Signed Copies of Tales to mail out

I just got a shipment of 20 books in! If you are interested in buying a signed, physical copy of Tales but don't live in the Boston area, this is your chance!

The cost of a book is $15. Paypal is my ideal method of accepting payments; however, I can also arrange to receive a check. Please e-mail me your address and your intended method of payment, and I'll send you a book early next week (it should arrive in time for Christmas, if that's your bag)!

If you don't have my e-mail address, you can find it at Tales's website.

[SMUT] Benefits

(Warning: this story is EROTICA! It contains GRAPHIC depictions of human sexuality. If you don't want to read such things, do not read this. Deep knowledge of the AoC is not required to enjoy this story.)

CFO Janet Alexander raised her attention from the paper in her hand and turned her stony, impassive eyes on Sir Grayson. As always, her gaze seemed to make the young knight feel physically colder. Even when the CFO was well-pleased, it was difficult to tell; her face, as smooth and brown as finely-crafted pottery, was like a mask that occasionally deigned to smile or frown. Always, her eyes remained cold and seemed unfeeling. She accented the look by clothing her thin frame in powerfully-cut pantsuits and wearing her dark hair in a bun. Even receiving praise from CFO Alexander was a potentially harrowing experience.

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Ubi, part 4

Ubi is an ongoing series of vignettes.
Read them in order: one two three.

Room Five was in a shitty hotel in the Mercenary District that locals just called "Hotel Vacancy." The hotel itself was named The Lon Fon Suites, after the neighborhood it was in, but few people knew what it was called because the sign outside just said "HOTEL" in big letters and "VACANCY" in slightly less big letters.

The "Vacancy" sign was always on because the hotel was never full. People who lived elsewhere rarely came to the Lon Fon neighborhood on purpose, so even if the Vacancy were less shitty - and it was plenty shitty - it probably wouldn't have gotten much business. It surprised a lot of the locals that the hotel hasn't gone out of business. It surprised them that its lobby didn't get shot up, and it surprised them that there weren't vagrants milling about the inside of the place constantly.

The reason was Room Five. While the hotel did have rooms to rent, at an exorbitant price, it was room number 5 that housed the hotel's secret. A collaboration between the Regulars' Guild and a dedicated portion of the Mercnet community, Room Five was a powerful example of true neutral ground in a community of territorial nutjobs.

By the simplest explanation, it was a bar into which Ubi and I shouldered fifteen minutes after we left the alley. I had recovered my heels and the holes in my pantyhose weren't too noticeable, so I looked rather overdressed compared to my guest. I nodded to the bartender as I walked in and he returned the nod. While I could see a faint note of surprise suppressed in his expression as he made note of my return, I was offered as few questions as I had come to expect from a bar like Room Five: none.

I laid a chit on the table. "Booth, Charlie, yeah?"

He nodded and tapped a barside shell. We all looked down a hall near the bar, where a series of black doors were faintly lit by a red glow thrown off by LED indicators. A second later, one of the lights turned green.

The bartender turned back to me and smiled. "A drink tonight, madame?"

"I'll pick this up," Ubi offered. "A Solstice gimlet for the lady, Solstice and tonic for me."

I opened my mouth, then closed it. It would take a bit of getting used to, being trailed by a man I barely knew, but who knew my favorite everything. As the bartender set to work, Ubi turned to me and shrugged with a half embarrassed, half smug smirk. I let out a breath and smiled, shaking my head; there was certainly something disarming about his mannerisms.

But that was all the more reason to be cautious.

Drinks in hand, he and I both walked to the door with the green LED. I turned the handle on the door and the two of us stepped into the 'booth', a small, powerfully air-conditioned room with benches, a table, an extra chair and a widescreen multipurpose secured shell. I'd been in Room Five's secluded, expensive 'booths' a number of times, bearing witness to a multitude of things both under and over the table. People had died in these rooms, made deals, had sex. Sometimes all three.

But the reason I was here tonight was for the most common use of the booths: the private exchange of information.

"So," I said. "Why don't you start from the beginning."

Ubi, part 3

(read this first, then this.)

I could almost hear his teeth grind as his eyes traced their way down the burnished black barrel of my pistol. He hadn't ever planned to lose me, I could tell. He only needed to gamble against my sense of paranoia. Unlucky for him, I was feeling especially paranoid these days.

He glared at me directly, then, his gaze flat under heavy eyebrows. I stared right back, my aim steady and my grip on the Waki plastic-hard.

"Start talking," I said.

His breath caught. The aborted start of a half thought-out phrase.

"Now!" I barked.

"On November fourth, you went to the City Aquarium," he said.

I squinted at him. I could admit that it didn't seem like a very strong starting point for a spy.

He continued. "You didn't particularly want to go but you went. You got a blended instead of espresso that day because you wanted it to seem more like a holiday."

I stared at him, frozen solid. He didn't sound like a normal spy.

"Once you were there, you found the electric eel the most interesting, spent a good twenty minutes looking at it and reading about it. It fascinated you that a creature could use the same tool to kill as well as to search for its prey."

"Stop," I cut him off. "You a telepath?"

"If I were a telepath, you'd have noticed," he said. "You didn't live this long by letting people into your mind."

"Or maybe you're just that good, eh?" I demanded, tapping his forehead with the barrel of the pistol.

"Monique," he asked, his eyes boring holes into my head, "Why did you go to the Aquarium?"

I shook my head, incredulous. "You ask funny questions for a man with a gun in his grill."

He didn't reply. He just stared.

I tsked and twitched. "I went to the fucken' Aquarium. Everybody goes sometime."

"Right, why?" He asked.

"I felt like going," I said, fighting down an impatience that I tried to pretend was rational.

He raised his eyebrows at me, his eyes not moving.

I worked my jaw for a few moments. The man stared back at me, still as a statue.

"What are you trying to tell me?" I asked.

"There are things that people want you to forget," he said. "Things like me."

"You saying somebody changed my memories?" I demanded.

"What I'm saying," he said, "Is that when you wake up tomorrow, you will forget that this conversation ever happened. You won't remember that you chased a stranger down a bunch of alleys and you won't remember why you did it."

My eyes widened.

"Your past will haunt you quietly, until that rare case where it bumps into you and says a name you thought you'd killed. Now get that gun out of my face if you want me to talk any more."

Several tense seconds passed in the alley. I slowly reached my thumb upward and eased the pistol's hammer down.

"Fine," I said. "You've got my attention."

"I didn't want your attention," he snapped. "I want to be left alone."

"Too bad," I said. "Way you say it, I can't afford to leave you alone now, and ain't too long until morning. Let's talk."

He leaned his head back and let out a harsh sigh. "Can we at least go somewhere that doesn't smell like piss?"

"All right," I said. After considering him for a moment, I decided to take a small gamble. "Room five."

He smirked. "Room five," he responded, shaking his head. "Sure. Why not. Have you even been there since you started calling yourself Alicia?"

"Not even once," I said. "That reminds me. What am I supposed to call you?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it. "Ubi," he said, after a moment of thought.

"Ubi," I said. "What am I gonna have to do to pry your real name outta you?"

"You can't," he replied flatly. He was quiet for several seconds, then turned his head to look at me. His eyes, unfocused, were less sharp, and I could see further into them. There was a hollowness beneath. "They took it."

I let the pistol drop to my side and took a step back. "Are you tellin' me ..."

"Yeah," he said with an ugly, empty chuckle. "All this time we joked about it like an old myth. Years of experience, research, resources, and it was just an old wives' tale. No, 'nique, it's the real shit. I'm Forgotten."

Ubi pt 2

('nique's chase started here.)

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, letting my buzzing nerves calm slightly. If I was dealing with a pro, and I didn't want to go back to being a pro, I had to act like a pro.

I knew nothing about this man, and he knew all too much about me. While I would have liked to assume I had any kind of edge over him, it would have to be in raw skill.

"All right," I muttered. "Let's play."

I closed my eyes and let my etheric senses expand, feeling incidental auras pour into my mind. It started with the ones nearby: the guilt, shame, anger, madness of the destitute and desperate. Violence done to others and the self. Moving on to the sidewalk, the hurried, wary walk of hundreds of ordinary extraordinary people in a dangerous neighborhood.

Soon I was saturated with the psychic-thaumatological resonance of the area and ready to bring my focus to a needle point once again.

I couldn't follow the trail any more, because he'd scrubbed it using what had to have been a combination of techniques. The initial erasing blast was probably a magically-jarring instance of self-harm; a blue-battery stungun to his own skin would probably have done the trick. At least a few minutes of meditation would have followed, to balance the mind into a different state of resonance.

That meant that he couldn't be more than a few blocks away.

I narrowed the scope of my search, then set about emulating his mind's state to find its color. A tense, forced calm. Panic, tied down quickly by rote techniques to control the brain. I smirked a little in my trance; this one should be easy to pick out once I found it.

Sure enough, it only took a minute. My mind gave it a sickly yellow, and I saw its path find its way out of the building. I leapt into action.

Winding my way through the empty rooms of the building soon found me at another fire escape. The aura drew a hazy trail up the wall of the opposite building.

"The hell he do that?" I asked no one, incredulous. My eyes wandered for a moment and saw an open window, just too high to reach, that looked straight into the stairway of the building across from me.

I set my jaw, braced one foot on the fire escape's railing, and leapt as high as I could, lashing out with both arms. I caught my full weight on my fingertips, clinging precariously to a window ledge as my torso slammed against the wall. I drew in a breath, then hauled myself halfway through the window. Bracing my weight on my midsection, I peered the seven feet down to the stairway's landing. Fucking gar.

A few awkward contortions turned my body around; I dangled from the opposite side of the ledge and let go. I hit the ground and folded, my breath forced out as I fell into a compact squat and rolled onto my back.

I was to my feet and moving again in moments, leaping the stairs in threes toward the top of the building as quickly as I could. At the top of the staircase, I once again clambered through the window, over another ledge and to the roof.

A hurried run took me to the opposite end of the roof, and a short fall landed me on the fire escape. The aura was bright now and my heart rate was up, my consciousness flooded with a heady feeling that was at once nostalgic and nauseating.

I looked down the dizzying height to the alley below. He was there, sitting cross-legged, his breathing steady and slow.

He was scrubbing again. He knew I'd made it this far. I gritted my teeth and began a near-silent descent down the fire escape.

When he opened his eyes, it was to the site of my Waki Nine's barrel, aimed straight between his eyes.

"You lose," I said. "Bitch."

Ubi (part 1 of ?)

As the handsome stranger shouldered past me on his way to the door, he said, "Sorry, 'nique."

Minutes later, I was holding him face-down in a dirty puddle in a dirty alley behind the dirty bar, my Waki Nine to his head.

"You've got ten seconds!" I screamed. "If you know shit you know I will bust a cap in your skull!"

"It was a mistake!" he sputtered, the submerged half of his mouth blowing chemical bubbles in the streetwater.

My fist tightened on his short, dark-brown hair. "Bull-SHIT it's a mistake. FIVE seconds!" I ground the barrel of the gun into his head and he grimaced in pain.

"All right! All right," he said, breathing quickly. He was quiet for a moment, and his body relaxed briefly. "I was sent by --"

Without warning and lightning quick, the hand he had just loosed from the grip of my thigh lashed upward, and he grabbed my hand like a plasteel vise. My pistol, its aim ruined, marked the surface of the pavement with a loud bang and an unsatisfied bullet. The man threw his weight upward with a surge of muscle, throwing me off balance. He stumbled under me as I leaned to the side, trying to keep one foot on the ground, and we both hit the wall hard. He scrambled forward as I fell back, and he was wordlessly off like a rocket. By the time I had regained my footing, he was already around the corner.

But I couldn't let him get away.

"You don't know my last job, scrub," I muttered under my breath, unfocusing my eyes and letting my third eye open. The auras of the people in the bar glowed gently from the wall, but that wasn't my focus. A cloudy trail painted the ground in front of me, bearing witness to the path of the man who had just escaped me. I holstered my pistol (nine left) and followed the trail at a quick jog.

The pedestrians moved to avoid me, looking away as I passed. It had been a long time since I got that kind of look from anybody. Of course, it had been a long time since I tracked somebody's aura too, and there might just have been some causation there. Being plunged back into this frame of mind was jarring for me; I didn't start my day planning to hunt somebody down, and I sure as hell wasn't dressed for it. Even a girl with her cornrows all tied back wearing a skirtsuit can look scary, though, and whatever that look was, I guess I had it.

I'd just come from work. My real job, the one I'd gotten so that I'd never have to hold a gun to somebody's head in a dirty alley ever again. I'd been at the office for almost a year, and took it as a good sign when I was asked to come celebrate somebody's birthday at a bar. I got a little bit nervous, since the bar was in my old neighborhood, but the old me was erased almost as good as everybody who'd ever known her. I decided to go.

Everything was going fine when this guy with a broad chin and needle-sharp blue eyes goes past me, and he's all, "Sorry, 'nique."

I was about to respond, "Ain't nothing," when it hit me like the heavy rail, the words "Sorry 'nique" echoing from one side of my head to the other. I turned around and saw that the guy was frozen, back to me. He realized what he'd done. He took off like a bat out of hell, and I chased him like some sort of bat-eating demon.

After the scuffle, I found it easy to fall back into my old tracking habits. The crazy colors of the etheric world flowed around me like eddies of mist, curling in glowing wisps that mixed with my own trail as I moved by. I filtered it all out, following only the color my subconscious had given to the feel of scalp under my nails, the tightly muscled back that I had gripped viciously between my legs. Something familiar twinged at my senses about the whole thing, but that only drove one thing home: I had to find him.

Luckily, he had no idea who he was dealing with. His winding trail, through alleyways, windows and fire escapes, would have thrown off any normal tail. I wasn't a normal tail. As his trail took to the sky, so did I, kicking off my heels and following a parkour obstacle course at a steady but quick pace.

Then, the unexpected: the trail ended. I nearly fell over. Halfway through an abandoned floor of an abandoned loft, the trail stopped. It didn't go up or down, it didn't have the dark stain of standing still. I squinted, then squatted down and touched the edge of the trail, letting my third eye focus a bit to pull a bit more detail from it. As I feared, a chalky smudge marked the very edge of the pattern.

"Motherfucker," I muttered.

Scrub, indeed. He'd scrubbed his trail right out.

Just what I would have done.

I was dealing with a pro.

That one's got a spatula

(inspired by a writing prompt from kdsorceress)

Maddie threw a surprised look over the sights of her gun, then lowered it.

"Hey Lil," she said, elbowing her partner. "Check this shit."

"What is it?" Not hearing panic in the request, Lil didn't turn around.

"That one's got a spatula," Maddie said, gesturing with her rifle at the shambling figure in the distance.

"I'm sorry, a what?" Lil asked, still facing away. The silver-haired elf clapped her hands and separated them. A swirling ball of fire coalesced in the space between between her palms.

"A spatula. Throw that and look here," Maddie said. In contrast to her tall, svelte partner, Maddie was a short, muscular human woman whose already muscular build was made even wider by a small arsenal strapped to her back.

Lil sighed. She swirled her hands in a circling pattern, then cast the fireball at a cluster of four figures shambling toward her. The fire struck the lead figure and flared immediately into a powerful explosion, blowing the lead figure into a hail of ash and limbs, and sending the other figures flying like rag dolls. A few charred body parts landed near the hunters, who shielded themselves with their arms.

Lil finally turned her attention toward Maddie. The human grinned, then gestured with the gun again. "Spatula."

"You are so weird," Lil said, and squinted. At the far end of the cubicle farm, a zombie shambled slowly toward them, a cooking implement clutched in one hand. It wore a bloodstained business suit, and its head lolled at an angle that indicated that it had been infected with a neck-bite. "Yes, that ... would be a spatula."

"In't that weird? Shamblers don't pick shit up," Maddie said.

"Perhaps he was holding the spatula when he died," Lil suggested.

"Yeah, probly," Maddie said with a shrug. "It just looks funny with the business suit."

"I suppose," the mage agreed with a shrug. "It's a little bit hard to believe that the fellow couldn't find a better weapon than that. And the cafeteria is floors away."

"Maybe it was, like, a gift," Maddie proposed. Near her, a zombie rose up from behind a cubicle wall. "Somebody gave it to him at work."

"Behind you," Lil pointed out. "That could well be. Perhaps he was carrying the spatula when the horde cornered him."

"Can'tcha just picture it?" Maddie said. She pitched her voice into a screechy tone as a zombie rose from behind the cubicle wall behind her. "'Dear Bob, in honor of your 10th anniversary here with the company, we have got you this spatula.'"

"There's a zombie behind you," Lil pointed out again.

Maddie pitched her voice artificially low, continuing the fake conversation. "'Oh, thank you Roberta, it's been an honor. This is the finest spatula I ever did receive in the service of an employer-- oh land sakes, it's a flesh eating zombie!'" Lil ceased her dialogue with a series of exaggerated screaming and chewing noises, gesticulating with a free hand to illustrate the point.

Twisting her mouth into an impatient pucker, Lil reached forward and grasped the sidearm at Maddie's hip. Maddie managed a "Hey!" as her partner drew the pistol, aimed it at the zombie behind her, and shot it in the head. There was a small 'pop' as the explosive bullet detonated in the zombie's head. Lil delicately put the pistol back in its holster as the zombie slumped over the cubicle wall.

"I was gonna get it," Maddie growled. "Don't touch my guns."

"I love you too, darling," Lil said delicately. "Did you want to finish your little story?"

Maddie gave Lil a long, sour look. She hefted her rifle, turned away from the mage, sighted the spatula-wielding zombie and sniped it to the ground with a single, well-placed shot.

"Don't be sore," Lil said, raising her eyebrows but also smiling slightly. "You can't begrudge me a little paranoia."

The Trouble Boys, in: Forensics (Holy Hell, part 5)

(This story is part of a continuing short story arc! Read the previous parts here.)

"Abyssus Abyssum Invocat," Octavian's voice rasped. Boz's leg started to jitter, tapping his foot repeatedly against the floor.

"Yes," Ludwig replied, leaning back in the chair. The boys were all staring at the wall, where a photo of the crime scene had been projected. "'Hell calls Hell,' or something to that effect."

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The Trouble Boys, in: Holy Hell


(New Washington's most lovable hitmen are back! This post has edited versions of the first three Trouble Boys stories. The last cut, "The Mookles Job," is the newest part of the story and continues the boys' adventures. Comments and edits are welcome; obviously so are expressions of enthusiasm.

The Trouble Boys series is dark humor. It contains violence, cussing, and pushy waitresses.)

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