Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rewarding the People I Do It For

Odds are, if you're reading this, you're a fan of what I do.  And I appreciate that.  I deeply, deeply do.  And I always feel I can do more for you all.  I'd love to show up to more events, for example.  Right now, I've got three more slotted for the rest of the year: Fencon, World Fantasy and OryCon.  And that will probably be it.  I'm working on having more of a presence online.  I'm leaning toward videos about writing or worldbuilding, but I'm still working on how that would work.

And, of course, I want to give you all more books.  Speaking of more books, here's two possible gifts for all of you.  As I'm sure you're aware, The Imposters of Aventil is just a few weeks away.  But you could get an ARC of it NOW.  (Well, about a week, give or take shipping times.  But still: early.)

HERE'S HOW YOU CAN GET IT.

Tweet #WhoAreTheImposters with a link to the book.  (Like this one.)  I'll pick one tweet with the hashtag at random, and that person will be the winner.  (Presuming they live in the US.  Else mailing it is a bit too much of a challenge.  Apologies to the fans in San Miguel Allende.)  IT'S THAT EASY.

BUT HOW ABOUT ANOTHER EXCERPT, MARSHALL?

Done.

On a night like this, Colin Tyson didn’t care that he had been effectively exiled to Orchid Street.
Sure, he was still a captain in the Rose Street Princes, in charge of holding their territory against the Red Rabbits, but that didn’t mean a thing to him. Ain’t no one seen much of the Red Rabbits since Vee—since the Thorn—demolished the Trusted Friend, as well as the brewery where they were cooking their version of effitte. Old Man Jensett was dead—everyone presumed by the Thorn’s hand, though Colin knew better—and most of the Rabbits ended up in Quarrygate. Whoever was still left out there was staying out of sight. The Waterpath Orphans moved in on their blocks without even a scuffle, from what Colin heard.
Orchid Street—at least his block between Bush and Waterpath—had nothing worth his time. Sure, the cheese shop was nice, and The Old Canal was a decent enough place to sit with a cider and plate of sausages, but it wasn’t right. There wasn’t any business worth hustling here, nothing to draw Uni kids over to drop some coin.
The only thing this block really had that was worth taking from the Rabbits was the sew-up and his offices, but he was so damn annoying that Colin wanting to crack him across the skull. He gave them no trouble, so long as there was some bird servicing his pisswhistle, but Colin didn’t have any interest in feeding that vice. He certainly wasn’t going to turn out any of the birds in the Princes to that end.
And, of course, there was his new crew, the dullest bunch of bonecrushers he had ever met. Ment, Kiggy, Vandy, and Sella. The first three were the kind you wanted around if you had to crack some skulls, but nothing else. Not an ounce of thought or charm in the lot of them. Sella, she could scrap well enough and muster up some charm if she wanted, but most of the time she laid about the flop, dosed on the sew-up’s doph supply.
None of that mattered on a night like tonight. The streets were filled with folks from every part of Druthal, all looking to have a good time and drop plenty of coin. Every inch of wall and lamppost was plastered with paper jobs, promising food, drink, and companionship at affordable prices. The Old Canal was bustling. People stood around gawking. They were eager to experience “the real Maradaine”, whatever the blazes that meant to them.
What that meant to Colin was full pockets all around. He dropped a crate on the walkway right between the cheese shop and the sew-up and started running a five-card switch game with anyone and everyone who would dare to get close to him. He hadn’t done that in ages—wasn’t a soul living in Aventil who would fall for a five-card switch—but tonight it seemed like just the sort of classic swindle that these wander-throughs wanted.
Saints, it was like being fleeced was part of some show, and they loved it.
The two Uni girls from some southern school were eating it up.
“Come on, ladies, come on. You find the Duchess, you walk with five crowns.”
“It’s that one!” the fair-haired girl told her tall friend, pointing to the card that was torn and bent in the corner—just like the Duchess card they had seen earlier.
That one was not the Duchess.
“No, no!” the tall girl said. “You said it was that one last time and we lost!”
“I’m telling you—”
“I don’t know!”
“Ladies, tell you what,” Colin said. “I’ll take these two cards off the table.” He flipped over the two—Two Moons and The Soldier. “Now you’ve only got three cards to choose from. Surely you can find the Duchess with only three cards.”
“It’s got to be a trick,” the tall girl said.
“No trick, no trick,” Colin said. He held up his hands, flipping them back and forth. “Ain’t got nothing palmed, and nothing up my sleeves. Blazes, ladies, my sleeves are rolled up!”
They both laughed as he showed them his arms.
This was the most fun he had had in months.
“Wait,” the fair-haired girl said, her accent getting even thicker. She pointed to his tattoo. “So you’re a Rose Street Lad, right?”
“Rose Street Prince, ma’am.”
“Aren’t we on Orchid?”
“That we are. If you’re lost, though, I can see what I can do about getting you a guide through the neighborhood.”
The tall girl flipped the card with the torn corner. Man of the People.
“Not the Duchess!” Colin said. “’Fraid I keep your coin, ladies.”
The tall one was reaching into her pocket for another half-crown. She was ready for another round.
The fair-haired one grabbed her arm. “Ketara, we need to stop. Opening ceremonies are starting any moment now.”
“One more,” Ketara said. “I think I figured—saints, look at that!”
She pointed up to the top of the building behind them. The fair-haired girl gasped, and Colin glanced up—making sure to sweep up all the cards before he did. He wasn’t about to take his eyes off them, if she was trying that old shift.
“Is that the whoever we heard about?” the fair-haired girl asked. “The Thorn?”
Colin couldn’t believe it. There he was, just crouched on the roof of the sew-up’s building with a bow and a crimson cloak. Just up there, in plain view.
Colin wondered what the blazes Veranix was thinking, because it was the stupidest thing he had ever seen the boy do.
Ketara and her friend both cupped their mouths and shouted. “Woo! Thorn! Woo!”
That got his attention. He dashed out of sight. Maybe he realized how dumb it was.
“Is it true what they say about him?” Ketara asked.
“I don’t know,” Colin said. “They say a lot of crazy stuff, though.”
The girls went on for a bit, but Colin was only half listening. He was still in shock. Since the Trusted Friend, Veranix had been cautious, even prudent. The Thorn was still hitting the effitte dealers in Dentonhill, but he wasn’t making a point of being noticed. Colin had thought he had learned to lay low.
If he was getting careless again, Colin wasn’t sure what to do. He had already risked everything he had keeping his cousin safe, and now he was out here on Orchid. More than that, he was indebted in more than one way to the reverend over at Saint Julian’s.
Colin found himself saying a silent prayer that this was just a slip, and not an sign of terrible things in store for Veranix.


THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Forthcoming October 2017
Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Goodreads Page for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Monday, August 14, 2017

DREAMSCAPE: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies
Dennis Quaid had a pretty good run as a leading man in the late 80s, and while he dipped, he did come back later pretty solidly in his later years, carving a decent niche for himself in those “So you couldn’t get Harrison Ford” roles. These parts were his bread and butter in the 80s.  Tell me Tuck Pendleton in Inner Space didn’t have Han Solo in his DNA.

But reaching the top of the marquee does mean paying your dues, and one of Mr. Quaid’s dues was definitely Dreamscape.
This poster is designed to trick you into think you're getting Temple of Doom. The kid is barely in the movie.
This poster is designed to trick you into
thinking you're getting Temple of Doom.
The kid is barely in the movie.

The gist behind this movie is a well-worn trope of the 70s and 80s, in which the government and government-adjacent scientists delve into psychic research in the hopes of expanding human potential. I mean, we saw that in Stranger Things, and this movie is one MK-Ultra reference from being the same thing.  And, of course, once we're delving into psychic powers and shady research, we're going to be dealing with weaponizing those things.  That's what it always comes to.  But we’ll get to that.

When we start, the President (Eddie Albert) is having nightmares, and this is causing some serious concern among the his inner circle.  The President is terrified of the prospect of being responsible for a nuclear war (imagine that!), and his people want him to, I don't know, be ready to nuke at a moment's notice?  Yeah, I don't know.  But since the president's problems are rooted in his dreams, that means more money gets shuffled into Psychic Dream research.  Which brings us to Dennis Quaid.

Dennis plays a two-bit con man who spent his younger years being poked and prodded by Max von Sydow’s psychic experiments.  He uses his psychic gifts for grifting and conning, and when he gets into some trouble with shady people, he reluctantly signs up with von Sydow’s new dream project.
Von Sydow—with the help of Kate Capshaw—wants to use psychics like Dennis to go into other people’s dreams, for the benevolent purpose of helping people deal with their anxieties and traumas through dream therapy.  And just like I said, there's a government jerk who’s hovering around to weaponize it. That’s Christopher Plummer.

So, there are two psychics who are doing the dreamtripping: Dennis Quaid and Crazy Eyes.  That’s not his name, but he’s just CLEARLY CRAZY from the get go, and you know that’s not something good.  So the scientists have made this giant hook-up machine so they can jump into other people’s dreams, and they put Dennis or Crazy Eyes on one side, and the Dream Recipient on the other, and then we have our dream sequences.

The dream sequences really are the showcase of this movie.  They’re all done with a fair amount of style, including a touch I always liked: each time Dennis goes into a dream, the effect of it includes sound from the end of that dream merged into it.  The other nice touch is how, in each dream, while he’s an active, conscious participant, for the other person, it’s just a dream where this guy happens to be around and that’s nothing strange.  I like that because it fits with my own experience with dreams: no matter how outlandish they are, within the context of the dream itself, everything feels normal.
So Dennis’s venture’s into dreams have a somewhat perfunctory progression: first a relatively pedestrian dream just to show that he can do it, even though it involves falling off a high-steel construction site at the end.  It’s really just a scene to show that he can do it.

The next two are about actually helping test subjects.  First, the light one, in which he helps a nebbish of a man’s anxiety.  The nebbish is having nightmares he can't remember, so it's up to Dennis to go in and find out what's going on. It turns out the guy’s have cuckolding nightmares where his wife is having sex with EVERYONE.  His neighbor, his brother, his golf buddies, the gardener, EVERYONE. I don't think it's really resolved at all.  It's just, "Oh, that's what his nightmares are." and then we move on.
When this movie says "Snakeman", they mean it.
When this movie says "Snakeman", they mean it.

The other one is the real NIGHTMARE, where he helps a kid who feels abandoned and isolated from his parents.  And he helps the kid for real, by fighting the SNAKEMAN.  And the Snakeman is some serious scary stuff that spooks Dennis, to the point he even draws pictures of it.  This will be important later.

Then, finally, Dennis jumps into Kate Capshaw while she’s napping and goes full on sex-dream with her.  She wakes up and gets justifiably angry until he points out that he did it without the machine helping him out.  Meanwhile, Crazy Eyes is also exploring his powers, by which I mean MURDERING PEOPLE IN THEIR DREAMS.

Dennis hooks up with Norm from Cheers, a sci-fi writer who has been researching this stuff, who more or less lays out that Crazy Eyes is crazy, and probably killed his own father.  Over the course of all this, Christopher Plummer, who is more or less controlling Crazy Eyes, has Max von Sydow and Norm from Cheers killed, leaving Dennis and Kate on their own, knowing they are neck-deep in trouble.
In case you wondered what a "dream ninja" looked like.
In case you wondered what a "dream ninja" looked like.
Especially since the President is coming into the clinic for help with his nightmares.  His nightmares are all about nuclear apocalypse, which means he’s considering disarmament talks with the Russians.  Christopher Plummer is very much against these peacenik ideas, so he’s sending Crazy Eyes into the President’s head to dream-assassinate him.

So now we have a third-act mission. Dennis Quaid has to sneak into the building so he can be physically close enough to the President to get in there as well, and then its full on dream-battle between Dennis and Crazy Eyes within the president’s nightmare-psyche.  Unfortunately, Crazy Eyes has been training himself to be a full on Dream Ninja Killing Machine, while Dennis was busy with cuckolding hijinks.  So Dennis is at a tactical disadvantage.  Plus Crazy Eyes decides to go Snakeman to really freak out Dennis.

Now, I have to say, I was always vaguely annoyed that Crazy Eyes’s Snakeman didn’t really match the one in the kid’s dream.  But now that I’ve thought about it, he never saw the real one, he only saw Dennis’s sketches, so of course it wouldn’t be a perfect match.  Snaked-up Crazy Eyes chases them around and seems to take Dennis out, but that’s about when Dennis figures out how to be a Dream Ninja, and makes himself look like Crazy Eyes’s father and gives him a guilt distraction.  This buys the president time to ram a pipe through Crazy Eyes’s chest and kill him—in the dream and for real.
The President wakes up and gets out of there, but manages to run into Dennis for real and thank him.  He’s worried about Christopher Plummer, but Dennis has it covered.  Later he slips into Plummer’s head and dream-kills him.  Because dream murder of government officials is fine if you’re the good guy!
Sex Train Time
Sex Train Time

Finally, we have a pseudo-happy ending where Dennis and Kate go off somewhere on a train, where everything is exactly like her sex-dream. Including the ticket-taker being the same guy.  WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  Nothing, really, other than they are probably about to make it the sex train for real.

All and all, it's a frothy bit of psi-fi fluff, coasting on Dennis Quaid’s natural charm and some neat dream sequences. But, yeah, it's not going to be in his Lifetime Achievement clip reel or anything.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Touching the Third Rail

Some moments at ArmadilloCon, at the panels and in the writers' workshop, reminded me how there are a handful of... let's say challenging topics to handle when writing SFF Fiction.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily say these topics are Third Rails, in that you DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT TOUCH THEM.  Rather, it's more like an Beach Full Of Jellyfish.  With a big sign that says SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Here's the thing.  Sometimes you've got a story that, in your gut, you know the right choice is something that will get people riled up.  This is, in and of itself, OK.  Go ahead, write that story.  I mean, think it through, do the research, and batten down your hatches.  But write it.

And then be ready that someone will smack you across the nose with the newspaper and say, "No, bad.  You did this bad."

(Yes, my metaphors are all over the place.  Cope.)

And you have to take it.  I'm sorry, but that's part of the deal: you take the risk, you accept that stings are part of the business.  Embrace it with grace.  Say, "Yeah, I could have done that better" and listen to the criticisms.  Take them, and integrate them into the next thing.  Use it to grow.  Use it to improve.

Because you're going to get right back into that ocean.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Post ArmadilloCon Fall Down Go Boom

Folks, ArmadilloCon was a wonderful run this year.  The workshop went swimmingly, thanks to Rebecca Schwarz, and there were many great panels and conversations and seeing people I never get to see enough.  Hats off to all the folks who work so damn hard to put it together.  This year had a lot of people who were new to ArmadilloCon (and new to the Con scene in general), and I hope I gave interesting and useful advice to the SFF writers of the future.  Or was, at least, entertaining.

That's all my brain's got right now, though.  I must fall down now.

But look: Shiny ARC of THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL


I think someone needs to win an ARC.  Maybe someone who posts interesting Maradaine FanArt somewhere.  Hmmmm....

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Scrambling my ducks, or... something.

So, I'm scrambling to get my ducks in a row before ArmadilloCon, so little in terms of a proper post.  If you are at ArmadilloCon, come say hello.  You might just walk away with an ARC of The Imposters of Aventil.  And speaking of,  check out the first review for The Imposters of Aventil, which just hit the net.
 Maresca has form in this area – a slow burning plot, with investigations, discoveries, false leads and revelations, leading to an explosive conclusion. He doesn’t disappoint this time either. I was turning pages to work out exactly what was going on, trying to understand what drove the murders, who was behind them and why – and then, as that started to gel together, kept turning pages to see what would happen next. It’s a sharply observed investigative thriller, this one, in a mature and well crafted fantasy world.
The Imposters of Aventil releases on October 3rd.
Available for Pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!

Monday, July 31, 2017

ArmadilloCon This Weekend

This upcoming weekend is ArmadilloCon, which is my hometown convention, and is a favorite of mine.  So this is a bit of a busy week of prep for me, on top of editing Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and coming through the home stretch on the draft of Parliament of Bodies, AND finalizing critiques for the writers' workshop.

Anyway, if you're in Austin (or near enough for a drive in), come down to ArmadilloCon, come say hello.  Here's my schedule for the whole thing:

Friday, August 4th
Writers’ Workshop
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
I’m teaching the Writers’ Workshop again this year (but not running it— I’ve passed the torch to the able and talented Rebecca Schwarz), so much of my Friday will be doing this.

Meet the Pros Party
7:30 PM-9:30 PM Ballroom Foyer
Here's an opportunity to meet your favorite author or artist.

Saturday, August 5th
Reading
12:30 PM-1:00 PM Conference Center
I’ll preview material from Imposters of Aventil, and probably read from Holver Alley Crew, and possibly a tease of Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe.

Clarke's Law
1:00 PM-2:00 PM Ballroom E
L. Antonelli, D. Cherry, S. Gonzalez, A. Latner*, M. Maresca, A. Martinez
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." With this pronouncement, Arthur C. Clarke joined Asimov (with his Laws of Robotics) and Sturgeon (90%...) in having epigrams transformed into "Laws". It's even been turned around! Our panelists discuss the continuing influence of these ideas at the boundary of SF & F.

You have a great idea for a story -- Now what?
8:00 PM-9:00 PM Southpark B
L. Marley*, M. Maresca, J. Moore, T. Prevost, B. Wright
Ideas are everywhere. Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. How do you take your awesome idea and build it out into a short story or a novel?

Sunday, August 6th
Research techniques for worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy
11:00 AM-Noon Ballroom D
J. Comer, N. Drayden, M. Maresca, L. Marley*, T. Pierce
Am I going to talk about Bottom-Up Worldbuilding? Yes, I probably will.

Planning and writing a Series
Noon-1:00 PM Ballroom E
S. Brust, M. Maresca, C.J. Mills*, T. Pierce, S. Skorkowsky, J. Wells,
Tips, tricks, and pitfalls

Best SF TV Series Evah!
2:00 PM-3:00 PM Ballroom E
J. Conner, Mi. Finn, M. Maresca*, A. Porter, J. Rountree

Signing
3:00 PM-4:00 PM Dealers' Room
M. Maresca, R. Rose, S. Skorkowsky, S. Gonzalez

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Excerpt from THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL is out in a little over two months, so it's high time to start talking seriously about its release.  And what better way to kick things off than with an excerpt?

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL releases on October 3rd, 2017, and is available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more.


The Aventil streets teemed with Uni kids, and Lieutenant Benvin had to be a damned prefect to the lot of them. The captain had made it clear that he didn’t give a barrel of sewage what Benvin was working on. The Grand Tournament of the High Colleges was starting, so every able body in Green and Red needed to show the color on foot, horse, and wagon throughout Aventil.

Benvin knew it made sense. With the Tournament, the population of the Uni campus, and therefore Aventil, increased tenfold. Athletes came from every major college in Druthal, as well as friends, families, and other supporters. Every bed was filled, every pub was packed, and folks were pressed against each other so tightly in the street that even the city’s worst pickpocket could make a year’s pay.

Add in the sweltering summer heat that hadn’t broken all month, and the neighborhood was a stinkhole of trouble just waiting to burst.

“How many nights of this, Left?” Pollit muttered. “Because if it’s more than three, I can’t promise folks won’t be eating their teeth.”

“It’s eight,” Benvin said. “And I wouldn’t believe that promise anyway.”

Pollit flashed a smile. Pollit was part of Benvin’s Loyals, the squad he had put together that he trusted weren’t in anyone’s pocket. Just four footpatrol regulars—Tripper, Pollit, Wheth, and Mal, and two cadets, Jace and Saitle. The rest of the Aventil Stationhouse, they were fine enough folk, but Benvin didn’t have faith that they would really have his back in a pinch. Only his Loyals, and he knew they gave their best because he believed in them. All of them had all been outcasts amongst the Aventil regulars. Benvin had made them his.

“You don’t totally hate this, Left,” Pollit said.

“What makes you say that?”

“You usually don’t wear that pin on your uniform.”

Benvin glanced down at the pin on the lapel of his coat, marking his first-place win in oars for Riverview University at the Grand Tournament of 1202. “Man has a little pride in his school . . .”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for a Uni type, Left. Certainly not one of the Elevens.”

“Drop it,” Benvin said. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about the things that led him from prominent law student at a prestigious university to street stick busting up cider rings and dice games. “Something over there.”

A handful of Uni boys—Royal College of Maradaine lads by their purple and yellow colors—were getting heated in front of the Rose & Bush. Looked like the server was telling them they couldn’t come in, and they weren’t pleased with that at all. Also, they clearly had had their fill of any pub for the night.

Saints, it wasn’t even seven bells yet. The sun was still casting long shadows down Rose Street.

“Gentlemen,” Benvin said, Pollit right at his arm. “What seems to be the dispute?”

“She won’t let us in!” one of the RCM boys said, wagging an accusing finger in the server’s face. “We gotta eat something before the opening ceremonies!”

“We’re full up!” the server snapped. “Ain’t barely room for me to walk from bar to tables. Can’t put another soul in the place!”

“Find another place,” Benvin said. “Or perhaps your beds for the night.”

“Pfff,” the lead RCM boy said. He didn’t seem to have registered who he was talking to. “We ain’t about to head in yet. We got—”

“Oy,” Pollit said. “Maybe you should note who’s telling you. Unless you want us to find you some special bunks for the night.”

The RCM boy looked at the two of them, his friends now all growing quiet as they recognized the Constabulary coats in front of them. This boy had definitely had too much cider though, as his eyes didn’t focus on them for a moment. When they did, they settled on Pollit.

“Saints,” he snarled. “You a bird or a bloke?”

That was the wrong thing to say.

In a flash, Pollit had knocked the boy in the teeth. Before he could even blink, the boy was face down on the cobblestone, irons going around his wrists. “Someone found a new bunk for the night!” Pollit shouted.

“Pollit—” Benvin tried to give a gentle rebuke, if Pollit would pick up on it.

Pollit looked up at the rest. “Any of you?”

“Going somewhere else,” the other RCM boys all said, hands up defensively. They quickly dispersed.

“Good.” Pollit had the boy up on his feet, arms bound behind him. “You see a lockwagon nearby, Left?”

Benvin leaned in. “We can’t arrest the boy just for firing your hairs, Pol.”

Pollit whispered back, “Can we have him sit in a wagon with irons on for an hour or so to cool off?”

“Twenty minutes,” Benvin said. “There’s one over there.”

Pollit gave a salute to Benvin, and then one more to the Rose & Bush server with a wink, and took the RCM boy over to the wagon.

Folks in the stationhouse talked about Pollit in not-so-hushed whispers, but Benvin paid them no damn mind. Pollit was a damn good stick, that was all that mattered.

Whistle calls pierced the air—and not just a general call. Three sharp trills: long, short, long. Corpse call.

“Pol!” Benvin didn’t need to look to know that Pollit would soon be on his heels as he ran in the direction of the whistles. He hoped Pollit at least left the Uni with a wagon driver.

“Aside, aside,” he shouted as he approached the source. A crowd had inevitably formed at the mouth of a narrow alley—not that every damn inch of this neighborhood wasn’t a crowd right now—and Benvin nearly had to beat his way through. “Constabulary, people, stand aside!”

The crowd parted just enough to let him pass, to see a young man blocking the alley entrance, whistle in his mouth. He stopped blowing as soon as Benvin approached.

“Hey, Left,” he said, dropping the whistle out of his mouth and catching it. “We’ve got some nasty business here.”

“Jace,” Benvin said, looking the cadet in the eye. “You’re supposed to be off-duty.” The boy was in civvie clothes, at least. But this kid, he never stopped working. Benvin admired him, to be sure, because he had a heart that was pure Green and Red as he had seen. Came from a family eight or nine generations deep in the Constabulary. When that crazy stampede went through the neighborhood two months ago, Jace had nearly got himself killed jumping onto the lead horse to blow out warnings. That was why Jace was part of the Loyals, but Benvin had to fight the boy to get him to go home sometimes.

“I was, Left, honest. On my way home when a couple folks spotted this. Had to put in the call, and then keep these folks off the scene.”

“Fair enough,” Benvin said. “Body?”

Jace nodded into the alley, while popping the whistle back in his mouth to make a new call, signaling that an officer was on the scene and they would need inspectors and the bodywagon to come.
Not that Benvin really wanted any of the Aventil Stationhouse inspectors to come. None of those chairwarmers were worth their rank, none of them could be counted on. Odds were they would come, glance at the body, and leave the work to him.

Pollit was now at the scene, giving a slight nod of regard to Jace. “Sorry about that, Left. Just getting that tosser comfy in the wagon.”

“Anything good?” Jace asked.

“Ain’t you supposed to be home?”

“In this crowd?”

Benvin ignored them, instead looking at the body. Definitely a murder. Four arrows were buried into his chest. Young man, about twenty or so. Scruffy, dirty, and unkempt. Face beat bloody, head cracked. Shirtless, but wearing a fur-lined coat. “A Red Rabbit.”

“Ain’t seen many of them since the last big street row,” Pollit said.

“No,” Benvin said pointedly. He pointed to the chevrons on the coat, and tattooed to the boys’ neck. “And a captain at that. Is this Keckin?”

“Could be,” Pollit said. “Saints, this is brutal.”

Benvin had to agree. The four arrows were all from head-on. Keckin—if this was Keckin—wasn’t running or even fighting back very well when this happened. Looked like he was shot, beaten, and then shot again. Someone wanted to make him suffer.

“Didn’t happen here,” Benvin added. He looked up to the top of the building. “Maybe on the roof, and he was dropped down after shooting him?”
Pollit gave his own glance up and down. “Makes sense. This couldn’t have gone down around this crowd.”

Benvin pulled one arrow out of the body. “And not too many people would use a bow in this neighborhood.”

“You think it’s him, boss?” Pollit asked.

“Nah, couldn’t be,” Jace said. He seemed almost spooked. “I mean, he’s never left a body like this before.”

“Then he’s stepped up his game. Let’s add it to the list of charges we’ll lay on the Thorn when we catch him.”

“I don’t like it, boss,” Jace said. “It ain’t that simple.”

Benvin didn’t like it at all, either. With everything else going on in the neighborhood, the last thing they needed was for the Thorn to move on from being a vigilante menace to a vengeful murderer. This might have been a Red Rabbit scum that Benvin would have ironed and locked up given the chance, but he didn’t deserve a death like this. Nobody did.

But it did mean one thing. Now Benvin had the cause he needed to act.

“Spread the word, boys,” Benvin said. “As of right now, I’m calling an All-Eyes out on the Thorn.”

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

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