In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for…
Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor’s prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares. Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen.
The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron.
Across town, Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating the stolen book may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon realizes the book may be a fabled text written by the Creator Himself, tracking the nine human subjects of His Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity.
Rowena and her companions become the target of conspirators who seek to use the book for their own ends. But how can this unlikely team be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen when the book reveals a secret no human was meant to know?
If Loose Change gets your interest, make sure you check out the first book in the brand new Thieves of Fate series, The Nine.
“A set of balances,” Rowena suggested to her brother Jorrie’s retreating backside.
He glanced back over his shoulder to answer, but had to stop and dance around an old woman who had stopped walking suddenly in the middle of the lane. Her clockwork parcel cart had gone from obediently clacking along ahead of her to juddering uselessly in place, shedding tiny wrapped packages off its overflowing top like a lanyani dropping its leaves.
Jorrie tossed his mop of untidy dark curls and snorted. Rowena jogged round the cart’s other side, shouldering past two longshoremen who smelled as if they’d gotten a good start on celebrating Unification. She had to almost double her usual stride length to keep up with her brother. She was short enough for a ten year old. Jorrie had a good five years on her and seemed determined to shoot up like a weed even if the meals served in the courier loft of New Vraska Imports seemed specifically designed to starve them down to skeletons.
“Give it up, Rowie,” he sighed. “Mama doesn’t care about Unification Day. I doubt she even knows it’s tomorrow. S’not like they pass out datebooks for the residents down in Oldtemple.”
The residents. Rowena jammed her hands in the pockets of her coat. Well, that’s one way of thinking of folk in debtors’ prison.
Jorrie gave Rowena’s shoulder a quick whack. She glared at him, then noticed him casting eyes all around the crowd of the Shipman’s Bazaar.
“Mind yourself,” he murmured, nodding meaningfully at her hands thrust sullenly out of view.
Rowena sighed and unpocketed her fists. Jorrie was right, of course. Wearing a coat on a warm, sunny Fivemonth day, spring already making way for summer, looked suspicious. It ought to. But Rowena wore it as close to year-round as appearances and the climate would tolerate, for it was shot through with pockets and nooks perfect for secreting certain. . . spontaneous acquisitions.
“You should’ve left that thing back at the loft.”
Rowena lifted her chin defiantly. “If I had I wouldn’t’ve knicked a purse, a chronometer, and a bracelet already, would I?”
“You’re supposed to be coming back to the warehouse from your last delivery,” Jorrie snapped.
“An’ we’re supposed to be paying down Mama’s debt and the keeping fees, too. Last I checked, Ivor en’t paying us enough that we even get meat at suppertime, so you’ll excuse me if I get a little creative.”
“Don’t matter if I excuse you. The gendarme surely won’t.”
“They en’t ever caught you.”
Jorrie glared down at her. Was she imagining it, or was his face a bit flushed? Piqued, Rowena supposed. Or tired out by the long walk down from Uptown. At least he wasn’t coughing. His cough had been coming in and out for a tenday. Maybe it was finally done for good.
“Rowie,” Jorrie said, “don’t go by my example. It’s one thing if one of us gets collared, but if we’re both shipped out to the hulks to tap out pipes and gears for the city, who’ll take care of Mama? She needs you.”
Rowena pouted. “She needs a Unification Day present.”
They squeezed past a queue of shoppers clogging up the cobblestone lane outside Berkshire’s Theosophical Supply. Rowena pointed at it, as if those dozens of people cramming into the shop proved her whole point.
“Getting a scientifical-type present is how you do Unification Day. Hundreds of years now, ever since the Ecclesiastical Commission got started, putting religion in order with science and all that. It’s tradition. Everybody does it, Jor.”
“Everybody who has money.”
“Didn’t I just tell you I’ve got –”
“Shh.” Jorrie was never harsh with Rowena — there were more than enough other folks in their lives willing to take on that job, seemingly for sport. But he took steering her clear of trouble deadly serious. They’d passed far enough from the main throng of bazaar shoppers and shopfront browsers for a harsh whisper to carry between them. “So give her the bracelet, if you’re so keen.”
“I en’t a stupid. The turnkey’ll know I knicked it from somewhere. He’ll just take it for himself.”
“And he won’t take a stupid set of balances or whatever?”
“No, because the city’ll be lousy with ‘em and it won’t fetch him any better price, with nobody looking for ‘em secondhand. C’mon, Jor. On birthdays we pay fees down double. On Da’s. . .you know. . .we get her a new shift. We en’t ever done a Unification Day gift for her, and I want to. It’d be –” Rowena trailed off.
Jorrie had stopped walking, tucking himself up against a secondhand store’s awning pole. She stopped, too. She didn’t have to finish the sentence. It ended the way every conversation about Mama ended.
It’d be normal.
“I’ve been saving a bit extra lately,” he said, at last. Jorrie scuffed the stoop with his boots. “Three clink, all in halfers and quarters.”
Rowena’s heart skipped. Then she studied his expression — its utter sheepishness — and frowned. “It. . . it wasn’t for Oldtemple, what you saved?”
The flush was back, fiercer now. Jorrie turned to the side and hacked into his elbow. Four times, loudly. Something in the cough sounded wrong. Wetter, maybe, than before? So much for it being gone.
“I was thinking of getting Bess a compass,” he said, once his breath was back. “On a chain, like you see ladies wear sometimes.”
The heat rose to Rowena’s cheeks, too, then. She waited for a fresh coughing fit to pass before socking Jorrie in the arm. It seemed fairer. He jerked back, gaping woundedly, and knew better than to protest. Rowena Downshire might need protecting from the world, according to her big brother, but he knew enough to recognize when he needed protecting from her.
“Beatrice Earnshaw,” Rowena said through gritted teeth, “en’t your mother. Bad as things are for us up in Ivor’s courier loft, they’re a damn sight better than what Mama’s got. Let Bess buy herself a stupid compass on a chain or a doohickey on a whatsiss. Three clink pays a whole month of keeping in Oldtemple!”
Jorrie put up his hands, ready to fend off another blow. “Bess gave me those wood carving knives for my birthday. I en’t ever given her anything worth so much.”
Rowena put her fists on her hips. “Oh, I can hear you an’ her when you think I’m asleep and Mick’s off on a job. Seems to me you’ve given her plenty lately.”
“Rowena Downshire, you watch your –”
“Hey now! What’s doing here?”
Brother and sister froze at once, the whipcrack tone of a gendarme on patrol icing the air between them. Rowena turned and dropped a superfluous curtsey. Jorrie put a hand on her shoulder and ushered her behind him, ignoring her chirp of protest.
“Nothing, officer,” he said. Rowena had to admire the easy cheerfulness of his voice. Jorrie rubbed his neck, shrugging with an embarrassment that couldn’t be altogether feigned. “She’s giving me the piss about what I mean to buy my girl for the holiday. Sisters, you know? Full of opinions.”
Rowena put her heel into the toe of Jorrie’s boot and gave it all her weight. He buried his wince in an affable smirk, pinching her ferociously behind his back. It brought tears to Rowena’s eyes, and she might have laughed if the duck-footed gendarme wasn’t keeping a hand on the truncheon at his belt.
“Lot of shoppers coming through,” the officer said, scowling. He jutted a badly-shaved chin toward the secondhand shop’s stoop. “No loitering in dooryards, eh?”
“Yessir. ‘Course. Bless the Proof this Unification, sir.”
The gendarme muttered something back that seemed as likely to have been a curse as a blessing and ambled off, his already sour expression curdling into a ripe cheese at the scrum opening up outside Berkshire’s down the lane.
They waited a moment, then Jorrie turned round, prying his foot free of Rowena’s grinding heel. “Bloody Reason, you could lay off a bit,” he groused.
“I’ll give you the bracelet for Bess,” Rowena blurted. “And the chronometer, too, if you want it for yourself. But please, if I can have your three clink, it’ll make all the difference.”
Jorrie sighed. Slowly, a smile stole its way up his face, dimpling his cheeks. “Keep the chronometer. Maybe if you give it to Mama’s turnkey he’ll lay off a bit this month.”
“Don’t buy a set of balances. She’s got nothing to mass out but filthy straw anyhow.”
Rowena nodded. “I’ll give Bess the money and she can pick something up from the Alchemist at Westgate Bridge. En’t she going to the Stone Scales for a delivery today? I’ll just tell her to get something with the money that would suit. It’d be easy.”
“She won’t do it,” said Jorrie. “You know why.”
Rowena did, of course. Bess always came back from her trips to the Alchemist’s shop looking white as an air-galleon’s sweeps. She didn’t like to talk about the dusty old dispensary or its dark, silent proprietor. It was about all she could do to walk in the door and hand off one of Ivor’s packages full of Reason-knew-what. Rowena wasn’t sure she could do the job herself, put in Bess’ place. What kind of a man was known by every soul in a city, and still didn’t have a name?
A witch, she considered. If there was any truth to the rumors, the Stone Scales might be the last place anyone looking to give tribute to the power of Reason and Science over superstition would go.
“Well,” Rowena said brightly. “How about this place? They’ve got to have something.”
Jorrie studied the cramped display window and the tarnished array of laboratory implements set out on its sill. Gently Used, the notices propped among the Bunsens and calipers and slide rules proclaimed.
The Downshires shared a sideways glance, their skepticism beyond words.
“It’s a start,” Jorrie conceded. “C’mon.”
He opened the door. Together, they passed under the swinging shop-bell.
Rowena took hold of Jorrie’s hand. He squeezed it once, hard, and then pulled it back to tamp a fresh cough down with a fist.
Maybe the shopkeep knows a pharmacist, Rowena thought. Coughing draughts weren’t so costly, if you bought them from the right sort of physick and weren’t too picky about their taste.
I’ll buy him a tonic and Mama a locket with a theorem in it, or maybe a few brass weights in a trinket bag.
Everything would be fine, Rowena Downshire told herself. Jorrie was right.
It’s a start.
Meet Tracy Townsend!
Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the past chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she presently teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband.
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