Now Available: Broken Habit

Broken Habit Steampunk Novella Book CoverMy fantasy / steampunk novella Broken Habit is now available as a standalone on Amazon!

It appeared originally in the Central Washington Authors Guild anthology Assassins, along with several other excellent stories. Click on the cover (I made it myself; so pretty!) or the link below to check it out.

Sister Estella Porras has served the Order of Aramina for many years not only as a nun, but as a secret hunter and assassin tasked with cleansing the world of demons.

When she discovers that a powerful demon has not only infiltrated the Order, but gained a position of great influence, she is the only one capable of ending that threat before it can destroy everything she believes in.

With the High Matriarch’s airship due to arrive any day and the entire Order hunting her for a murder she did not commit, will she be able to challenge the demon, or is she doomed to remain the prey?

Buy On Amazon

Flash Fiction Friday: An Ocean Without Rails

Wow, three weeks in a row of Flash Fiction Friday. This is actually turning into a regular thing. This week, the Story Dice gave me a ship, a stag, and a train. As is my wont, I wrote up a bit of steam-inspired flash, which I have shared below.

Fair bit of warning, though: I’m super crunched for time this week, so I have not had any time to edit or proof this week’s story before posting it. As is the case with all first drafts, errors are likely to abound, misspellings litter the landscape like discarded Taco Bell wrappers on a frat house floor, and you may find your first look at one of my first drafts terrifying.

But take heart, gentle reader. Know that no matter how much suffering may be wrought by this unpolished prose, J and I will be seeing Nightwish in concert and celebrating our seventeenth anniversary. It’s going to be awesome.

Onward, into the wild frontier of the first draft!

An Ocean Without Rails

It had been often said that only the bravest or most foolhardy of men would dare attempt to cross the great salt sea. Once upon a time, Captain Shu Xi had been one of those men, bursting with tales of the wonders and dangers lurking among and beneath those waves. That was a time when men sailed by the stars, risked death each time he set out into the blue, and then came home filthy, half-starved, and barely able to remember what a woman looked like.

Then someone invented the damned steamship and ruined everyone’s fun.

It had taken two years of poverty and the threat of losing his ship before he’d finally given in and had it retooled with a steam engine that took up most of the cargo bay and a massive propeller so he could keep up with all the fancy new cargo ships his competitors had taken to using. Of course, the lack of cargo space meant he had to improvise how to actually drag his goods from port to port.

Shu scaled the ladder to the crow’s nest to survey the long line of barges stretching nearly a quarter mile behind. Each one connected to the next through a series of steel cables, rigging, and half a hundred different clamps, pulleys, and good old-fashioned knots. From so high, his crew looked like little more than distant ants, scurrying to and fro as they tightened and adjusted the myriad of webbing needed to keep the waves from tearing his aquatic locomotive to pieces.

The corners of his lips pulled downward as he spied a cluster of men two barges away. It looked as if they were in a brawl or some other struggle. He pulled a spyglass from his vest pocket and swung it around to face the disturbance. What he saw made him swear under his breath and slide down the ladder, already calling out to the first mate to watch the bridge before leaping into the wiring connecting the ship with the first barge.

A litany of curses rampaged through his consciousness. Someone on that barge didn’t do his job, and now the entire voyage was at risk. If somehow they lived to see shore again, Shu would make his displeasure obvious in the most physical manner. But before that, they needed to get it locked back up.

He dropped to the deck of the first barge and barreled his way toward the second, weaving in and out to dodge the crew and shouting, “Out of the way!” to warn them aside.

First, he heard the shouting. Must have been a dozen men trying to subdue the beast, and it didn’t sound like they were having much success. He almost stopped cold when he heard the monster’s cry, a bellow of frustration and rage that shook his bones made his heart stutter. A deep breath steeled his resolve, and he redoubled his efforts, fists clenched at his sides as he charged ahead.

When he reached the aft railing, he leapt again, fingers stretched toward the mess of cables leading to his destination. Rough, corded steel slipped along his fingers before he found purchase, but then gave way as the cable snapped and he dropped face-first into the churning saline waves.

The impact blew the air from his lungs and allowed seawater to rush in to fill the void. Shu coughed, sputtered and heaved, desperately working to clear his airways he bounced along between the barges, dragged along by nothing more than his iron grip on the snapped cable.

“Man overboard!” someone called out from above.

The edges of his vision blurred and began to darken. No help would be coming. The first barge’s first concern would be to ensure that the rest of the cables remained intact and the train did not come apart, and the second barge had much bigger problems, the sounds of which still reached him, even as the waves rolled over him again and again.

After coughing up enough salt water to allow a breath, Shu shook his head to no avail, trying to cast off the creeping darkness that both worked to limit his vision and weaken his body. He was a man of the sea, and he would not allow a bit of water to be his end.

He began to climb.

Every muscle howled in protest, and the burning of that effort spread quickly, through his arms and down his torso and into his legs. It would have been easy, so seductively easy, to just let go and give himself to the sea. It would claim him eventually, he had no doubt, but not today. Not while he had a cargo to deliver and men under his protection.

One hand over the other, he made his way up. Legs wrapped around the cable and held on tight each time the slippery steel threatened to elude his grasp. More than once, the cable slipped through his fingers and he had to scramble to regain his grip. Below, the waves beckoned, promising a long sleep. Gods, he was tired. With every meter’s progress, sleep sounded better and better, but not now. He had a job to do, and he’d be damned if he let it go undone.

It felt like a year had passed by the time Shy stumbled over the railing. The blackness threatened to overwhelm him now. Through the haze, he saw his crew struggling with the beast, a four-legged brute covered in course fur and crowned with a nest of shimmering silver antlers. Silver flashed as it thrashed, barely held by a dozen ropes as it lashed out with hoof and great swings of its head. For the most part, the crew appeared to have avoided injury, but they would lose the battle before long.

Shu coughed again, spattering the deck with another mouthful of salt water before hooking an arm over the railing and hauling himself to his feet. His gaze locked with the massive stag as he shambled forward. Fury raged within those eyes, and now it fixed squarely on him.

He grimaced as he stepped forward. While he kept the beast’s attention two more ropes hooked around its neck, holding it more securely, but still not enough. It snorted and bellowed and tried to rear up, but somehow the crew fast.

When he reached the creature, Shu turned back, then spun toward it, fist outstretched as he threw his entire body into the swing. Bones snapped upon impact, and a surge of pain shot through his arm that nearly took him off his feet. With a roar that sounded tinged with surprise, the stag fell, unconscious.

Shu couldn’t see anything now beyond a hazy mess of fur on the deck surrounded by blackness. He knew he was about to pass out. The body could only take so much, and a broken hand combined with his previous lack of oxygen seemed to be his limit. He gave the order to have the beast taken back down below, and then he slept.

So, what did you think? What sort of story would you put together based on this week’s dice roll? Let me know in the comments below, and remember to Like and Share. Thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Gentle Breeze I Swear

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Gentle Breeze, I Swear

Last week, I challenged myself to write a new piece of original flash fiction every Friday based on a roll of the Story Dice. The idea behind this was to get my butt in the chair and actually get back to writing, as opposed to my original authorial plan for the past year, which has been to read books on writing and think about how oh-so-nice it would be to have a dozen books under my belt and legions of fans all clambering for another. Believe me, it was awesome.

And you know what the best part of that plan was? It didn’t require any actual effort. Just a dream, a little imagination, a liter of unacknowledged self-doubt, and a great mountain of laziness that just begs you to say, Eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure I’d actually make it to a second week, but, surprisingly, here it is, fresh and steaming from the bread oven where I keep my brain. For the second week in a row, for your reading…let’s say pleasure…is this week’s installment of Flash Fiction Fridays.

Strap yourselves in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

A Gentle Breeze, I Swear

Risti bent over the wheel and braced herself against the wind. All around, the crew struggled to secure the airship, tightening and rearranging the massive spiderweb of cabling that connected the hull to the great balloon above, lest one of them snap and they all make a real quick descent. Through the rain, she saw their mouths move as they called out to each other, but the storm stole the sound of their voices before any could reach her.

She would kill him if they lived through this. Really ain’t gonna be more than a little wind and a few drops of rain, he’d cajoled. Come on now, Risti. There’s money to be made on this cargo, and you well on know that there ain’t no ship here that don’t want the job.

The wheel jerked, and a gust of wind tossed the ship sideways. For a moment, she was airborne, dragged along with the ship by nothing more than a white-knuckled grip on the wheel and the rope that tied her to the steering console. The rope dug into her frame, and any gratitude for its presence was lost in the irrational thought that it might cut her in two. But as soon as she lifted off the ground, was was forcefully reacquainted with the deck in a face-first sort of manner.

The world swam, spinning far more than seemed reasonable. And not just the world. The wheel spun back and forth as the ship twisted out of control, thrown to and fro by the swirling gale. Lightning flashed, and everything seemed to slow down as the ship was flung sideways once more. The wet grain of the wooden deck slipped against her fingers as she slid away, struggling for purchase.

In the distance, one of the crew was launched into the air as the knot tying the rope around his waist came undone. Limbs flailed in every direction as he streaked past. She’d already given him up for gone when he collided with one of the overhead cables and somehow managed to hold on. His body whipped around like a flag, but somehow he managed to maintain his grip long enough for to slide back down to the deck.

Lucky bastard, Risti thought as she crawled back toward the wheel, clawing for any purchase she could find against the soaked deck and finding little more than the bare seams between planks and the occasional loose nail. He’ll be more careful with his knots from now on.

By the time she hauled herself back to her feet and regained control of the wheel, her arms burned, the metallic tang of blood filled her mouth, and loose strands of hair plastered across her goggles, obscuring what little visibility she had. The ship couldn’t last much longer in this storm. She had to get under the worst of it if they were going to have any chance at making it to breakfast.

She wrapped an arm around the wheel and waved at the kharren first mate. When she had his attention, she jabbed her hand repeatedly downward toward the deck. He nodded in understanding, and then began relaying her order to the rest of the crew.

Once everyone understood, she pulled the levers on either side of the console to vent the fore and aft air bladders. Her stomach lurched as the ship dropped, losing altitude at a disconcerting rate. Swirling masses of cloud rushed up all around as the ship plummeted toward a desert floor still invisible through the storm.

And then she saw it, the normally pristine sand awash with the only rain it would likely see for the next year, and far too close for comfort. Risti slammed the bladder vents shut and pulled another lever to signal the engine room to stoke the boiler to full. If they didn’t regain some lift right quick, they were in for a landing the likes of which they were unlikely to walk away from.

The ground swept up toward them. They were too close. Not enough time to build the lift she needed to pull out of the dive. She cried out, ordering everyone to hold on, and then she spun the wheel all the way to the left, nearly turning the ship sideways as it spun into a wild corkscrew. While it did the trick of slowing the actual descent, it had quite the opposite effect on the meager contents of her stomach. She just hoped they wouldn’t make an appearance before all was said and done.

Closer. Closer. Windblown sand stung the exposed portions of her face and coated her teeth. She spat and sputtered, but did not loosen her grip. Still, the combination of wet wood and the force of their spin were too much to overcome. The wheel slipped free, and she tumbled to the ground. With a deep breath and a silent prayer, Risti closed her eyes and waited for the end.

Only the impact never came.

Every muscle groaned with protest as Risti pushed herself up enough to see the desert around her. Sand still bit into her skin, carried by the swirling masses of wind, but at least the ship was stable, even if it was only a dozen meters off the ground. She turned away from the wind and heaved a slow, measured breath before calling out for a damage report.

She wouldn’t kill him. Of course she wouldn’t…but imagining all the different ways she might do so would certainly be entertaining.

So, what did you think of this week’s story? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to Like and Share this post with your friends. Thanks for reading!