When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.
What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Cause I’m Leaving, On a Steam Cruise
The clock ticked toward 9 PM entirely too quickly as Ree raced to finish her closing tasks at Café Xombi. She appreciated Charlie giving her the shift, but it was hard to concentrate on overnight baking to-do lists and inventory when she was due in court in an hour. Especially when court meant “facing a deranged Hexomancer bent on murdering your erstwhile mentor and anyone who tries to stop her.”
Fortunately, Ree’s friend Priya was on hand to help keep her grounded. Ree’s worrying mind could focus on talking with Priya, while her productive mind could work down the checklist the way she’d done five hundred times before.
Ree Reyes (Strength 10, Dexterity 14, Stamina 13, Will 18, IQ 16, Charisma 15—Geek 7 / Barista 3 / Screenwriter 3 / Gamer Girl 2 / Geekomancer 2) rolled out a length of plastic wrap over the d6 cupcakes, draped one side over her forearm, pulled the wrap taut, then pulled the other side up, cutting off a perfect square. She tucked the plastic wrap around the sides, careful not to smoosh the icing. It was a delicate art, and one she was glad to have not forgotten. She hadn’t needed to do any baking at Grognard’s, but it’d take longer than eight months for her to lose her edge.
Café Xombi hadn’t changed much in Ree’s absence over the last year. The twenty-by-twenty front room had well-worn tables and seats. Murals and paintings of rocket ships, superheroes, and dragons filled one wall, bookshelves and gaming merch lined the other, and between them, a cashwrap overstuffed with collectible cards and pastries stood right in front of her.
And while Ree worked, Priya talked. Priya Tharakan (Strength 8, Dexterity 13, Stamina 12, Will 15, IQ 17, Charisma 15—Geek 3 / Professional 3 / Seamstress 4 / Steampunk 4 / Goth 2) was in “casual mode,” an earth-toned scarf over a black top and slacks, her duster draped over the one table with chairs not already stacked up for closing time.
“The best thing was the music. Half of the bands were pretty much Mumford with Gears On, but whatever you call them, they were excellent,” Priya said, recounting her time as an invited costuming guest on a Steampunk cruise. “This one band had ten members, including sitar, djembe, and banjo, and they actually had backstory to explain the fusion aspects—they were supposed to be the crew of an airship that traveled the world escorting dirigible freighters.”
“That sounds pretty awesome. Did you grab their album?” Ree asked, dumping out the decaf coffee.
Priya pulled a CD case out of her purse and held it aloft like a prize. “Ta da!”
“Sweet. Can I borrow?”
Priya held the CD out toward Ree, a twinkle in her eye. “Keep it. I figured you’d want a copy, so I got two.”
Ree took the case with excited reverence. “Best friend is best.” The last month had been rough on the finances, hence her needing to take shifts at Café Xombi.
“So you’re headed off to the catering job after this?” Priya asked.
“Yeah. The company has been losing customers, so I really need to take this one, or the boss is likely to write me off.”
“What kind of events do you cater for?” Priya asked.
“Mostly private parties. Tonight is a soiree some muckety-muck lawyer is throwing for her friends and clients,” Ree lied.
Every time Ree had to make shit up to cover for her magical life, it was like walking over burning embers. She’d learned to mute the pain, but it never quite went away. Other than her magic-world associates and her dad, only Anya knew about the magical world. The other two Rhyming Ladies had been kept in the dark to try to minimize risk. The result was . . . messy. Especially with Priya dating Drake Winters, one of Ree’s constant companions in All Things Weird.
“What kind of food did they serve on the cruise?” Ree asked, turning the conversation back around, both so she didn’t have to extend the lie, and because she was genuinely interested. It’d been harder to keep up with the Ladies with her whacky Urban Fantasy life, and Priya had put off an evening of engineering to come hang out, so she should get as much out of the short evening as she could.
Ree crossed a few more tasks off in as Flash-like a fashion as possible while keeping her end of the conversation going, converting nervousness over the coming trial into speedy efficiency. It was better than the alternative, which was to stop long enough to consider the long list of a million and one things that could go wrong at the trial.
After all, it wasn’t often that a member of Pearson’s magical community was tried by her peers in a massive underground cavern decked out like a mash-up of the Goblin Market and the Origins Game Fair. And that was precisely where Ree was headed, as soon as she got the café in ship shape and the clock struck 9.
The cashwrap clock read 8:47.
One thing at a time. Cupcakes first, doom later, Ree thought.
Life since Lucretia d’Fete had ruined Grognard’s Grog and Games with a cascade of Hexomantic curses and several waves of monsters had been, in a word, fucked. Grognard didn’t have the money to pay her for more than about five hours a week, which she spent throwing out trash, making capital repairs, and mourning the tens of thousands of dollars of geeky merchandise that the events of that sucktastic Saturday night had destroyed, throwing an adamantium crowbar in the wheel spokes of her already shaky life.
Priya pulled her back to reality, gushing about the cruise. “And they’ve already asked me back to be a guest on the spring voyage, which is awesome. Being a guest pays a cool grand up front, plus room and board, and the chance to sell my merch and services. Two of these a year and I might be able to hire an assistant for the grunt work! And then I could make enough to finally pay off Vinnie the Student Loan Fairy.”
Ree stopped counting down the drawer, scribbled a note to keep her place, and looked up. “That’s fantastic, Pri. And if you need a charming merch-booth monkey, remember that I happen to love cruises.” Ree punctuated the line with the biggest, most obvious wink she could.
“Yeah, but if you came with me, I’d come around my merch booth to find you playing Pathfinder with all of my customers,” Priya said, referring to the one time (one!) that Ree had run merch for Priya at a totally dead one-day Steampunk con in Pearson.
“Hey, that was one time,” Ree protested. “And that older lady bought a corset.”
“Which was my only sale that day.”
“Yeah, but even the hat and fascinator folks were having a crap day. There was nothing to be done with that festival.”
“As evidenced by the fact that the con was a one-and-done.” Priya packed up her bag.
“Okay, I should probably let you finish up, yeah?”
“Yeah, I’ll need to book it to make the job in time. Thanks for coming by, and remember what I said about the cruise. I could use a vacation.”
Ree scurried out from the cashwrap to give Priya a hug, and then locked the door behind her friend after she left.
Okay, what’s left to do? she asked herself, scanning the room.
Eastwood had asked Ree to make it to market by 9:30, which wasn’t going to happen. She was shooting for 10, and cutting corners wasn’t going to help. Julio Reyes didn’t raise no dumbass, and walking into the Midnight Market to square off against Lucretia at the trial was going to take every single bit of Ree’s Geek-fu, and she wasn’t about to walk in unarmed.
Ree booked it across the U-District, weaving among college students on the early stops of their weekend pub crawls on a sweltering summer night. Someone had scooped up a big bowl of Midwestern summer soup weather and dumped it on Pearson in a flagrant violation of the Pacific Northwest Climate Accord that kept her beloved city free of the kind of miserable humidity she’d learned to despise as a kid.
Adrenaline hurled her up the five floors toward the Shithole, her and Sandra’s apartment. These days, the Shithole was much closer to earning its usually inaccurate name, thanks to Ree and Sandra’s life erupting into matching fail-nados within a week of each other. Sandra’s admin job at the dentist had gone poof when the practice got tanked by a malpractice suit, sending Ree’s roommate back to the job market.
But there was no time to clean now (had there ever been?), so Ree dashed into the bedroom, thankful that Sandra seemed to be out once again. It’d been hard enough to keep her best friend and roommate in the dark over the last year, especially with Anya already knowing about magic and everything, and Priya dating Drake.
The having-a-crush-on-her-friend’s-boyfriend thing didn’t help either, but time was making that piece of angst slightly easier to digest.
Ree had laid out her arsenal on her bed before leaving for work, prepping ahead of time for a quick-change armoring session. Her old boss Bryan had agreed to let her pick up some shifts, as long as she didn’t bring her magical business to Café Xombi. And that included the gear.
Clothes came first. She switched out her black-on-black work garb, stained many times over by frosting, coffee grounds, and steamed milk, and replaced them with her last remaining Urban Fantasy Adventure outfit—black jeans (with only a few tears and holes), black undershirt, the quilted armor of convention shirts Bryan had given her last Halloween, and the magically-always-fitting-and-self-repairing buff jacket Drake Winters had given her on permanent loan. She tied her shoulder-length black hair up and back, pinning it with a Wonder Woman barrette.
She cleaned the shift’s accumulation of crud off her old glasses, catching a quick glimpse in the mirror of how tired she looked. Puerto Rican heritage saved her from taking on the mime-esque chalky paleness that white folks got when they were wrung out, which she was sure she’d have if she’d taken more after her mom’s Irish coloration.
And now the weapons.
Her Force FX lightsaber went from her purse (what Bryan didn’t know couldn’t hurt him) into the outside right pocket of the jacket, along with her Deep Space Nine phaser. She grabbed a rubber-banded stack of cards, flipped through the top to triple-check her selections, and then stuffed the sideboard into her left pocket. Along with those, she pocketed the last handful of health and stamina potions from her copy of Descent, a handful of dice (for ritual miscellany), and an external battery for her phone.
Such were the tools of a Geekomancer. Ree sometimes marveled that it’d only been eight months since she discovered that she had the power to use her love of pop culture to do physics-defying magic, but if ever she needed those skills, tonight was the night. In her hands, the lightsaber and phaser were as real as they were to Luke Skywalker or Benjamin Sisko, brought to life by the collective nostalgia of fans worldwide.
The sideboard of collectible cards gave her access to one-shot effects—one card, one spell. And the phone was her own personal Power Ring, loaded with video playlists organized to grant specific powers. A quick rewatch of the opening to The Matrix could bestow limited Wire-fu, and smiling along with Spider-Man as he webbed his way across the city could make her a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Gal—for a time.
And now it was 9:21. Ree double-checked everything and turned around in place to make really, really sure she wasn’t forgetting a tool or weapon. She retrieved a slice of Turbo’s pie from the fridge to nom along the way, one final power-up for the night’s misadventures.
The doorman at the Midnight Market got obscure on her, which was cute. She didn’t have time for crap, especially considering how many gnomes were still wandering Pearson’s sewers. They’d been stirred up last month and hadn’t settled down.
“What’s the first appearance of Karnak?”
Since she’d used a copy of Fantastic Four #45 just last month during Lucretia’s attack, she rattled off the reference as easily as her phone number.
Three bolts and locks slid open, and Ree entered the Midnight Market, leaving behind the smell of sewage that had gotten entirely too familiar to her this last year.
She nodded to the bald doorman and strode down the hall, which was suspiciously low lit. Was this their version of flying the flag at half-mast? Three of the people who had left Grognard’s that night never made it home: Tomas, Alexi, and Siobhan.
The Midnight Market filled the room, more stalls and booths this month than she’d seen in months. Were they all here for the trial? Ree’d never been to a Pearson Underground trial, though Eastwood and Grognard had gone over the details with her what seemed like a hundred times.
Kiosks, booths, and wandering traders spanned twelve rows deep, hand-painted signs erected at the open walkways between booths. Ree passed comics-backlist sellers, action figure gurus, 3D printers, miniatures sellers, and costumers.
Farther down the lane was her traditional neck of the woods, where Grognard’s cart would be parked at the corner of Geneva and Talsorian. The cart had been lost in one of Ree’s all-too-frequent adventures in the sewer, but the space was still occupied by the man himself. Grognard was dressed in his Saturday best, a stain-free shirt with a leather jacket.
Grognard aka “Just Grognard” (Strength 15, Dexterity 10, Stamina 15, Will 18, IQ 15, Charisma 10—Geek 7 / Collector 4 / Geekomancer 3 / Brewmaster 5) was a living statue of a man, built thick with muscle, head shaved clean. His beard was immaculately kept, and for the first time at market, he was packing. It was a halberd rather than a gun, but considering Grognard topped 6’2” and two hundred fifty pounds, he usually didn’t need anything in the weapons department to feel safe.
Beside him, shifting his weight side to side like a pendulum of nerves, was Eastwood. The former Console Cowboy (Strength 11, Dexterity 14, Stamina 14, Will 18, IQ 18, Charisma 7—Geek 8, Astral Cowboy 4 / Geekomancer 5 / Thunderbolt 2) stood just a few inches taller than Ree, with a well-worn trench coat (yes, even in summer) over a blazer and slacks. Ree’d never seen Eastwood in slacks. He still wore his weapons belt slung low like the Cowboy he had been and remained.
Eastwood had been on edge since that night at Grognard’s, but tonight, he was more put together than she’d ever seen him. His beard was freshly trimmed, his hair shampooed and combed. He looked, frankly, like he was going to court. But he was still off—pale, slightly red around the eyes.
Ree gave the chin nod of companionable silence as she walked up, joining the two men. They returned the nod, and Grognard pulled out a flask from his jacket and held it out to welcome her.
“Care for a sip?”
Ree looked at the flask. “And this is?”
“Critical Hit ale. Figure we can use every bit of help possible.”
“You okay?” Ree asked Eastwood.
Eastwood snorted back snot by way of answer. “No. I caught the frakking flu. I might as well be a snot elemental.” He pulled a handkerchief from his blazer and blew. And kept blowing.
Ree grimaced and took a sip from the flask. She felt the tingling of magic, felt the universe slide into the booth next to her and offer a tipsy high five, saying, You got this! Woo!
Whatever was coming, she felt just a tad more prepared. “Everything set?” she asked.
“As set as it can be,” Grognard said. “Drake’s not here, and neither is Wickham. But Talon, Chandra, Shade, and Uncle Joe are; that’s more than enough testimony to back our story. Plus,” he said, reaching into his jacket again, “we have this.”
The brewmaster pulled out Lucretia d’Fete’s handwritten note that basically admitted her guilt. In a U.S. court, this would be an open-and-shut case. But this was the Underground, and she hadn’t seen thousands of hours of Law & Order: Pearson to give her the confidence of familiarity. She imagined Eastwood and Grognard as cop and lawyer for L&O: Pearson and chuckled.
“What’s that for?” Eastwood asked.
“Just imagining something crazier than our life. Perspective is handy,” she said.
Eastwood sneezed, dramatically undercutting his badass demeanor. “Don’t go daydreaming too much, kid. Eyes on the prize.”
Ree held the flask out toward Eastwood. “You need some of this? Maybe Crit your way out of that flu.”
“I get the vaccines, I take my old-man vitamins, and still, this frelling thing.” Congested, Eastwood’s gruff voice sounded dangerously close to that of a Muppet.
Ree felt the hairs on the back of her neck go up, Spider-sense-style, and she turned to see Lady Lucretia d’Fete walking down the aisle. Lucretia (Strength 9, Dexterity 13, Stamina 11, Will 17, IQ 15, Charisma 14—Strega 9 / Hexomancer 3 / Seamstress 3) held her head high, her makeup perfect, black hair styled in a complicated updo maintained by a half-dozen spikes and needles.
She was followed by Sven Carlssen, her frequent sellsword bodyguard. Sven was loaded down like a warrior in an Obsidian RPG—a half-dozen weapons visible over his coat: bow, crossbow, sword, daggers, another sword, and a fuck-off-size Bat’leth on his back.
If it were anyone else, Ree would snicker at the preposterousness of wearing that many weapons all at once. But she’d crossed blades with Carlssen. If he was wearing all of those weapons, she was betting that he was in a position to use them.
Lucretia walked past the corner of Talsorian and Geneva, head held high, actively refusing to meet Ree’s or her companions’ eyes.
A smart woman would let it sit there, would allow Lucretia to pass without incident.
Ree felt like being dumb. “You ready to take a fall, Lucy? NordicTrack here isn’t going to save you from the long arm of geek law.”
A hand gripped her arm, squeezing ever so slightly too tight. It was Grognard. She restrained a snarl and watched Lucretia miss half a step, the comment slipping past the woman’s cool demeanor like a dagger under the folds of plate.
That won’t be the only sting tonight—you can bet your ass, sister, Ree thought, tossing her angry thoughts at the Strega.
“Harassing her isn’t going to help our case,” Grognard said.
“Yeah, but we were all thinking that, right?” Ree looked to her boss and her former mentor. Both shrugged, grinning.
“That’s what I thought.”
And so they went to court.