Head Full of Fog

Foggy. That's how it was was when I took the picture above.

Foggy is also how I feel today. It's as if the fog in the photo didn't burn away in the morning sun, but retreated into the vast empty space between my ears instead.

Which means I should probably shut up and let my characters do the talking today. They are, after all, usually far more clever and amusing than I am anyway. 

Favorite Character Quotes

"Deception wears many masks. Take care to remove them all, should you undertake to see the face of truth."
-- Wistril the Wizard, from Wistril Compleat.

"The stuff of legends is nothing but trouble to the persons unfortunate enough to make them. On the whole, I’d rather have been off fishing.”
-- Tim the Horsehead, from All the Paths of Shadow

"You know you're having a bad day when vampires drop by to chat and you're pleased by the sudden distraction."
-- Markhat, from Hold the Dark

"I don’t believe in ghosts. Except when I do."
-- Markhat, from The Five Faces

“If I were privy to the secrets of Creation, I’d kill your ass where you stand. But I know about the arcane seasons.” I put my gun down on the table and forced myself to sit. “So you’re the god of chance. Nice to meet you. Hope you die screaming real soon.”
-- Markhat, The Five Faces

“It’s not much of a universe these days. If it unravels, so be it. Let the gods amuse themselves with an eternity of vacuum.” Her eyes took back their old steel. “What sort of a surprise do you have in mind, Captain?”
-- Stitches, The Five Faces

Sneak Peek: The Darker Carnival

I'll close tonight with the first few pages of the new Markhat book, which is so new it's still under consideration with the publisher. But I don't think they'll mind if I post the opening here.

So, here it is, the world premiere, so to speak, of the latest Markhat adventure, The Darker Carnival!


My body lay sleeping, snug in my bed, but I walked the woods far away.

Once upon a time, I’d have called my walk a dream. Called it a dream and dismissed it with a laugh, if I acknowledged it at all. 

Once upon a time, I'd been a damned fool.

I’ve grown far too intimate with magic, though. First I told the huldra my name, let it sneak into my heart when I thought Darla dead, when rage drove me to throw away my soul for a whispered promise of vengeance. Then I’d walked with the huldra, cloaked in its dark sorceries, spilled blood while it rode me and took root.

I’ve dreamed with the Corpsemaster. Danced with things Hag Mary dredged up from some timeless deep. Stepped out of time itself, seeing this tired old world through a banshee's ageless eyes. I’ve brushed up against so many dark and deadly powers even the Corpsemaster and her kin can no longer see the truth of the stains the old magics have left.

So when I found myself striding through the night, with the mightiest and oldest of the forest oaks brushing my knees, I knew damned well it was no mere dream.

I was outside Rannit’s walls, well south of the city. The Brown River lay like a silver ribbon in the moonlight on my left. The low hills the Regent recently clear-cut to make ties for his new railroad shone bare and ravaged at my feet.

I walked, three hundred feet tall, now and then, but I did not walk alone.

The slilth ambled along at my side, its flexible clockwork legs coiling and curving in the moonlight, each leg a narrow shaft of quicksilver glinting in the night. It made no noise as it walked, not so much as a whisper, its legs slipping between bough and branch as deftly as a dancer’s, and as light.

The slilth has no face, no body, no head. It is merely a gaggle of legs which hold aloft a smooth, featureless ovoid lacking eyes, ears, or any visible orifices at all.

Stitches the sorceress claims the slilth to be an ancient construct of immense and irresistible power. 

It dipped its ovoid head at me, as if in silent recognition, and together we crossed the river, one step, two steps, three.

The barren hills lay below us, scraps of bare timber and freshly wounded earth all that remained of the ancient forests. 

The slilth paused, turning its eyeless face this way and that across the midnight sky. Then it diminished in stature, until its silver not-face barely peeked above the closest hill.

I followed suit, shrinking myself, fixing my eyes on the spot I judged the slilth to be watching. We waited together in silence.

An hour passed. The slilth, ever silent, raised a delicate silver tendril toward the east, and it was then I saw the first balloon.

The first, and the next, and the next, sailing in line as if tethered. They floated out of the night, soaring high, but dropping until I saw the lanterns that hung like yellow-gold jewels on the cables that held them together.

Five balloons, then ten, then another and another and another. Thirteen in all, each larger than the last, all lit by cautious lanterns.

I didn’t hear the mastodons until they came charging over the crest of the nearest hill. A line of the brutes three strong appeared, and the tread of their furry tree-trunk feet shook the ground beneath me.

The beasts wore enormous yokes, from which ropes rose up, vanishing into the night.

“So that’s how they do it,” I said, to my silent silver friend.  

The slilth made no acknowledgement. The mastodons thundered down the hill, shouldering aside the few bent saplings the lumberjacks had spared. 

A trumpet blew, and the furry beasts came to a halt. They stood swaying, tusks worrying the ground, snuffling and stomping and head-butting, but remaining more or less in place.

The stink of them washed over me, dream-state or not. I pushed it aside with a casual tug at the shadows that hid me.

The balloons bobbed into sight above us. Trumpets sounded in the sky, were answered by ones on the ground. Ropes fell. Men shouted. More horns blew.

The slilth dipped a silver tendril down and scribbled in the mud left by the lumber-jacks and their wagons. The pattern the slilth traced out was foreign, alien, a thing that wasn’t quite letters and wasn’t quite a drawing and wasn’t quite a warning, but something in the sweep and swoop of the lines it drew in the moonlight sent shivers up and down my fifty-foot spine.

The first two balloons touched down. Men leapt from the boat-shaped baskets, swarming about like ants, driving stakes and casting lines and making them fast.

A mastodon raised its trunk and trumpeted. Soon, its fellows joined it in a primal, ancient roar.

The slilth never made a sound. But the tone of its silence changed, in some subtle sense my slow poisoning by magic allowed me to discern.

The slilth’s not-words, had they been spoken, would have been something very much akin to ‘here we go again.’

I cussed.

The slilth’s scribblings flared, as if each furrow was filled with oil and set suddenly alight. Just as I was about to make out the meaning of the spiraling lines my fool body woke and my wandering spirit fell headlong into it as the slilth  absently waved goodbye.