”

“I’m no cop.” He started to argue, but I raised a finger to silence
him. “I was when I busted you, but I was kicked off the force a while
back.”

“Yeah, right. What for?”

I wasn’t about to tell him that. “I beat a perp to death.”

His eyes widened.

“Put the knife away, Robby. I just want to talk. I’m a PI now. A
private investigator,” I added, seeing his puzzled expression. “I’m
doing a little work for the Deegans, trying to figure out what happened to their daughter.”

Fear and uncertainty chased each other across his features.

“The cops are after me, though, right?”

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. They know you didn’t kill her. But
they also know that you deal, and that Claudia had drugs with her
when she died. Lots of the Blind Angel victims did,” I added, eyeing
him as I spoke the words.

Robby seemed to sag. The hand holding the knife fell to his side.
“Shit,” he muttered, eyes on the ground. I’m not sure that he heard
my last remark. “I didn’t do anything.”

“No? What about Jessie Tyler?”

His gaze snapped back to mine. “That was you today.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Throw another spell at me and I’ll break your
neck.”

SPELL BLIND Teaser #3!!

200SpellBlindHere’s the third installment in my series of pre-release teasers from Spell Blind, the first book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson. Enjoy!

The vision began as a thin gray swirl, like a wisp of smoke
embedded in the glass. Another appeared, and a third. Soon there
were a least a dozen of them chasing one another across the mirror,
reminding me of children skating on a frozen pond. The center of the
image began to glow, faintly at first, then brighter, until I could make
out the oranges and blacks and pale yellows of embers in a dying fire. And then a hand emerged from the cinders. It might have been dark red, the color of blood, but it was silhouetted against that burning glow. It wasn’t taloned or deformed. It appeared to be a normal hand, long-fingered perhaps, but ordinary except for its color. Still, I knew immediately that it was . . . wrong; that it didn’t belong here. For one thing, those wisps of gray smoke acted as though they were afraid of it. They kept as far from the hand as possible; when it moved, they did as well, matching its motion so as to keep their distance.

This continued for a while, the threads of smoke and the hand
gliding over the embers, until suddenly the hand seized the strands of gray, capturing all of them in one lightning quick sweep across the
mirror. The hand gripped them, the wisps of smoke appearing to
writhe in its grasp. When at last the dark fingers opened again, what
was left of the gray strands scattered like ash. And when those
remnants touched the embers, they flared so brilliantly that I had to
shield my eyes. By the time I looked at the mirror again, the image
was gone. All that was left was the inverted reflection of my office.
The runemyste was watching me.

“What the hell was that, Namid?”

“What did you see?”

“You know perfectly well what I saw. You always know. What did
it mean?”

“What do you think it meant?”

I shoved the mirror off my lap and stood too quickly; my vision
swimming.

“Damn you, Namid! Can’t you answer a simple question? Just
once?”

“This is as much a part of your training as the summoning of that
image. Scrying is more than seeing. Scrying is understanding what
you see.”

I hated it when he was right.

This was what made scrying so frustrating. The images came to me
easily. Even Namid, who was a miser when it came to compliments,
had once told me that the visions I summoned from my scrying stone
were unusually vivid. Interpreting them, though, was another matter. Scryings were never clear or unambiguous. Rather they were shadows, portents, hints at the future. Frankly, they were a pain in the butt.

“I don’t know,” I said, beginning to pace the room. “That hand
bothered me.”

“It should.”

I halted, surprised by the response. This was as close to a hint as he
was ever likely to offer.

“Why, Namid? What does the hand mean?”

Before he could answer, the phone rang. Neither of us moved, and
it rang again.

SPELL BLIND Teaser #2!!

200SpellBlindHere’s the second Spell Blind teaser. The book drops on January 6 from Baen. The sequel, His Father’s Eyes will be released in August. Enjoy! And happy New Year!

A cold prickling on the back of my neck—premonition, or instinct
honed by years on the force—made me pull out my weapon. I eased
toward the door, holding the pistol in front of me. I also released the
spell, felt the warding settle over me like a blanket. I reached the door, stepped past it so that I could swing it open and enter the garage in one quick motion. That was the plan, anyway. I had forgotten about that vanishing money from Jessie’s account and the possibility that she was with a myste. Stupid of me. And nearly fatal.

As soon as I flung the door open, I sensed the spell. It wasn’t
particularly strong, but it was an assailing spell—an attack—and
whoever cast it had aimed it at me. I braced myself, hoped the warding would hold. It did, but the spell—it felt like an impact attack, meant, no doubt, to seem like I had been hit with a two-by-four—was strong enough to stagger me and to make the doorway shake. By the time I was moving forward again, I could hear footsteps retreating toward the front of the garage.

I followed, Glock ready, the power for a second spell already
building inside me. This time I planned to cast an assailing spell of my
own. I hate it when people use magic against me; makes me want to
get even.

I hadn’t taken five steps, before I slowed, then halted. The smell
would have been enough to get my attention—feces, urine, vomit,
sweat, fear, desperation—there could have been a body rotting in here.

It was hard to tell.

But what I saw was every bit as bad. Worse, really. At least twenty
college-age kids lay sprawled over the filthy cement floor, most of
them unconscious. At least half of them were emaciated, their cheeks sunken, as if they’d been prisoners in this hell-hole for months. Others—the newcomers, most likely—might have been marginally healthier. But all of them wore stained, tattered clothing; all of them looked like they hadn’t bathed in weeks or longer.

I spotted Jessie Tyler right away, but I couldn’t help wondering
how many of these other kids didn’t have anyone searching for them.
I heard a loud crash at the front of the shop. Another glance at
Jessie convinced me she wasn’t going anywhere. I eased forward,
gripping my weapon with both hands, considering what spell I ought
to use. Assailing spells worked best with a precise target. I didn’t have one, at least not yet, and I didn’t want to hurt one of those kids.
Unfortunately, the myste I was stalking didn’t have my scruples.
Again, I felt the spell as soon as he cast it—the air was electric with
magic. I sensed the heat before I saw the wave of flame rolling toward me. I backpedaled, scared, but also unwilling to ward myself and leave the kids to roast. Fire spells are rudimentary magic, but this myste, whoever he was, had poured serious power into this one.

The temperature in the garage jumped twenty degrees. The skin on my face and hands flushed, like I’d been sitting way too close to a
campfire.

The flames were almost on top of me when I cast my spell. Three
elements, because that was how spells worked: the kids and myself,
the fire, and a wall of magic in between. I recited the elements to
myself three times, allowing the magic to build inside me. On the third repetition, I released it, the way I would a held breath.
The barrier winked into view and then shuddered as the attack
hit it. But like my earlier warding, it held. That wall of flame passed
over without burning any of us. There was nothing I could do,
though, to keep the guy’s magic from setting everything else in the
garage on fire.

SPELL BLIND Teaser #1!

200SpellBlindSo the release of  Spell Blind (book I of the Case Files of Justis Fearsson) is just a few days off — January 6, from Baen Books — and I haven’t even offered a teaser yet!!  Time to rectify that. This is the opening. More to come . . .

Ask most people to point at the moon, and they’ll lift their gaze
skyward, trying to locate it. Ask the same of a weremyste like me, and we don’t have to search for it. We know where it is. Always, and precisely. As it waxes full, we can feel it robbing us of our sanity and enhancing the strength of our magic. Like ocean tides, our minds and our runecraft are subject to its pull.

I was on the interstate cutting across the outskirts of Phoenix, and
already I could feel the moon tugging at my thoughts, subtle and light, but as insistent as a curious child. Three hours before today’s
moonrise, nearly a week before it would wax full, and its touch was as real to me as the leather steering wheel against my palms, the rush of the morning desert air on my face and neck.

I sensed the reservoir of power within me responding to its caress,
like water to gravity. And I felt as well the madman lurking inside my
head, coaxing the moon toward full, desperate to be free again.
I had five days.

And in the meantime, I had work to do.

Work for me means investigating. Once it meant being a detective
for the Phoenix Police Department, but those days are gone. I was on the job for six years and eight months. The day I turned in my badge was, next to the day twenty years ago when my mother died, the worst of my life. Still, when I look in the mirror, I see a cop, a detective. I’ve heard it said among cops that once you’re on the job, you’re never really off. Some things are like that, they’ll tell you. Some things get in your blood and that’s it. You’re never the same.