Welcome to my New Releases update for June 2015! The third and final book in my Codex Antonius series, Muses of the Republic, came out this month, plus some more cool happenings below.
In this update:
- Muses of the Republic released
- Entire Codex Antonius series in one ebook
- Short stories on Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
- Excerpt from Muses of the Republic
The third and final volume of my Codex Antonius series, Muses of the Republic, was published this month, and I couldn’t be more excited about this one. It’s loaded with space battles, Roman political intrigue, shifting alliances, and the final confrontation between Marcus Antonius Cordus and the sentient Muse virus.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT: You may want to skip to the next section in this newsletter if you haven’t yet read Muses of Terra.]
Here’s the blurb:
Having saved Terra from annihilation, Marcus Antonius Cordus is awarded something he fought his whole life to avoid: the Consulship of the Roman Republic.
Cordus’s only joy comes from his secret relationship with Aquilina Servilia, his Praetorian Prefect and the woman who coaxed him out of hiding to save Terra. But he worries that her quest for revenge on the factions that murdered her mother, Roma’s dictator before Cordus, will upend the delicate political balance he’s built to keep Roma from another civil war.
So when a dire warning comes that the sentient alien Muse virus that once infected his family has now infected the Zhonguo Sphere’s emperor, Cordus jumps at the chance leave the viper pit of Roman politics. Faced with imminent Zhonguo invasion, he decides to lead a team of Praetorians, rogues, and Zhonguo defectors to the Muse home world to destroy the Muse strains once and for all.
But the Muses have plans of their own, and their carefully laid traps ensnare Cordus at every turn. Can he save the Republic when the Muses force him to choose between his duty as Consul, his loyalty to his friends, and his love for Aquilina?
Missing the previous two volumes in the Codex Antonius? Now you can get all three volumes (Muses of Roma, Muses of Terra, and Muses of the Republic) in one low-priced ebook available exclusively on Amazon Kindle.
No Kindle? No problem. Download the free Kindle app to your smart phone or computer.
I’m so thrilled to have two of my short stories published on Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show fiction web site. Both are fantasies about a magus from an alternate 21st century who's magically transported to 6 BC Rome against his will.
“The Oath-Breaker’s Daemon” was published in the March 2015 issue, and “The Cloaca Maxima” was published in the June 2015 issue. Check ‘em out; I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.
Roma sickened Deshi Ku.
He sat in the Colosseum Maximus among a crowd of 80,000 roaring, drunken spectators watching golem cohorts beat and hack at each other with ancient swords and axes. The Colosseum was open-air, and despite the dark sky above the holo projections, the mid-summer day’s heat had not yet lifted off the city. Sweat clung to his chest and back, making his light cotton tunic stick to his torso. The peppery scents of spilled posca mixed with the sweetness of roasted almonds and stale body odors of the screaming Romans, creating a miasma within the Colosseum that he could not escape.
The crowed erupted when the holos above the arena replayed a golem’s partial decapitation. The golem’s head flopped on its neck, yellow golem blood spraying from the wound, before the opposing golem gave it another chop with its ax. The head spun through the air and landed on the arena’s blood-soaked dirt. The holo-monitors shifted to the dead golem’s driver on the sidelines as he ripped off his control visor and threw it to the ground. Parts of the crowd rained down jeers and whistles at the driver, while others cheered the opposing golem, whose driver made it raise its ax and issue a triumphant howl to its adoring fanatics.
Nothing spoke to the moral and degenerate nature of the Daqin character than these gladiator games. But Deshi cheered just as raucously as the partisans around him. He had to blend in with the mob and could not afford to stand out.
For he had come to Roma to kill an emperor, and the less attention he brought to himself the better.
He glanced at the empty seat next to him and suppressed a frown. The Umbra Ancile was late. He had no idea what the Ancile looked like, but his Umbra contact on Pan Ch’ao said the Ancile would be carrying a posca cup in the right hand and an eel skewer in the left. The Ancile would sit down next to Deshi, take a bite of the eel, grimace, then say, “Overdone as usual.” Deshi would then say, “The Onion Seller Tavern on Via Carbo makes the best eel skewers in Human Space.” The Ancile would turn to him and say, “A bold boast. Let us test it after the match.” They would then leave the arena together and the Ancile would give Deshi what he needed to infiltrate Roma’s Consular Palace.
But the match was almost over, and the Ancile had not arrived.
The crowd roared around him again, many standing and jeering. Deshi watched the holo replay above. The Greeks had regained the offensive by flanking the Roman archers and skewering them with long spears. Deshi pretended to be just as disgusted with the turn of events as the people around him, though he knew from his history that the Romans had routed the Greeks in this battle. The rout would come later, however, after the fictional drama of a last stand rallied the Romans to victory. The Daqin didn’t care for accuracy in their games, only a good show.
Arms suddenly wrapped around Deshi’s neck from behind. He was about to throw the assailant over his shoulder, but a soft female voice said in his ear, “Darling, so sorry I’m late. The Suburba traffic was absolute murder.”
Deshi turned around to see a woman with Roman features—dark hair, olive skin, brown eyes—smiling apologetically. She was attractive, and wore a tightfitting half-tunic, a single strap over her right shoulder with the red and gold colors of the Daqin century battling on the arena floor. Her half-dress showed her tan legs. Many of the men surrounding Deshi gave the woman appraising glances and outright stares.
Deshi had never seen her before in his life.
She moved around him and sat in the seat beside him. She gave him a wink and asked, “What did I miss?”
Deshi tried not to let his confusion show. Was this his Ancile contact…or a Praetorian agent trying to draw him out? Or was this just some confused woman who mistook Deshi for someone else? There were not many Zhonguo in Roma—or on all of Terra—so it was unlikely she had confused him with her lover.
That left one of the first two options.
“The caccing Greeks have turned the battle,” Deshi said in Latin with an Aventine Hill accent, pretending to care about the match. “We had them surrounded!”
She patted his arm. “Darling, you know that Romans always win. It will turn out fine. Besides,” she said, looking at him from beneath her long eyelashes, “I know how to make you forget all about the match if it should not end to your liking.” She ran her fingernails lightly along his forearm to emphasize her point.
“I think I’ve already forgotten,” Deshi said with a grin. “Let’s leave now.”
She affected disappointment. “I just got here! And all those sesterces you spent on the tickets—”
“You can make it up to me later,” Deshi said, standing. He held his hand out to her, and she took it with a coy smile. Deshi pretended not to notice the jealous stares and knowing leers from the men around him.
Deshi and the woman held hands but walked wordlessly through the concourse’s bustling crowds. When they exited the arena and onto the Via Claudia, Deshi said, “Let’s get dinner first. The Onion Seller Tavern on the Via Carbo makes the best eel skewers in Human Space.”
The woman wrinkled her nose. “I hate eel. How about we—”
In one smooth motion, Deshi pulled the woman’s hand and swung her around into a dark alleyway off the sidewalk. He put one forearm to her neck and pressed his body against hers so that she couldn’t get away.
“I said,” he snarled, “‘the Onion Seller Tavern on the Via Carbo makes the best eel skewers in Human Space.’ Your response was not correct.”
“Gods,” she said, rolling her eyes, “you Zhonguo have no sense of humor. Passwords and all that spy cac are so twenty years ago. I know who you are and you know who I am, so why don’t we—”
Deshi pushed his forearm into the woman’s throat. Her eyes widened. “Give me the response or I break your neck.”
“Fine,” she gasped. “After you release me.”
“Why should I release you?”
“Because I can neuter you and drain your life with a twitch. And I get twitchy when someone is choking me.”
Deshi then felt a small blade press against the left side of his groin where his femoral artery pulsed. The woman’s steady gaze held his as she waited for his next move.
Deshi pulled his forearm away from the woman’s throat. She lessened the blade’s pressure against his groin. Deshi then stepped back away from the blade, but stood between her and the alley’s exit, her only escape route.
I am a Divine Rider of the Zhonguo Sphere, trained from birth to kill Daqin and all other enemies of the Zhonguo. She will not leave this alley alive if she is my enemy.
“The response,” Deshi growled.
“First I say, ‘The eel is overdone as usual.’ Then you say, ‘Let’s go to the Onion Seller Tavern on Via Carbo for the best eel in Human Space.’ Then I say, ‘A bold boast. Let us test it after the match.’ Or something to that effect. Are you happy, or are you going to break my neck now?”
Deshi studied the woman, his trained eyes ignoring her outfit and exposed skin, which were meant to distract. She still held the small knife in her right hand and maintained a stance that told Deshi she knew how to fight. She also gave him an appraising look, ready to counter any move he made toward her.
“You were late,” he said.
“I told you, darling. Traffic,” she said. She slipped the knife into a pocket in her half-skirt. The pocket had no seams, and Deshi could barely make out the impression of the knife against her thigh. "Since you're so eager to get down to business, do you want to make the trade here?" She wrinkled her nose at their surroundings. "Or somewhere a little less dank."
Deshi eyed her again. “You have the items with you?” It seemed to Deshi there was no place on her meager clothing where she could store the items she was supposed to give him.
She sniffed. “I’m numina, remember?”
She reached behind her neck with both hands as if to adjust her hair and pulled her scalp and facial skin down over her head to reveal a different woman. The new face was dark-skinned with short, curly, black hair. Her smile seemed the same as the Daqin woman she had been projecting moments before—playful and confident.
She removed the hood from her head and then tossed it to Deshi. He caught it in one hand and studied it. It was a silvery, elastic mesh now that it was separated from the Ancile. The disguise of the Liberti numina, Deshi thought. What the Sphere could have done if it had this technology.
“And the codes?” Deshi asked, still staring at the hood.
“You’ll get them when we enter the palace.”
Deshi gave her a sharp look. “We?”
The Ancile put her hands on her hips, regarding him like his nurse maid did when he was a child in the Imperial Gardens. “Yes, we. You didn’t think Umbra would give you its tech without ensuring we get it back, did you? Gods, you’re lucky I haven’t killed you already for seeing it. It’s what we did in the old days, you know.”
Deshi stared at the Ancile trying to control the cold anger filling him. “I am not meant to survive this mission. It must be me alone who does this thing.”
The Ancile barked a laugh. “I don’t care if you survive or not, so long as I get my hood back. Those things are hard to come by. I’ll pull if off your gutted body if that makes you happy. Now either I go with you or no codes. What’ll it be, my eel-loving friend?”
Deshi wanted to toss the hood back at the Ancile and walk away. He should not have to deal with these Umbra Ancilia, the bastard cousins of the Daqin. He was a Divine Rider of the Zhonguo Sphere, a proud brotherhood that had kept the Zhonguo people free from Daqin machinations and pogroms. The Daqin drove the Zhonguo people from their ancestral homeland in Terra’s eastern Asia four hundred years ago and now sought to enslave the Zhonguo all over again. The Zhonguo have built a strong nation among the stars on our own, Deshi fumed. I should not have to beg the Liberti to help me defend my people!
He stared at the Ancile, who continued to stare back at him. He had not responded to her in several seconds, but she waited patiently for his answer. Could he trust bringing along this woman whom he did not know? He worked alone; when he did work with a team, it was with other Divine Riders he knew and trusted, and after they had trained for the mission. They understood each other’s skills and complimented each other.
He was well aware of the Umbra Ancilia’s reputation; in most cases, it was hard to separate the mythology from the fact. Based on reputation alone, he assumed the Ancile could do whatever she wanted. But she seemed too relaxed, as if she was playing a game. That bothered Deshi.
Never mind she was infected.
But he ran up against the same problem that forced him to find Umbra in the first place: The Zhonguo simply did not have the resources on Terra or in Roma to gain access to the Consular Palace. He might be able to obtain the codes himself, but it would take time, which his people did not have.
Deshi unclenched his teeth and asked, “What is your name, Ancile?”
The woman cocked her head. “Call me Merenda. What should I call you?”
Deshi paused. “Chiru.”
Merenda cocked her head again, and her eyes took on a far-away look. She blinked and then said, “The Zhonguo word for ‘shame’? Did your parents not love you?”
“Not any more.”
Deshi wadded up the hood and stuffed it into his pants pocket. The hood was remarkably light and thin, and barely filled his pocket. “Let us find some place less ‘dank’ to discuss our meeting with the last Antonius.”
(c) 2015 Rob Steiner