QSFer Nita Round has a new FF steampunk/gaslamp fantasy out, The Evie Chester Files book two: “Sirens and Syphons.”
A tormented past, a demon, and a death foretold.
Evie no longer a slave, is haunted by her past. Her saviour Hesta Bethwood, who granted her freedom, wants to embark on a joint venture to set up an academy for the gifted.
During a demonstration of mesmerism, they witness a demon possession. The demon aware of their presence, seeks them out. When Evie and Hesta seek advice from a wise witch, a death is foretold. Together they must face the demon; failure will mean loss of freewill that Evie holds so dear. Can they both survive the demon encounter, or will the foretold death prevail.
Evie Chester wrapped her icy fingers around her cup of tea and stared into the flames of the kitchen stove. Her thoughts were a jumble. Not so long ago, less than three weeks before, she’d been a slave, locked in an old and rundown stable at the back of her owner’s property. Beaten, starved, abused, and forced to use her gift to heal anyone who paid. Her life had not been a good one, and she’d believed such was to be her lot in life.
Until two women from the Order, a part of Veritas Traders had rescued her. Freedom hadn’t lasted long, though, and her owner, Godwyn Bethwood, had found her. Once caught he’d put her in chains again, and treated her like the slave she was—only worse.
Until it all changed, and in some inexplicable twist of fate, she’d regained her freedom for the second time in her life. This freedom, though, took some getting used to.
In the corner of the room, Agatha Hickman, Evie’s landlady and one of the few people she could call a friend, sat in her usual chair with the day’s broadsheet spread across her knees.
“It’s been two weeks since the Bethwoods released you, Evie. Are you ever going to leave the house at all?” Agatha asked.
Evie shook her head. “What if it’s all a ruse and they capture me again? They call me a Syphon now, whatever that means, and my gifts are too valuable for them to let me go that easily.”
“Don’t be silly, Evie. Hesta let you go and promised that no one would bother you. You’ll never have to deal with the Bethwoods again, not if you don’t want to.”
“But Hesta might need me again,” Evie said. Whenever she thought of Hesta, she couldn’t forget the one and only time they’d met. Hesta had been struck mute by the touch of a demon. Evie had not only healed her, but had destroyed the demon.
“She can go to hell after all the trouble they put you through,” Agatha said.
“She’s a Siren, cursed by demons from hell. I think I’d do pretty much anything to cure myself, too.”
“But they bought Gifted slaves as though people can be compared to a prescription from the pharmacy. That is no way to go about curing a problem.”
“But—” Evie started.
“No buts Evie, they never had the right to do what they did. To anyone. Those Bethwoods think they own the city.” With an impressive amount of noise, Agatha shook the paper and refolded it. “Enough of them. How’s Florie doing now that she’s not a slave anymore?”
Evie snorted. “She loves her freedom and her work at the theatre. Lighting the lamps and making special effects for the audience appeals to her. She’s only a child, after all.”
“She’s a young woman, or as near as,” Agatha said.
“Then she is catching up with the delights of bright lights and fun. More importantly, they welcome her gift as a firestarter.”
“Then you should take a leaf out of her book and enjoy your freedom,” Agatha said.
“While it lasts?”
“Such a cynic. There are no guarantees for anything in life. Make the most of what you can.”
“You’re right. Now I’m free I’ll need to find some sort of work.”
“When Hesta released you, she gave you enough money to be comfortable for several months, Evie. There’s no need to fret about that just yet.”
“True enough, and Florie is earning her own money at the theatre to pay for her own room. We should be able to manage for a little while.”
“That’s better. Be positive,” Agatha said.
“And thank you for providing us with a home.”
Agatha smiled. “My pleasure, but you are both paying your way, so that’s no hardship.”
“What’s going on in the world today?” Evie asked, to change the subject.
“Well. It says that they have found the city governor guilty of corruption, as if we needed a newspaper to tell us that.” Agatha shook her head. “Anyway, his position and title are up for the usual political shenanigans. In the docklands, the ship builder Iskabard Speare has landed a contract for thirty small airships. He has a new design for small cargo vessels and now they think he’s a hero or something.”
“That’s a lot of ships, lots of jobs to go around.”
“And the headline’s a doozy.” “Oh?”
“Yes, indeed,” Agatha said. “It says a gifted slave gets to go free after kissing a theatre star.”
Evie looked up, and even with the heat of the stove, she could feel her cheeks warming up with embarrassment. “No, it doesn’t say that.”
“You’re right, it doesn’t. It says something far more interesting.”
“Well, don’t keep me guessing!”
Agatha folded the paper so Evie could see the headline and waved it in front of her. “Read it yourself.”
At that, Evie sighed. “I can’t read.”
“I thought not. Do you want to?”
“It would help, probably.”
“Then I’ll teach you to read. An hour or two every day will be enough, especially since you refuse to go outside.”
Evie laughed. She didn’t laugh much, but then, the notion that she could express herself without repercussion took time to sink in. “We’ll see.”
“Anyway, the headlines are unimportant,” Agatha said. “The interesting articles are inside and hidden under the corruption stories.” She turned the folded paper over in her hand and opened it to the relevant section. “On page nine is a minor piece, no more than a few inches of story, really.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense!” As Evie spoke, a loud knocking at the front door interrupted their discussion.
“Who can that be?” Agatha asked.
“No idea,” Evie replied, but she was already on her feet and backing into the corner.
“It’s all right, I’ll see to it,” Agatha said. In spite of her fears, when Agatha left the room, Evie followed her to the front of the house and watched as she opened the door.
A tall man stood outside. He wore a dark suit with a matching cap and a small embroidered badge on his jacket lapel. In his hand he carried three parcels.
“Yes?” Agatha asked.
The man smiled. “Good day to you. I have a delivery for Evie Chester.”
Agatha turned around and, at the sight of Evie just a little further down the hallway, she waved her over. “You’ve got a delivery.”
Evie didn’t get any closer to the door. “Thank you, leave it at the door.”
The man continued to grin as he placed the boxes on the doorstep. He raised his cap, and said, “Many thanks and a good day to you both.” He turned away, closed the front gate behind him, and strode off down the street without a second glance.
Agatha grabbed the parcels and dragged them into the house. “Well, give me a hand, Evie. No one is here now.”
“But they know.”
“They’ve known ever since young Florie went out to the theatre. Them theatre people don’t have the capacity to keep information to themselves.”
“You’re right, but when they understand what I am, nothing will be the same again,” Evie said.
“Worry about that bridge when you get to the river. Meanwhile, give me a hand.”
Evie helped Agatha bring the boxes into the kitchen. The boxes weren’t that big, but all together they amounted to quite a weight, and even though Evie had used her gifts to make Agatha’s old knees feel better, she wasn’t that strong. It was too much for Agatha alone.
Evie put the largest box on the table. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Wrapped in thick brown paper and tied with plenty of sisal string, the first was the size of a shirt box and only a little deeper.
Agatha looked on as Evie cut the wrapping string, carefully removed the wrappings, and opened the box. “Look at these things—a tin of pink tea and a tin of black tea, sugar, cheese crackers, and other food. Well, Evie, someone wants to spoil you. Is there a card or something to say who it is from?”
Evie shook her head. “It’s a nice addition to our pantry.”
“Of course, our pantry. I like staying here, and I can’t expect you to supply everything, so this can be my contribution.”
“That’s not necessary. You pay for board and lodgings, you need not add more.”
“Need, no. But I want to,” Evie said as she put the box on the floor and turned her attention to the next one. It was half the size of the larger one, slimmer too, and when she opened it, she found a red box with a flip lid. She flipped the lid and looked inside.
Agatha gasped. “Chocolate! Oh my, that’s a luxury and a half. A month’s wages, at least. I think you have a suitor, Miss Chester. Well, I never. You kept that very quiet.”
Heat rose in Evie’s cheeks. “I’ve no idea who sent this. My social circle is mostly slaves, and they’d be hard-pressed to provide a non-stale slice of bread.”
Agatha handed Evie the last of her packages. It was much smaller and thinner than the others. “Maybe this one will have a card included,” she said.
“Even if it does, that’s not much use to me,” Evie said.
“Open it up, girl, and let’s see what it is. Maybe it’ll give you the name of your suitor.”
Inside were a couple of items, including a decorative greeting card. She handed that one to Agatha. “It’s a thank-you card.” “Who from?” Evie asked.
“It says, ‘Thank you for everything, and most of all thank you for my voice. I’m forever in your debt. If there is anything you need, contact me. Kindest wishes, and I hope we can meet again. Eternally yours, Hesta Estrallia.’”
Agatha stared at the card. “It sounds sincere. And she has spent an impressive amount.”
“It’s just money to them,” Evie said. She held in her hand another card. White, and covered with a floral script. She handed that one to Agatha as well.
“Hesta has invited you to afternoon tea at Jacobs Tea House, the finest tea house in all of Bristelle.”
“Tomorrow at two of the clock,” Agatha said. “Will you go?”
“I’m not sure. What do you think?”
“I think you might like to see what she has to say. If she’d intended any trouble, she’d have done it already. After all, it would be easier here than at such a fine tea house where people could see.”
Nita has written all her life, whether short stories, games scenarios or novels. She loves to write about strong female characters, fantasy and speculative fiction. When not working, she is an avid gamer, she escapes to any world, any format, any console, and any time. She also plays Role Play Games (AD&D, Werewolf, Cthulhu) and is sadistic enough to be the dungeon master on occasion. Other interests include: visiting cemeteries for gothic inspiration, cooking (a skill inherited from a family of chefs), making damson gin, and of course tasting it. You have to make sure it is fit for consumption.