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Nov. 18th, 2013

Cell-mates (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Cell-mates'

"They had to settle the issue of sex first."

Sentenced to life in prison, Tyrrell didn't have many opportunities for bed-play . . . unless he could count what the guards did to him as "play." So his future seemed brighter when he was paired with a cell-mate he'd been eyeing for a long time with affection and lust.

If only Tyrrell could keep from becoming his cell-mate's latest murder victim . . .

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

They had to settle the issue of sex first.

"No," said Merrick flatly as he shoved his only belonging – a toothbrush given to him by his previous guard – under the stone bed-ledge on the other side of the cell.

Well, that was a direct enough answer. Or would have been, if Tyrrell had been the type to accept 'no' for an answer.

If he had been the type to accept 'no,' he wouldn't have spent two years persuading Merrick to become his cell-mate.

"Is it because . . ." He paused, wondering how to put this delicately. Because the Magisterial Republic of Mip had originally been colonized by the two warring nations of Yclau and Vovim, cultural clashes among Mippite citizens were inevitable. It was said that even Cecelia – the great Cecelia – had been rejected by a suitor's family, which was clearly a sign of lunacy in that family. Some of the Yclau-descended folk had strange notions about maintaining the purity of their families. Anyone ethnic or foreign or darker than a pasty shade of white was considered off-limits. That would make Tyrrell extremely off-limits. "It isn't because I was born in southern Vovim, is it?"

Merrick looked annoyed. "What, do you think I have something against players?"

Tyrrell straightened his spine. Like most emigrants from Vovim, he had acted in plays from time to time. Street plays, with no props other than broken objects dug out of the local garbage heap, but they were plays just the same. "Do you?" he responded in a challenging voice.

Merrick's mouth twisted. He was busy tightening the blankets on the bed-ledge with what seemed to Tyrrell to be unnecessary thoroughness, given that they were both about to go to bed. Unless – Tyrrell brightened at the thought – Merrick intended that they use only one bed-ledge.

After a moment, Merrick said, "The Bijou. The City Opera. The Frederick.. . ."

It turned out to be a very long recital. Tyrrell was impressed. "You've been to all the theaters in this city?"

"All the theaters in the whole of eastern Mip." Merrick mumbled the words.

"Gods preserve us – that many?"

Merrick glared at his blanket. "Does it matter? I've spent plenty of time with players. Let's move on to more important subjects."

Tyrrell hated to think what Merrick's idea was of an important subject. Probably how to strangle all the guards at Mercy Life Prison. He asked, "Is it because I'm short?"

Merrick sighed as he turned toward Tyrrell. "Look," he said, "you could be six feet tall, with dashing dark eyes, and skin a delicious shade of sepia—"

Tyrrell began to tick off in his mind which men in the prison fit this description.

"—and I still wouldn't fuck you. I'm just not interested in doing that. Not with you. Not with anyone here."

"Married?" Tyrrell asked sympathetically. So many men in the prison were, or had left behind love-mates, male or female, when they were convicted of their crimes and sent to spend the rest of their lives in Mercy Prison.

Merrick's gaze turned toward the flagstoned floor. "Hell."

"You don't have to swear at me," said Tyrrell reproachfully.

"I'm not swearing. I'm praying to Hell to rise up and kidnap you to his domain so that I won't have to continue this conversation. Look—"

And suddenly his voice was low, as low as it had been when he had finally made the amazing declaration that he would submit a formal request to his guard that he be transferred to Tyrrell's cell. So Tyrrell held his breath, because he knew that Merrick was never low-voiced – never, never, never – unless he was saying something that cost him a great deal to say.
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Cell-mates.

Nov. 11th, 2013

In the Silence (Life Prison)

Cover for 'In the Silence'


"Images came, like flickers of a candle: Dark stones. Dark metal. Faint fire. A spoon in his hand, as someone urged him to eat. A stinking pit that he knew he was duty-bound to fill. A loom nearby that he vaguely remembered he had once known how to work, but which now stood as silent as the rest of his world."

He can't speak. He can barely see. He experiences only fear and the faint whispers of something he had once known.

But an intruder into his secure retreat from danger will pull him into awareness of what stands before him. What stands there is renewed danger. . . and the hope of something more.

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

Some of the prisoners began to retreat to the back of their cells, made uneasy by this breaking of the silence. He ought to as well. A prisoner was speaking. A prisoner was shouting. No good could come of this. Nothing could come of this but pain and fear and screaming.

Tears were running down his face now. He gripped the bars hard, trying to figure out what to do. He had emerged from a dream, only to find himself trapped in a nightmare. How could he make it stop?

The solid door opened suddenly. The guard named Sedgewick stood there, breathing heavily. His hair was dishevelled; his jacket was torn; his neck was turning purple. "Get chains," he snapped at Milton.

"Chains?" Turning, Milton gaped at him.

"Chains. From the showers. The manacles on chains that we use when we give the prisoners the cold-water punishment."

"The chains are bolted to the shower walls," Milton protested. "They're attached high up on the walls, above the prisoners' heads."

"Pliers. Stepladder. Be quick about it."

"Sedgewick, it sounds as though you're killing your prisoner. If you kill him, our Keeper will be angry—"

"Go." As the shouts inside the cell reached a new high pitch, Sedgewick slammed the door shut.

Milton looked around the level uncertainly. But in all the cells he glanced at, none of the prisoners were moving. Swallowing hard, Milton retreated to the stairwell.

The shouts from the battle-torn cell were so loud now that he covered his ears. He could still hear the bellow of the prisoner, who sounded like a bull let loose in a ring. "I am going to maul you so badly that you'll never be reborn!" the prisoner was shouting. "Just watch me!"

There was a loud crack. Identifying the sound, he flinched back, as though the whip had landed on him. The only response from the prisoner was another bellow, this time of profanity.

He bit his lip. He had no doubt as to the outcome of this struggle. The prisoner could not hold out against two guards armed with whips and daggers. It was a miracle he had done so already. How long would this last?

How long had it lasted? He glanced briefly over his shoulder at his cell, but it looked just the same as it had the last time he had seen it – had truly seen it.

Only the loom was gone. How had they taken the loom away without waking him from his dream? And how long ago had they done this?

He felt the bars under his hands. Bars. There had been no bars when he last saw this cell – only a solid door. The solid door was still there, but it was an inner door now, open. There were two doors to his cell now, one solid, one barred. The barred one must have been added.

How could they have added a barred door without him noticing it?

Sweat was trickling down his back now. He tried to read the time passed from the amount of ashes next to the fire. But for all he knew, the ashes might have been scooped out a dozen times or more. A whole month might have passed. Or two months?

He put his hand upon his cheek, trying to wipe away the tears that continued to stream there—

And froze. Were those wrinkles he felt next to his eyes?

He was twenty-one years old. How could he have wrinkles?
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): In the Silence.

Nov. 4th, 2013

Curious (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Curious'


"It wasn't the first time that Ulick had met a man who received enjoyment at the thought of killing. This time, however, the killer was not a convict."

His job is to guard the prisoners. But against what?

Hired to work at a prison that has recently undergone a purge, Ulick finds himself caught in the midst of a vicious battle. The prison's Keeper wants peace. The Assistant Keeper wants blood. Each of the other guards has his own motive, and his own method, for keeping the prisoners under control.

Backbiting, threats, violent encounters, forbidden desires played out at night and in stark daylight . . . all this Ulick must face in his new job. At the center of the maelstrom lies Merrick, a foul-mouthed prisoner with a notorious reputation. But behind Merrick stands another man, hidden in the shadows, and Ulick's future depends on what that man wants of him.

This novella (short novel) can be read on its own or as the fifth and final story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

"We've had trouble with the prisoners," said Mercy's Keeper.

"Sir?" Ulick could think of no other reply to make to this bland remark, which might have been spoken by any Keeper at any prison at any moment of the day.

"Seditious activities. Attempts to manipulate the guards. That sort of thing."

"Oh." Understanding reached him. "Yes, I'd read that in the newspapers."

Mercy's Keeper – who was not gracious enough to offer his name, much less offer Ulick a chair – winced, as though in distaste at the foreign orange he was munching on throughout the conversation. "Too much publicity. Pressmen should all be shot. Good thing the death sentence is back."

Ulick decided not to ask how serious the Keeper was in his statement. Instead, he took the opportunity to glance around the Keeper's office, which also served as the man's living quarters. Opulent walnut chests, imported Vovimian carpets, a wall full of books, and a kitchen's worth of food. And the food was only for his lunch. If Mercy's Keeper was suffering from the presence of his seditious prisoners, there was no sign of it.

"Blasted Boundaries," said Mercy's Keeper, as though summing up matters.

"Sir?"

"They should be shot. Every one of them. Will, if I find out who they are."

Ulick wondered whether his expression held the proper amount of bewilderment. It must have, for in the next moment, from the corner of the room, came a quiet voice. "If I may, sir. . . . I believe that your new guard may need to be briefed on our situation."

"Eh?" Mercy's Keeper twisted round in his chair to stare at the speaker. "Oh, rather. If you say so. You explain, and I'll get on with . . ." He waved his hand expansively over his desk, embracing both paperwork and food.

"Thank you, sir." The speaker, who was standing in the shadows, raised his eyes to Ulick. Looking into them, Ulick had the momentary feeling of falling down a deep well. He considered himself moderately good at reading expressions; it was one of the skills that had led him to take up guard-work. But nothing lay behind those eyes to tell him what the other man was thinking.

"In brief," said the guard quietly, holding Ulick's gaze with apparently effortless ease, "one of the prisoners here, a kin-murderer by the name of Merrick, developed a very clever plan some years ago to gain power over the guards. He executed this plan with the help of a cunning strategist, a cut-throat named Tyrrell. Their plan was to put forward something that purported to be a code of ethics for prison conduct, and to persuade the guards here to adhere to it. Many guards were fooled into doing so."

Ulick, who had been trying unsuccessfully to move his eyes away from the speaker, heard himself say, "Many guards?"

A smile entered the other man's eyes. "Including myself. I will admit that I was a victim of Merrick's plan. A guard whom I respected had chosen to adopt the Boundaries of Behavior that Merrick advocated, and . . . Well, I will not recount for you the tedious story. Suffice it to say that, for too many years afterwards, I treated my prisoners in a sickeningly soft manner. I allowed them to get away with disrespectful behavior, with attempts to control me and all the other guards, and in the end I even went so far as to ally myself with these prisoners. I tried to bring to court a suit that, if it had been won, would have resulted in the complete loss of any power that the guards possess to curb the prisoners' destructive behavior."

"Ah." Ulick cleared his throat. "Yes, I thought your face looked familiar, Mr. . . ."

"Staunton. Please, call me Sedgewick. We are not formal here at Mercy Life Prison."
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Curious.

Free PDF edition of an Eternal Dungeon story

Cover for 'Green Ruin'


I forgot to announce this when I added the link. You can read Green Ruin (The Eternal Dungeon) as part of the free PDF zine Wanderlust: A Travel Anthology, edited by T. Spoon for The Slash Pile. (Green Ruin has both heterosexual and gay content, in case the cover leaves you wondering.) The e-book editions of Green Ruin (HTML, PDF, and Kindle) remain available for $2.99.

The blurb:

"During the dawn hours at the Eternal Dungeon, as the day shift yawned itself awake and the night shift yawned itself to bed, the talk turned, as it always did, to the injustices of being a guard."

Three guards and a mysterious substance provide a temptation too great to be missed . . . especially when two torturers add their skills to the mix. Soon three very different men – a married man who is committed to respect and honor, a bachelor harboring secret desires, and a soldier with an unfulfilled ambition – will find themselves caught in a trap. Their rescue will come from an unexpected quarter.

This darkly humorous short story of friendship and romance can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

Oct. 28th, 2013

Isolation (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Isolation'


"Now I was at the last prison of all, the one I'd be at till they buried my body in quicklime."

Being locked in a prison cell can cause a man to re-examine his priorities. Especially when the door never opens.

Gavin is young, but his time may be short as he enters a prison not known for treating its prisoners gently.

Even so, he is shocked to discover what his fate will be. Faced with living conditions even worse than he was raised in, he must call upon the lessons his immigrant parents taught him for how to survive in a slum.

But his life takes an unexpected turn when a secret correspondent suggests that Gavin may be able to play a role in changing conditions at Mercy Life Prison. To do so will mean risking what remains of his life, as well as turning away from the only life he has known. What reward can he hope to receive in exchange for such a sacrifice?

This short story can be read on its own or as the fourth story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

I couldn't go and read the words of the guard's newsie, but I could be seeing the pictures, and they gave tale themselves. The news from the Queendom of Yclau, in the bottom-right corner of the newsie, wasn't the best. Mip's southern neighbor, which claimed to be the seed of all civilization in the world, had chosen to celebrate the Autumn Commoners' Festival by sending soldiers to beat up the Yclau branch of the Commoners' Guild. In the photo, there was a kiddie lying bleeding on the ground, her head bashed in by a passing soldier.

"Poor little lass," I muttered. "She should have someone to protect her."

The guard flicked another glance at me – this one a grimmer one, like as he suspected I was muttering curses against him – and then he gave back his attention to the newsie. I felt my chest tighten, having mind of all those poor commoners being beat over the head by the nightsticks of the soldiers. Then I came to have knowing that my chest was tightening for another reason. I was near on having another of my attacks.

I looked round, wild-like. Back in my last holding prison, one of the guards had gifted me with a cup to cough into. There was an empty cup next to the brandy bottle, within reach. I grabbed it and coughed up what was in my throat: a greenish-grey mess, with spots of red in it. The red spots had been worrying me for some days now.

I'd put from mind the sawbones. Right away, with a cry, he yanked the cup from me. I was figuring he didn't much care for having his cups messed up. He stared down at the cup and gave another cry of dismay. Dismally, I wondered if I'd gotten myself in trouble already.

The guard had put down his paper; he spoke something to the sawbones in Mippite. The sawbones turned and chattered away. I couldn't figure out any of the words he spoke, 'cept for one he gave tale to again over and over: Tibby. I wondered if that was the name of his girl. Drunks get soppy with having mind of love some days.

The guard got off his seat with great care. He walked over to where the sawbones stood and stared down at the cup. Then he looked up at me and smiled.

I didn't care for that smile. It was a cold smile, and I didn't have mind that the guard was the sort of man to smile 'cept at another man's bad luck.
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Isolation.

Oct. 22nd, 2013

Searching (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Searching'


"Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him."

Walking into a trap may be the only way to create one.

Danger runs high for Vito when he arrives at the Eternal Dungeon, escorted by guards. In this royal dungeon, prisoners are "searched" for their crimes, by torture and by more subtle means.

Vito knows that he will be searched. But he has his own searching to accomplish, and to do so he must undergo the scrutiny of the queendom's most accomplished torturer.

This novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Sweet Blood" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
 


Excerpt

For a prison, it was abnormally quiet.

Vito had lived in prisons for a long while now – over a dozen years, from the time he came of age. He had sampled all three of the city prisons, like a connoisseur sampling wines to test which was the finest. He had even spent time in the provincial prisons outside the queendom's capital.

Never before, though, had he encountered a prison where everyone spoke in whispers, and where business was conducted in the dark.

He looked around, straining to see. The great entry hall of the Eternal Dungeon – impressive both in size and in the fact that most of its walls were made of cave-rock – was virtually night-black. There were lamps scattered upon tables around the edge of the room, but these were all shuttered like lanterns. Guards stood by the tables, exchanging an occasional whisper. The only other sound came from the desk-seated Record-keeper, who studiously scratched away at a piece of paper with his pen, as though working in midnight black suited him.

And it was only four o'clock in the afternoon.

Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were also questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him. But then a stirring shuddered through the room, like wind over a field of corn.

Sounds came from the top of the steps that led to the palace above: a gate being drawn back with a screech, then heavy footsteps upon the cave-rock steps. Ignoring the vigilant escort of the dungeon guards who had brought him this far, Vito sidled his way toward the center of the hall in order to see better the stairway. Everyone else stood motionless. Even the Record-keeper had paused in his work and was now standing behind his desk.

Five men arrived: four were guards, dressed in royal scarlet, with ceremonial swords at their sides. Not the Eternal Dungeon's guards, then – those guards wore grey uniforms, utterly ungaudy. The Queen's guards, making their slow way down the steps, were struggling to hold level a stretcher.

The fifth man, who walked behind the stretcher could not be said to be gaudy either, but his appearance was most striking. He wore no vest and no jacket, and he bore no weapons. His shirt and trousers were raven-black, and covering his head and face was a black hood.

Instinctively, Vito drew to the edge of the room, near the door that led further into the dungeon. The guards who flanked that door flicked a glance at him, then ignored him. His escorts remained oblivious to the fact he had strayed. The procession was coming closer.

All around the entry hall now, guards were bowing their heads and rubbing invisible circles upon their own foreheads with their thumbs. Vito, so newly arrived that he remained dressed for the outdoors, pulled his cap off and bowed his head. The procession had come close enough to him now that he had recognized what lay upon the stretcher: a motionless body, covered from head to foot with grey cloth.

The funeral procession neared the door to the inner dungeon. Vito raised his eyes just in time to catch closer sight of the fifth man in the procession. That man also had his head bowed, and his eyes – barely visible through the eyeholes of his hood – were hardly more than hollow pits in the dim light.

Yet something – perhaps it was merely the combination of straight spine and lowered head – caused Vito to catch his breath.

The door next to him was open now, held back by the younger guard who had been flanking it. The older guard was peering carefully round the entry hall, obviously checking to see that nobody unauthorized was given the chance to slip through the doorway. The procession left the entry hall, the Queen's guards struggling to make their way through the relatively narrow entrance. The hooded man following them did not look up.

Vito had a sudden, wild desire to follow. Instead, as the door slammed shut, he stepped forward and tugged at the sleeve of the older guard, like an impatient child. "Who was that, please? The man behind the funeral procession?"

The guard replied, with careful precision, "That was one of our junior Seekers, Mr. Taylor. Please step away from the door, sir."

Vito did so hastily. He had already seen the younger guard draw his dagger; his escorts had likewise noticed his absence and had pulled their coiled whips from their belts. Vito – who was cursed with a sense of humor that helped him not the least in his work – had the impulse to pull out his hidden revolver and offer to trade with the guards.

But he was saved from acting on this disastrous impulse by the sound of a cough. Looking back toward where he had been standing before, Vito saw the Record-keeper silently gesturing. Further down the wall along which the Record-keeper's desk was placed, a man had appeared in an open doorway. His face was hidden by a black hood, and he stood quite far away in the hall, but Vito somehow knew, without having to see them, that the man's eyes were ice-cold.

Vito drew in a long breath. His mind had travelled beyond the dagger-and-whip-wielding guards nearby. They were unimportant. The true danger in this dungeon stood before him now.

He walked slowly forward for his employment interview with the High Seeker.
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Searching.

Aug. 19th, 2013

New Waterman collections

I've issued two Waterman collections. One (Master and Servant) is new, while the other (the Waterman omnibus) is an older collection that has been expanded to include the novel The Abolitionist. The only difference between their contents is that the omnibus includes Queue.

Cover for 'Master and Servant'


Another cover, plus blurbs, excerpts, and links to ordering information )

May. 6th, 2013

The Balance (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'The Balance'

"'The Eternal Dungeon is my home now,' the High Seeker said. But as he spoke, he lifted his face and looked at the Vovimian carving, as a man might look at a beloved he must leave forever."

The Seekers (torturers) in the Eternal Dungeon have always expressed contempt toward the Hidden Dungeon in the neighboring kingdom of Vovim, whose torturers abuse prisoners without restraint. But the balance between mercy and hell is not so clear as might be thought in either dungeon, and now that balance is about to tip. Only the strength of love and integrity will determine the paths of two Seekers whose fortunes are bound together.

This novel can be read on its own or as the third volume in The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
 

VOLUME CONTENTS

"Truth and Lies." When you're a prisoner, having a torturer who's mad can be an advantage. Or maybe not.

"Barbarians." Vovim was renowned for its strong monarchy, for its love of the theater, and for its skill in the art of torture. In other words, it had all the qualities needed to become a civilized nation. But would anyone be willing to defy Vovim's tyrannical king? And if they did, would they survive?

"Hidden." He had been given the kindest, gentlest torturer in the dungeon. The prisoner was left with only one hope: that he could teach his torturer how to be cruel.

"Death Watch." Death lurks everywhere in the Eternal Dungeon . . . even in a torturer's bedroom.

"Balladeer." Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious.

"The Balance: Historical Note."


Excerpt

The corridor he stood in was very dark. With the furnace doors closed, the only light came from half a dozen oil lamps bracketed to the walls. The lamps were fitfully sputtering.

He tossed a coin in his mind and began walking slowly south, in the direction of the bats. There were doors all along the eastern side of the corridor, opposite to the furnaces, but none of the doors were marked in any way. He tried the knob of one of the doors, but it was locked.

He reached the last of the furnaces and paused, uncertain. A further stretch of corridor lay ahead of him, but the doors on the eastern side had ended. Was it worth travelling on and risking meeting one of the Eternal Dungeon's notoriously skilled guards?

It was at that moment that the Seeker entered the corridor from the west.

Yeslin received only a glimpse of him, for the Seeker immediately turned right, in the direction of the southern end of the corridor, and then disappeared through another western doorway. All that Yeslin caught was an impression of black. Black boots, black trousers, black shirt, and, of course, the mark of a Seeker: the black hood that hid a Seeker's entire head.

Yeslin stood irresolute for a moment more. The Seeker he had seen could not be the High Seeker; he knew that much. But tangling with torturers of any rank seemed the ultimate in danger. Moreover, what likelihood was there that the Seeker would give Yeslin the information he needed? These men were trained to extract information, through horrific means; Yeslin doubted that their training extended to giving out information to a passing stranger.

He thought this and felt his feet carry him forward. He realized afterwards that what carried him forward was not any conscious thought, but a sound: the very faint sound of machinery.

The sound of machinery grew louder as he approached the doorway that the Seeker had entered. Yeslin paused at the threshold, and not only because of the danger which the Seeker represented. He was pausing in awe of what lay beyond that doorway.

It was a steam engine – his ears had already told him that – but it was the biggest steam engine he had ever seen in his life. It was rigged up with what Yeslin could only describe as a giant's accordion. Two accordions, one squeezing down at the same moment that the other accordion released itself with a whoosh. Squish and release, squish and release – the two accordions worked in harmony with each other as the great steam engine that ran them pushed its rod-arms backwards and forwards.

Standing in front of them, with his back to the doorway, was the Seeker. The sound of the steam engine had evidently hidden the sound of Yeslin's footsteps, for the Seeker did not turn around as Yeslin entered the room. The torturer had his head tilted back, in evident contemplation of the machinery. Yeslin could imagine a Seeker being fascinated by the workings of a rack or another instrument of torture, but a Seeker who seemed wholly absorbed at the sight of less destructive machinery . . .

Yeslin closed the door. The Seeker's back stiffened. Then the Seeker turned. Yeslin could see nothing except his eyes, which were a deep blue.

"Mr. Taylor?" Yeslin heard that his own voice was shaking.

For a moment, the Seeker remained still, leaving Yeslin in an agony of certainty that he had misidentified the man. Then the Seeker raised his hands, pulling up the portion of his hood that hid his face.

It was indeed Elsdon Taylor. He looked tired, but no more so than the last time Yeslin had seen him. His face remained youthful.

"Yeslin Bainbridge." Elsdon Taylor's voice was incredulous. "How in the name of all that is sacred did you get in here?"

The dipping of his eyes was automatic. He did manage to keep from going down on one knee. But it had been three years since he had last met Elsdon Taylor, so very briefly, and though they had exchanged letters since then, he had not been able to communicate with the Seeker for the past fourteen months. Men can change a great deal in the space of fourteen months, particularly when they spend their nights torturing prisoners. . . .

"Yeslin." There was an indefinable shift in Elsdon Taylor's voice which caused Yeslin to look up. The Seeker was smiling now. He opened his arms. "Sweet one."

Yeslin came forward to accept the embrace of his brother.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): The Balance.

Apr. 15th, 2013

Death Watch (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Death Watch'


"Sometimes Layle wondered why, in the names of all the minor deities, he had chosen a love-mate who kept him continually off-balance, rather than the helpless, compliant victim he had so often dreamed about."

Death lurks everywhere in the Eternal Dungeon . . . even in a torturer's bedroom.

Trained as a young man to execute prisoners by entering their bodies, Layle Smith remains a danger to others, even after he moves to a more civilized dungeon, with strict rules on the treatment of prisoners.

Unfortunately, he's unable to convince a former prisoner of that fact. Faced with an adoring, oblivious love-mate, Layle Smith must decide whether he can hold back his dark desire, or whether he should give in to that desire . . . for his love-mate's sake.

This novelette can be read on its own or as the fourth story in the "Balance" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Layle Smith caught his breath. He always caught his breath when Elsdon Taylor knelt in front of him, as the young man was wont to do at the most unexpected moments, probably because he enjoyed seeing Layle caught off-guard. Sometimes Layle wondered why, in the names of all the minor deities, he had chosen a love-mate who kept him continually off-balance, rather than the helpless, compliant victim he had so often dreamed about.

Then Elsdon would smile up at him, his eyes simultaneously filled with gentleness and wisdom, and Layle would remember.

"What is this?" Layle asked, trying to sound as commanding as a man who held the title of High Seeker ought to sound, though he very much doubted that his love-mate was fooled. Elsdon was a Seeker as well.

"My present," said Elsdon. "Did you think I'd forgotten?"

Layle, sitting in his usual armchair as he tried to finish reading a tall stack of guards' reports on the table beside him, looked down at where Elsdon knelt at his feet. Between his legs, in actual fact, a space which by all rights Elsdon should not have been able to reach without Layle noticing. Layle would have been long dead if he had been that careless with a prisoner. "Never forget that most of the prisoners in this dungeon believe that their only road to escape lies in killing you." He had told that to dozens of Seekers-in-Training over the years, including the young man kneeling before him.

When had he become so complacent to Elsdon's presence that his love-mate could take him unawares like this?

He cleared his throat. "I don't see any gift."

A dimple appeared in Elsdon's cheek. "Yes, you do."

Layle reflected to himself that Elsdon was showing unusual mercy by remaining clothed during this speech. Of course, that could be because he knew how much the High Seeker enjoyed ordering him to strip. Layle sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had not only become complacent; the pattern between him and Elsdon had become so predictable that his love-mate could plan the next move without awaiting Layle's word.

And that, he feared, was precisely what Elsdon was trying to point out to him.

He tried to stall. "Our fifth anniversary was three months ago."

"The fourth month of 355 is when we met. The seventh month is when we became love-mates."

He made a quick calculation in his head – a very quick calculation, for those early days were imprinted in his mind like gold upon scrollwork. "Then our anniversary was three days ago. That's when we first kissed."

"That was before I discovered what sort of dreamings you had about me. And when I did—"

"You quite sensibly broke matters off between us rather than risk being bedded by a sadist." He heard the harshness in his voice. After all this time, he still could not believe that Elsdon had made a wise choice in selecting him as a love-mate.

"And even more sensibly mended matters with you the next day." Elsdon sounded as blithe as he always did when discussing that decision.

"Which means yesterday was our anniversary." He strove to keep control of the conversation. The gods alone knew why; he had never won any battle that Elsdon set out to win.

He looked round the small Seekers' cell that he and Elsdon shared. All about him, he noticed for the first time in many months, were signs that he did not live alone. On a nearby table lay a technical manual on the workings of steam engines, the sort of information which made Layle's mind spin but which Elsdon happily gobbled up in his few spare moments. Nearby was a report by Elsdon about his latest prisoner, carefully composed in his school-neat handwriting. And over the bed-rail in the adjoining room lay Elsdon's hood.

Seekers never removed their hoods except when they were about to bathe or go to bed. They might raise the face-cloth of their hoods when they were in private, but the complete removal of a hood was reserved for bathtime and bedtime. For much of the year, Layle found the mere removal of Elsdon's hood to be an extremely erotic act.

And yet Elsdon had removed his hood without Layle even noticing it. And Elsdon could not have failed to miss the fact that Layle had not noticed it.

Layle rubbed his eyes again. This was beginning to look very bad.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Death Watch.

Mar. 28th, 2013

Truth and Lies (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Truth and Lies'


"Thatcher was having difficulty deciding who to attack first."

When you're a prisoner, having a torturer who's mad can be an advantage. Or maybe not.

Thatcher Owen is a soldier who has been sent to the Eternal Dungeon for doing his duty. Accused of committing war atrocities, he is faced with the possibility of being manipulated by his torturer into confessing to a crime that was no crime. So Thatcher sets out to trick his torturer. But how do you trick a man whose very sanity seems in question?

Seward Sobel is faced with a similar dilemma. As senior night guard to the Eternal Dungeon's High Seeker, his job is to prevent that brilliant torturer from abusing his prisoner. But how do you tell the difference between madness and genius?

As these two men perform their delicate dance of duty, their fates will depend on the High Seeker's truthfulness . . . and on the nature of his lies.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Balance" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The entry hall was a high, broad cavern that contained little except tables and chairs pushed against the walls, where they could easily be hidden by the shadows if a prisoner entered the hall. Now, though, the perimeter of the hall was bright with lamplight and the chatter of guards awaiting new prisoners. Seward found himself thinking of Mr. Urman, whose training would be completed soon and who would be transferred into the care of Weldon Chapman. Six months before, Mr. Urman had told Seward that he could no longer stand the idleness and would seek a transfer. Seward had rounded upon him with all the fury of a mother wolf protecting her children, but it had made no difference. It had been a full year since the High Seeker's day guards had resigned, and the Codifier had not bothered to replace them. It was doubtful that anyone would have taken their positions.

At the time of Layle Smith's madness, the dungeon inhabitants had been united behind their High Seeker, doing everything they could to keep his mind from destructing. Yet fame is fickle: as it became less and less certain that the High Seeker would recover the powers that had won him renown throughout the world, the dungeon dwellers had gradually turned away from him in indifference or disgust. So few remained loyal to Layle Smith now: the High Seeker's companion, two or three of the junior Seekers who modelled themselves after him, and a handful of senior members of the dungeon who had worked alongside him for many years.

And the High Seeker's shadow, Seward Sobel, who had been with Layle Smith since the beginning.

The High Seeker was in the midst of turning away from Weldon Chapman when Seward reached him. Seward found his gaze lingering upon his Seeker, looking for changes from the old times. He had seen the High Seeker little more than any other dungeon dwellers had during the time of his illness; Layle Smith had asked for assistance during that period from his love-mate and Weldon Chapman, but from no one else. Seward wondered whether the same man he had known lay behind the closed face-cloth of the hood, or whether the High Seeker had been irremediably altered during his absence.

The High Seeker's eyes, always cool, raked over Seward as though his senior night guard were a prisoner worthy of being racked. "Yes, Mr. Sobel," he said. "Did you have something you wished to say to me?"

Mr. Sobel was touched by the slight sickness he had felt in his stomach ever since the early days, when his attempts to reach out to a young Seeker in friendship had been rebuffed with a coldness like midwinter wind. He opened his mouth to reply, and then realized, too late, that he had not come prepared with any excuse for speaking to the High Seeker.

Twenty-one years they had worked together, and he still needed an excuse to talk to Layle Smith. He thought this, and thought also of the time of absence when he had lingered each long night in the entry hall, far beyond the time when his shift officially ended, waiting for Layle Smith to call for his services.

Now the High Seeker's eyes were growing narrow through the holes in his hood. Seward began to open his mouth again to make some excuse for his presence when a faint scream cut through his thoughts.

The chatter in the entry hall died in an instant, as though sliced clean with a blade. For a heart's breath, everyone stared at the door that led to the prisoners' cells. Screams were a daily occurrence at the Eternal Dungeon; what had caught everyone's attention was the fact that the scream had cut off abruptly. Out of the corner of his eye, Seward saw the High Seeker's hand go to the side of his belt, as though he expected to find something there.

And then the silence was broken by a whistle – a high, hard whistle that shot through the air like a cannonball. And Seward was running, running as hard as he had ever run since the day in his youth when he saw a revolver in the hand of a man who had murder in his eyes, and whose gaze was turned toward the royal princess.

He ran as he had not run for twenty-six years: but the High Seeker reached the door before him.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Truth and Lies.
 

Barbarians (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Barbarians'


"With a movement too quick to see, the master torturer used his whip to send the prisoner to his knees. 'Crawl,' he said in the flat voice a man might use toward a stubborn animal."

Vovim was renowned for its strong monarchy, for its love of the theater, and for its skill in the art of torture. In other words, it had all the qualities needed to become a civilized nation. But would anyone be willing to defy Vovim's tyrannical king? And if they did, would they survive?

Grieving over an acrimonious departure from his love-mate, a youthful ambassador from the neighboring nation of Yclau has come to Vovim on a mission to help that barbaric kingdom's prisoners. But he faces unexpected barriers: An insane young king. The king's effeminate companion, who holds his own plans for the ambassador. And a populace whose greatest wish, it seems, is to see the ambassador die during a theatrical performance.

Then arrives the only Vovimian who seems to have a shred of sanity to him. But this man is a skilled torturer, and he is hiding depths that even the ambassador may not be able to penetrate.

This novella can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Balance" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Though the Code forbade Seekers all private belongings, long-standing custom permitted them a small allowance for luxuries. The High Seeker, being Vovimian-born, spent most of his allowance on books and art, and one evening in autumn, while the rain beat upon the crystalline rock that shed the only light into the underground Eternal Dungeon, the High Seeker had shown Elsdon Taylor an etching of a Vovimian theater company in performance. For the next two hours, Elsdon had listened with fascination to the talk of stage scenery and costumes, of introductory mimes and dramatic dialogues, of divisions into acts, of conflicts, climaxes, and finales, and (since this was, after all, a Vovimian theater) of bloody corpses on the stage afterwards, and of the theater companies' decision whether to fake the deaths or use criminal volunteers who had decided to let their execution be a final act of theater.

"But don't the condemned criminals panic at the last moment and spoil the show?" Elsdon had asked.

The High Seeker had bestowed upon Elsdon that look he often gave when they were discussing his native land, as though a lifetime of words could not complete Elsdon's education in this matter. All he said, though, was, "Not in Vovim."

Elsdon had spent the following night dreaming that he was watching a play in Vovim, performed by the world's finest players. For the next few weeks, his thoughts had lingered upon the regret that he would never have the opportunity to watch a Vovimian theater performance – not unless luck turned his way.

Luck, unfortunately, had turned his way. Amidst all his past dreamings, it had not occurred to Elsdon that he might take part in the performance himself, and that he would play the role of the criminal.

It was perhaps not surprising to learn that the King's palace was equipped with a theater, nor that the theater was located directly across the hallway from the throne room. Nor was it particularly surprising to learn that all of the courtiers and palace guests who had been milling about in the hallway, waiting for the King to emerge from his private audience with his High Master, were delighted to accept the King's invitation to enjoy the performance. They crowded into the vast theater, jostled their way into cramped rows, and stood on benches at the back and sides of the theater in order to get their best glimpse of the stage.

The stage itself had been stripped to the bare minimum, making a striking contrast with the fripperies and frills that usually adorned a royal performance. At Master Toler's orders, the only scenery left on the stage was a blood-red curtain, which would make for an arresting contrast with both the master torturer's uniform and the prisoner's lack of clothes. The middle part of the curtain had been pulled up to reveal the naked stone wall behind, and here a wooden post had been fastened to the stage floor. Attached to it halfway up was a set of iron chains, which sparkled under the lamps. The other lamps in the room shone their light on the stage, or on the narrow walkway leading from the theater door to the stage.

Elsdon made his entrance down this walkway. He was not permitted to walk.

"Crawl," said Master Toler.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Barbarians.

Mar. 11th, 2013

Life Prison (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Life Prison'


"I'd heard of guards like this; they existed in prisoners' tales like beautiful princesses exist in the tales of ugly boys. I supposed that I ought to be grateful to have been assigned such a guard. . . . I didn't feel grateful."

In the unmerciful world of Mercy Prison, there is no rule but unending pain. For Merrick, the arrival of his new guard provides hope that he may break beyond the boundaries of his life prison. But appearances can be deceptive, and Merrick does not yet recognize the danger this guard poses to his future.

Merrick's guard is bound in his own special imprisonment. The meeting of these two troubled men will determine their destinies, and the destiny of their nation's life prisons.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison.  Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Reviews

"Combining a historical background similar to that of Victorian England with a skilled perspective into the nature of human relations and a wide range of characterization, 'Life Prison' is a real page-turner . . . This is a story – and an author – not to be missed." —Rainbow Reviews

"Written in the first person, Life Prison is a dark, eloquent, and absorbing psychological tale that delves into the mind of a killer who, perhaps incongruously, manages to evolve into a sympathetic character in spite of the horror of his crime." —Top 2 Bottom Reviews

"[Outside the prison, Merrick] would be a criminal, a reject of the society; inside he is a man." —Elisa Rolle's Reviews and Ramblings

"Liveprison. Der Name sagt alles. Sehr düster." —Mllesatine: Empfehlungen


Excerpt

When Thomas arrived the next morning – it was my weekly day of rest from work, so I was engaging in a particularly agonizing examination of the walls – I said, before he could speak, "I'm sorry about my bad temper last time. I get out of sorts occasionally."

"Not at all." His reply was cool, as were his eyes, which rested upon me heavily, like a block of ice. It came to me as I watched him that this young man, whatever his flaws might be, had received personal training from Compassion's Keeper. He could not be quite the fool he appeared to be.

I'm nothing if not flexible, as Sedgewick had pronounced on the day he tried me in a dozen different positions. I let the smile drop from my face and said in my normal voice, "Well? What brings you here?"

The coolness disappeared from his eyes, and he said, "The usual. See to your needs and all that. The dancing girls are on their way, but I'm afraid I couldn't fit the performing elephant into the stairwell."

There was a moment's silence, and then, despite myself, I burst into laughter. Thomas grinned like a boy and moved forward, keeping well away from me and resting his hand on his dagger. He inspected the rubbish hole first, then the water – going so far as to give the wall a lick – and then, satisfied, moved to the other end of the cell. "You're short a blanket," he said. "That's against regulations."

I snorted. "There aren't any regulations in the life prisons, or hadn't you noticed?"

"Well, there are customs." He was inspecting the blankets now, checking them for secreted objects. "Short-tail whip – that's the type used at Mercy. Compassion uses the black whip – longer range, harder to control. Four of the other life prisons use the straight whip – rather like a bamboo rod, but more flexible. The remainder use the bamboo rod alone. . . . Your cell could do with some tidying."

Yes, he'd been trained by a Keeper all right. I wondered whether he thought he was scaring me. "What type of bamboo rod?" I asked. "Imported or domestic? The type that splinter? We had a prisoner last year who came close to dying from the splinters alone."

"Those ought to be banned." He got up from his hands and knees from inspecting under my bed. I had retreated into the corner to allow him to do this without nervousness. As he dusted off his hands on his trousers, he said, "Mind you, if a guard does his work properly, he needn't resort to any of those." He looked over at me.

It was hard to say whether his speech was more effective as an apology or as a threat. I was beginning to think that I might have underestimated this young man. . . .
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Life Prison. A shorter version of the novella is available as online fiction.

Milord (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Milord'


"'You've been very well-behaved here. You deserve a better assignment than Milord as your guard.'"

He was the model prisoner, respectful to his guards and loyal to his fellow prisoners. What no one knew was that he held the key to destruction.

Having pledged himself to assist in a popular movement by prisoners and guards to reform Mercy Life Prison, Llewellyn fears the future, when it is likely that the reform movement will face stiffer opposition from Mercy's Keeper. But Llewellyn's fear of the future is overwhelmed by the present knowledge that he is not what he appears to be. Until now, he has managed to hide his secret and to sway his guards to follow his chosen path.

Now he has been placed under the power of a guard who cannot be swayed and who is intent on bringing Llewellyn under his control. Can Llewellyn escape from his new guard's control? Will he really want to, once he has seen the door open to a world filled with true respect, loyalty, and love?

This novelette can be read on its own or as the third story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.
 


Excerpt

Panting from his exertions, Merrick began to inspect the plumbing. "Drip pan looks fine. Nothing clogging the strainer. Let me get this pipe open. Have you chosen your guard yet?"

Llewellyn hesitated. "I'm not sure. . . ."

"There are lots of us guards abiding by the Boundaries these days," Denley pointed out, removing a cigarette from his jacket.

"I wondered . . . I thought perhaps I could do more for our Alliance if I picked a guard who doesn't keep the Boundaries."

"Try to persuade him to join the Alliance, you mean?" Denley tapped the end of his cigarette against the broken refrigerator.

"Milord," said Merrick, frowning over the plumbing pipe as he thrust his hand into it.

"You think so?" said Denley, his eyebrows raised. "He keeps the Boundaries."

"He has never admitted it, though." Merrick pushed the handkerchief into the pipe. "'I'm not going to have my judgment as a guard second-guessed by a scheme dreamed up by a clique of convicted criminals. . . .' He natters on and on about it, if the subject comes up."

"But he keeps the Boundaries?" said Llewellyn.

"Yes," replied Denley, lighting a match from the stove-fire.

"Yes, if you define the Boundaries as beating your prisoner every night." Merrick extracted the handkerchief, which showed little sign of having been inserted in the pipe.

"Not every night," Denley protested. "Be fair to him, Merrick. He's a strict disciplinarian, but he only beats prisoners who deserve it."

"Why is he called Milord, sir?" Llewellyn asked Denley.

"Oh, he's Lord Vere, officially. Comes from southern Vovim originally. He's one of those Vovimian lords who lost his land during that kingdom's civil war." Denley lit his cigarette. "He still has a lordly air to him, so we call him Milord, for fun. He doesn't mind; he'll accept a good-natured joke."

"So he's an honorable guard, but he's strict," Llewellyn concluded. "He'll only beat me if I've done something that makes me truly deserve a beating."

"Not that that will be a problem for you." Denley bestowed one of his condescending smiles upon Llewellyn. "You've been very well-behaved here. You deserve a better assignment than Milord as your permanent guard."

"Request Milord." Merrick threw aside the plumbing pipe with a gesture of disgust.

"You think I should?" Llewellyn asked uncertainly, standing up and leaning against the squat box of the refrigerator, which he and Merrick had laboriously pushed aside at the beginning of the evening, while Denley stood next to them, chatting brightly as other men did the hard work.

"He's the right guard for you." Merrick's voice was flat.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Milord.

Feb. 12th, 2013

The Consultation (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'The Consultation'


"'I can see why this place would suit you. Your conscience need no longer bother you.'"

He has come from the Eternal Dungeon to offer his services to another prison's head torturer. The only trouble is that the head torturer likes him too much.

Separated from his love-mate and forced to serve in a prison whose practices violate the ethical code that he has long obeyed, the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon finds himself surrounded by temptation: the bodies of prisoners, stripped to provide pleasure for their torturers.

Then the greatest temptation of all arrives. This one, the High Seeker realizes, he may need to surrender to, for the sake of his ethical code.

This novella can be read on its own or as the fourth and final story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

He found Cell 1 easily enough; it was the first door along the corridor. He hesitated at the entrance, but no guards stood outside the door. From the sounds throbbing through the thick door, he supposed the guards must be inside, assisting the torturer. He lifted the latch and walked in.

The torturer was indeed hard at work on a prisoner, and the sight of the prisoner alerted Layle to what smell had tickled his nose earlier. Of course, he thought. It had been over twenty years since he had walked in upon a scene like this, but his mind had remembered the smell of burning human flesh. That smell was quite common in the Hidden Dungeon.

This particular prisoner – who was alternating sobs with groans – was only being lightly roasted. She was bound in chains upon a grill encircling her, so that she could be slowly turned, each part of her body receiving the heat of the flames below her. It would take quite a while for her to break if she was roasted at this low level, Layle concluded. But then, he thought with growing disgust, he had known torturers who preferred slow pain over hard pain. . . .

The torturer turned to look at the newcomer. He was a bearded man, broad-chested and tall, and with friendly brown eyes. He smiled and said, "Hello, Layle. Close the door, will you? I don't want the draft from the corridor to blow out this fire. It will take me just a minute to finish up here."

Layle stood motionless, every spoonful of blood in his body pounding madly in its race. He could feel his face turning cold as the blood drained away. The torturer turned back and said to the guard rotating the grill, "You're taking her too far. Pull the grill up a few notches and bank that fire. Then start again when she's ready."

The guard nodded and followed the instructions he had been given. The torturer picked up a cloak that was hanging from a hook nearby. Bits of flesh were hanging from the hook as well. He began to fling the heavy cloth over his shoulders, then glanced over at Layle and tossed him the cloak. "Here, they should have assigned you one of these. It can get a bit chilly here, unless you're working with a prisoner who requires fire."

Long training kept him from speaking while in the presence of a prisoner being searched for her crime, but the moment that the door of the warm cell closed, Layle stood motionless in the corridor and blurted out, "Master Aeden, what are you doing here?"

"My work," his old master from Vovim said with a smile. "What else would I be doing in the middle of a workday?"

"But I killed you!"

His master lifted an eyebrow. "In actual fact, you offered me the means to kill myself. But if you'd like to add murdering your master to the list of deeds your conscience tortures you about, you're welcome to do so. Do put that cloak on; this place will be colder further on."
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): The Consultation.

Feb. 3rd, 2013

A Prisoner Has Need (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'A Prisoner Has Need'


A cold-hearted murderer has been brought to the Eternal Dungeon, one who must be dealt with through firmness and perhaps harshness. Too bad he's twelve.

Reeling from a personal tragedy, Weldon Chapman is assigned what appears to be a clear-cut case of extracting a confession from a young man who has committed murder in front of dozens of witnesses.

But the prisoner comes from a neighboring country where ancient customs continue to be practiced. As Weldon penetrates the mystery surrounding his prisoner, he will come to realize that he cannot keep his distance from the agony of this tragedy, nor from the agony that lies within himself.

This novella can be read on its own or as the third story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The guard's eyes widened; then the man smiled for the first time. "I suppose it's no good to keep thoughts secret from a Seeker."

"Certainly not when you come to his quarters with the express purpose of questioning him. Do you have questions about your duties?"

"Not my duties so much as my living arrangements. I asked Mr. Boyd, since he's supervising my training. He didn't know the answer and told me to go see Mr. Daniels. I suppose I should be asking him instead of bothering you, but . . ."

Weldon gave a chuckle as he waved his hand over his tea in an effort to cool it. "Personally, I send letters to Mr. Daniels. Or smoke signals. Anything to keep me from having to walk into the dragon's den."

Mr. Crofford laughed, his body relaxing. "I know I shouldn't be afraid of the Codifier, but . . . Well, it's easier to ask you questions. You remind me of my father."

After a moment, Mr. Crofford put his cup of tea down and said, "I'm sorry, sir; I didn't mean to offend you. Would you prefer that I leave?"

"Take no mind of me. I just had a hard time sleeping last night." Weldon did his best to smile at the guard. "What is your question?"

"It's about children, sir."

After another moment, the guard rose from his seat. "Sir, I can see I have caught you at a bad time. I should let you—"

"No, no, sit. What were you going to do, bother the High Seeker with your questions? You're working under me at the moment; it's your duty to come to me with any questions Mr. Boyd can't answer. Are you wondering whether, if you marry, you'll be permitted to raise children in the Dungeon?"

Mr. Crofford nodded. "Yes, sir. I'm engaged to be married; my fiancée works in the outer dungeon. I was wondering about children, and so was a friend of mine who already has a couple of daughters and is thinking of applying for a job in the outer dungeon. I'd assumed that we wouldn't be permitted to raise children here, but since my arrival, I've seen a number of children in the outer dungeon."

"I see." He did his best to keep his voice steady. The fates knew that he had enough experience at that in his work. "Well, Mr. Crofford, the answer is different, depending on whether we're talking about you or your friend. The Codifier occasionally allows dungeon residents to raise children born in the Eternal Dungeon, provided that the parents of the children have already committed themselves to remaining residents here for a number of years. In your case, I think the Codifier would want to wait some time for an indication that your work here was more than passing employment. In the case of your friend, I'm afraid that he would not be permitted to bring his daughters to the dungeon. We had a very hard struggle deciding whether any children at all should be exposed to the dark and bloody atmosphere of the Eternal Dungeon. The Codifier's final decision was that children born in the dungeon might be able to adjust to conditions here, but that it would be wrong to bring in children who had been raised in the lighted world."

"I see," said Mr. Crofford. "So it's possible that, with the Codifier's permission, my fiancée and I would be permitted to raise our children born here, but children couldn't come here from the outside. We couldn't adopt any children, for example."

"Precisely." He wondered that his voice sounded so calm. It was a tribute to the training he had received over the years. "If you have no other questions, Mr. Crofford . . ."

The guard hastily abandoned his tea cup again and rose, saying, "I appreciate your taking the time, sir. I understand the Codifier's conclusions in this matter – though I admit it makes me curious as to whether he knows about the new prisoner."

"The new prisoner?" Weldon frowned. "Why, is the prisoner a mother who is anxious at being separated from her children?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I forgot that you hadn't seen the prisoner yet. Here . . ." He handed Weldon the board of papers, pointing to the first line of the first page.

Weldon knew the precise moment at which his self-control shattered. Mr. Crofford took on a look of alarm akin to that of a child who turns the corner and sees a dangerous dog in his path. "Sir, I – I should go—" he stammered breathlessly.

"Yes," said Weldon. And then, his years of training rescuing him once more: "Thank you, Mr. Crofford. I appreciate your assistance. It is important for me to know when the prisoner has special needs."
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): A Prisoner Has Need.

Dec. 3rd, 2012

Twists and Turns (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Twists and Turns'

"'Sweet blood, no,' he whispered. 'Not now. Please, any time but now.'"

Only the loyal presence of one man has kept him alive. Now that man's loyalty is about to be tested.

In the queendom's royal prison, a young torturer is forced to choose between his principles and his love. At the same moment, a homeless boy living elsewhere in the queendom's capital receives comfort and compassion from a rich man mourning the loss of his son. But when the boy decides to fight the Eternal Dungeon's torturers in order to defend the liberty of his patron, he comes to realize that his battle must extend further than he had expected.

This novella can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The orchestra paused; during the interval, the words of the song outside could be clearly heard. It was The Ballad of the Dying Prisoner, which was one of Yeslin's favorites, but before he could judge whether the ballad was well rendered by its singer, the violins had started up another sprightly tune. Under the renewed cover of their notes, Yeslin walked closer to the earnest-looking guests. He could hear now what they were saying.

". . . no heirs to leave his house and business to. There was only the one son, and he's gone."

"And the daughter too."

"The son killed the daughter, did you know that?" One of the women, in a bright red gown, announced this piece of tired gossip as though unveiling a new fashion. "I saw the body after it happened – the sight was simply shocking. I had nightmares for days afterwards."

"I told you that you shouldn't have looked, sweet one," said the man beside her.

"Oh, but I had to see what had happened, didn't I? I mean, it happened right next door to us. And her father was with us when the screams started. You should have seen the look on his face!"

"I heard that, when they arrested the son, his face was as cold and remorseless as though he'd killed a dozen girls – is that so?"

"Utterly remorseless." The woman in the red gown nodded. "I saw it myself."

"I'd have described his expression as stunned," said the man beside her.

The second man gave a sharp laugh. "Stunned at his success? I'd imagine so. Not many murderers can accomplish so bloody a killing without any weapons."

"The poor man." Another of the women, wearing a gown of sparkling beads, cast a glance at the figure lying motionless on the bed. "To lose his daughter in such a way, and for the murderer to be his own son . . ."

"That's not what I heard," said the third woman abruptly. She had been busy inspecting her face with a palm-sized mirror, which she now slipped into her purse. "I heard that the girl's true murderer was her father."

Several members of the group looked instinctively around to see whether anyone was close enough to hear. All that they saw was a commoner youth kneeling down to wipe up a drink that had spilled. Reassured, they leaned in closer to listen.

In a satisfied tone, the woman with the mirror said, "I heard all about it from De Vere – he works at Parkside Prison, you know, and he attended the son's trial. The son testified that, when he was quite young, his father murdered his mother—"

"No!"

"Oh, yes. And the son said that his father used to tie him to his bed and beat him till he was bloody. And that drove the son out of his mind, and that's why he killed his sister."

"He couldn't have been as crazy as all that if he was giving testimony," the second man objected with a snort.

"Still, you never know. The kindest looking men may hold dark secrets in their lives. . . ."

Everyone turned to look at the figure lying motionless on the bed. After a moment, the woman in the red gown said, "You know, now that I think of it, the son's expression really was stunned."

"Stunned with remorse, no doubt," her husband supplied.

"Or stunned with craziness," suggested the woman with the bright beads. "Completely driven out of his mind by his father's cold-hearted abuse."

"Or the son could have lied about it all," persisted the second man, evidently relishing the role of expressing the minority viewpoint. "He could have made it all up to save his own life."

"Well, he didn't succeed, did he?" remarked the first man.

"He succeeded well enough to save himself from the hangman."

"But the magistrate gave him over to the Seekers. How long do you think prisoners survive in the Eternal Dungeon?"

The woman in the beaded gown gave a dramatic shiver. "Oh, please, let's not talk of such things."

"De Vere told me that, when the son wasn't sentenced to a hanging, his father was furious," said the woman with the mirror. "And he was only satisfied when he learned that the son would be handed over to the hooded Seekers to be tortured for the remainder of his life."

"Let's hope his life was short, then," said the woman in the red gown, who was now dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her handkerchief. "Poor boy. That he should have been driven to such a terrible deed by so cruel a father . . ." She glared in the direction of the man on the bed.

"Really, you know," said the second man, "I'm not at all sure we should have come here today. He doesn't deserve our presence." He turned to take another glass of champagne from one of the passing servants.

Yeslin, putting aside the champagne glass he had picked up from the floor, took a step toward the speakers, and then felt his body yanked back with a painful jerk. Twisting his body to look, he saw that he had been hauled back by Harden Pevsner.

Mr. Pevsner was proof against the saying that face reveals character. He had bland blue eyes, and hair the color of wheat in sunlight. In this respect, he looked very much like his brother.

His hand was tight upon Yeslin's arm, though, as he hissed, "If you cannot keep from glaring at the guests, you ought not to be here."

"But they're telling lies about him!" Yeslin whispered back. "And they're dancing and laughing. . . ."

Mr. Pevsner's grip bit down yet harder as he gave a thin smile at the red-gowned woman, who was now staring with curiosity at the nearby scene. Pulling Yeslin away from the crowd, toward the western window, he waited until they were beyond hearing of the men and women before saying in a soft voice, "The death vigil is intended to give a dying person the opportunity to see his friends and neighbors for a final time – not in mourning, which would be inappropriate for a man facing his rebirth, but visiting in joy in order to remind him of the transformation he will soon undergo. I know that this is hard for you to understand, since you do not have such customs where you come from."

The words, which would have been a gentle reproof if spoken by Mr. Pevsner's brother, were voiced like a falling lash. Yeslin felt himself grow cold. He had forgotten how important it was – so very important – not to act in any way that reminded Mr. Pevsner that he did not belong in this room, but instead should be outside on the streets, where the singing continued.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub), with an online sample: Twists and Turns.

Nov. 26th, 2012

Deception (The Eternal Dungeon)



"Weldon could not remember the last time he had met a prisoner who seemed delighted to be searched by him."

He thought she had come to change his workplace. He found she was there to change his life.

Still pained by the loss of an old love, Weldon Chapman has his life complicated by an order to question a prisoner with a mysterious past. That she is also a discerning woman seems unimportant at first. Having worked for many years in a prison where he is forbidden to marry, Weldon has long since reconciled himself to the fact that his relations with female prisoners must remain strictly professional.

But Weldon is about to learn that his own past is as much a mystery as his prisoner's . . . and that his prisoner holds the key which will open the door to that mystery.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Having deliberately avoided the portion of Birdesmond Manx's records that gave her personal information, such as her date of birth, he had drawn two competing images in his mind of what she would look like. One image was of a scrawny girl, still at the age of sexlessness and confusion over what it means to be a woman. The other image, more sinister, had been of a mannish spinster, loud and aggressive, demanding to be called by her family name as though she were a man, and undoubtedly wearing bloomers.

The prisoner before him fit neither of these images. She was a soft-spoken, attractive woman in her early thirties, with her hair swept onto her head in a manner that emphasized rather than detracted from her femininity. In accordance with the customs of the Eternal Dungeon, she had been permitted to keep her own clothing, and in accordance with the customary treatment of female prisoners, her body had not been searched. The latter custom had once resulted in Weldon being stabbed by a concealed knife, and he found his gaze flicking down toward the dress that might conceal anything. It too was utterly feminine, with its tight waist and ballooning skirt and high collar. The only concession to comfort seemed to be the dress's cloth, which was a practical flannel, and the low-heeled boots, which Weldon had noticed briefly when Mistress Birdesmond curtsied politely upon his entrance.

It was just as well concerning the boots, as she had refused Weldon's offer to take a seat, a courtesy only offered to female prisoners. Weldon wondered whether she was trying to prove that she was as strong as a man.
 

Available as an e-book (ePub, HTML, PDF, Kindle), with an online sample: Deception.

Oct. 26th, 2012

FIC: Green Ruin (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Green Ruin'

Three guards and a mysterious substance provide a temptation too great to be missed . . . especially when two torturers add their skills to the mix. Soon three very different men – a married man who is committed to respect and honor, a bachelor harboring secret desires, and a soldier with an unfulfilled ambition – will find themselves caught in a trap. Their rescue will come from an unexpected quarter.

This darkly humorous short story of friendship and romance can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.


Excerpt

At this stage, when it looked as though the group would enter into a pleasant grumble about guards' pay rates, the door closest to them crashed open. Everyone jerked, and not merely from the sound of the crash. The same look was on all the guards' faces, expressing the same, unspoken question: Had they been overheard?

If the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon had heard their complaints against the Seekers, he chose to overlook their malefaction. "Mr. Sobel," he said, stepping forward. "Take charge of this, please. It was seized as evidence, but it will not be needed at the trial after all. You may dispose of it in any manner you wish."

Mr. Sobel, who had risen to his feet the moment he saw his Seeker, murmured an appropriate acknowledgment of the order. The High Seeker glanced around the table and caught sight of Mr. Crofford, who happened to be the High Seeker's junior night guard that month. "Ah, Mr. Crofford," he said, "I need you to pass on this note to Mr. Taylor. It contains information for an important case."

"Yes, sir," replied Mr. Crofford, adding characteristically, "and may I do anything else for you?"

"That will be sufficient," replied the High Seeker brusquely and returned to his office. Mr. Crofford hurried off on his errand.

Everyone else stared at what the High Seeker had placed upon the table. It was a pitcher consisting of two connected glass globes, like the top and bottom of a gas lamp. The liquid in the globes eddied like a whirlpool in the ocean. The liquid was green.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle), with an online sample: Green Ruin.

Dec. 21st, 2011

Plus Love (Loren's Lashes; holiday gift story)

Everyone calls her a fag hag. But Gay Pride Day has arrived, and her best friend is about to give her a new name.

"Tell me you're gay!" Gary nearly knocked her to the floor as he scrambled over her. "Please tell me you're gay!"

Oct. 27th, 2010

FIC: On Guard (The Eternal Dungeon) 0/19

"The junior Seeker stood in the entrance, awaiting death."

*Parental supervision is strongly suggested for this story.*

Latest chapter: http://duskpeterson.com/eternaldungeon/#onguard
Full story as part of an e-book: http://duskpeterson.com/books/#eternaldungeon

The remainder of the novel will be serialized in 2011.

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