Bricks and Murder – sample chapter


The muggy summer heat sat thick and heavy in the air and sweat drenched the back of my shirt as I fought in the courtyard. It didn’t help that my opponent was my sensei, Kotori the Fox, and that she was three times faster than I was. Every time she smacked me with her staff I would have a bruise there for days. And yet, I wouldn’t trade a second of it. The thwack of bamboo bo staffs striking against each other, the twist of bodies and grunts of exertion felt like home. 

When I’d been a kid in Boston, I’d played a lot of basketball and there was something about the squeak of shoes on the gym floor and the swish of the net and the thump of basketballs that always sounded right. Now I was a Slayer initiate in a city dripping with vampires and shifters and fae and the sounds of fighting, in or out of the Dojo, was the soundtrack that made me feel good. Made me feel strong.

And I needed that. Being a Slayer made me a target. I didn’t carry the Midnight Rose yet but I’d earned my ink, exsanguinating my first vampire last month. My inking ceremony was tonight and I needed to burn off my nervous energy. Kotori had been more than willing to help. 

Earning the Midnight Rose was why I joined the Slayers, part of my plan to save my mom from further decline. The Rose was the only way I knew to transport vampire blood across the Veil. Once I had it, my mom would be saved.

But I had been kidding myself. I’d almost washed out of the Trials on my way to becoming a Slayer initiate and only then did I face the truth–that I’d been doing it all along to live up to my dad’s ideals. To step into his shoes and be as great, if not greater than Gabriel Lim, the Breaker of Seattle. 

I still wanted that, but now it was tempered by something else–the loyalty I felt to my fellow Slayers. Even my sensei who was currently beating me with a stick.

Kotori’s staff found my shin with a crack. I grunted at the pain and danced back a step. She moved smoothly into the opening, a swirling mass of brilliant red leather, the other end of her staff coming around at somewhere in the vicinity of the speed of sound. It didn’t matter that I was a full head taller than Kotori, the petite woman could always get inside my longer reach. 

In addition to trying to minimize the severity of my beating, Kotori had given me another task while she pounded me into the mat. After my last outing in the Trials, where I had nearly brought down an entire building on my own head, Kotori had deemed that I was in dire need of some finesse. 

“Your magic can be an earthquake, but how often do you need an earthquake, neh? Any fool can smash a building to rubble.” She’d rapped me on the head for emphasis. “But my kohai will master her control and not. Endanger. Her. Fellow. Slayers.”

Bop, bop, bop, went her knuckles on my forehead.

So as I backed away, I focused my vision on the collection of three polished wooden bangles gracing Kotori’s left forearm. The bangles jingled as she brought her staff towards my shoulder. Last week had been the easy level. Kotori had precut the bangles, creating an obvious weak point for me to find and exploit. Although finding it while being chased around the mat had been difficult.

I brought my own staff up, barely in time, and caught Kotori’s blow with a high block. The impact numbed my fingers and I strained to keep a grip on the bamboo. Dropping your weapon in Kotori’s presence was not a good idea. I jabbed at Kotori’s neck. The weighted staff passed through empty air as my sensei back flipped away from me, as graceful as a cat. Or a fox.

With a hair’s breadth of breathing room, my magic kindled, outlining Kotori in a web of glowing green lines. I took a risk and narrowed my vision down to the wooden rings on her arm. Wherever Kotori was getting the rings made, the craftsmanship was excellent, nearly solid rings of green around her arm.


It was time to go on the offensive. I launched myself at Kotori, ignoring Cordelia’s cheer from the sidelines. My staff came around in a low, wide arc, aimed at taking out her legs. Kotori jumped and tucked her legs out of harm’s way. 

In the split second she hung in the air I threw my magic forward and wormed it into the wooden bracelets. My power crawled up Kotori’s arm like a greedy child and sank into the finely polished wood, soaking into the fine pores and grain. It sought out the microscopic fracture lines hidden to the naked eye.

Finding the flaws was the easy part. My magic did this on its own, with little to no effort. The next part, though, would cost me. I gritted my teeth, already anticipating the cost.

Pop! The first bracelet fell off Kotori’s arm, neatly sheared in half. My sensei twisted in the air, her back arching, her center of gravity shifting as if by sheer will.

In the distant corners of my perception, the recoil from my magic built like a wave just moments from cresting. I shook off the sensation and pushed forward. My magic leapt to the next target.

Pop! The second bracelet splintered into tiny fragments. A ragged cheer went up from our spectators. Kotori fell to the mat, her crimson cloak swirling as she came down. I strained to reach the last bracelet. 

The recoil swelled until it filled all the space behind Kotori like a storm ready to burst. My eyes flicked to the side. My mentor’s nose twitched, a movement I’d learned to associate with her chronic disappointment. 

Blood red leather filled my vision and my magic locked onto Kotori’s cloak, an undulating wave of green light. I ignored it and pushed harder, bringing my focus back to the final bangle. Kotori’s impending strike hovered over my head.

My vision blurred and the red leather cloak with white fur trim broke apart, dissolving like wet paint in rain. The cloak became a fan of crimson tails, the fur glossy and smooth, and tipped with arctic white. The shock broke my concentration and my magic snapped back to me. Kotori’s staff slammed into my shoulder and rocked me back, stars blossoming before my eyes.

The recoil from my magic slammed into me and I flinched away from the pain and nausea but it was useless, like trying to evade your own shadow. My stomach turned upside down and I dry-heaved. I gave up on grace and simply fell to the mat to avoid Kotori’s follow-up strike.

With a grunt of annoyance Kotori elbowed me in the ribs, pushing me into the fall. I landed with a jolt that rang my ears and knocked the breath out of my lungs. I gasped, trying to catch my breath, stuck between the effects of both the recoil and the impact. Long moments later, I came to my senses and found my mentor’s staff aimed at my nose.

Kotori’s lip curled. “And what did that get you, neh?”

I tried to control my breathing, to speak as evenly as she did. It still ended up coming out between panting gasps. “Two out of three isn’t bad.”

She rapped the end of her staff against my head. Ow. “So. You are dead, and you did not accomplish your mission. A failure on both counts, then.”

She lifted her arm. The last bangle was still intact. “Your fear of your recoil is your weakness. Do not run from it, it is a natural consequence of your magic. If you wish to avoid the recoil, then renounce your magic. Are you a Breaker or not? ”

I hated that she was right.

The recoil hurt and even worse, it left me vulnerable. I also had trouble fighting at the same time as Breaking. Either I had to learn to fight without using my Breaker magic, or I had to be able to Break things without hesitating. Recoil or not.

Kotori stepped back and I rubbed my head. I didn’t think I would have a lump there tomorrow. Maybe. As I rolled back onto my feet, Kotori flicked her fingers at me in a dismissive gesture. “Go work on the mat. I will spar with Wen so I can get my own workout in.”

I was insulted and relieved at the same time, which was par for the course when I dealt with my feral sensei. I bowed to her and racked my bo staff on my way to the mats.

Truthfully, Wen was a better hand-to-hand fighter than I was. He had an economy of movement that made his sparring look effortless. Even when fighting the Fox, Wen didn’t seem to break a sweat. Not that he beat her. None of us ever beat her. As part of my Trials, I had rapidly concluded that she would crush me but she didn’t want to actually kill me and I’d fought accordingly. That was the only way I’d gotten even a scratch on her.

I wasn’t so foolish as to repeat that.

A soft puff of air brushed my hair as Wen stepped by. And by stepped, I mean in that ethereal way he moved, as if traversing an invisible staircase. It would have been even cooler if Wen had long flowing hair to go with his gray monk’s robes, but he shaved his head to spotless perfection daily.

My floor routines beckoned, but I couldn’t help stopping to watch Wen spar with Kotori. 

Wen wasn’t tall, but with his robes and musculature, he looked like a giant next to Kotori. They made a striking tableau, the slight Fox in red, and the big monk in gray. All we needed was rain and some mood music.

Their staffs struck against each other in a staccato of hits the human eye could barely follow. That made sense since Kotori wasn’t human. But Wen was. His staff speeds were the envy of the rest of the initiates. I’d asked him about it, assuming there was some ten thousand hours type of reason for his skill. 

“I know where the next strike will go so I just try to get there,” Wen explained. 

As far as I could tell, Wen had decades of training and his magic here in the Veil gave him a preternatural sense of what would happen next–like fighting clairvoyance. It seemed extremely useful to me, especially for a Slayer.

Behind me, Ulf Skardeson of the Reach, stumbled and then grunted with annoyance as Bashir whacked him on the ribs. “Why this stick? Why not let me train with my axe? Or a sword, I ask you?” Ulf complained.

Bashir laughed. “Sometimes all you have is a stick. What then? You must master all the weapons at your disposal.”

“Bah.” Ulf shook his head, his long red braids moving in emphasis with his annoyance. He set his bo staff next to mine and came to stand next to me. He slapped my back with what for him was probably a companionable tap but practically knocked me forward. 

Bashir gave a sharp whistle, and a swirl of leaves circled around Cordelia. With a cheerful smile, she waved at Bashir and he tossed her a bo staff.

Cordelia, perfect at everything, leapt in the air and caught the staff in one smooth motion. She launched into a front roll with the staff to land in front of Bashir. Bashir’s handsome face split into a broad grin, white teeth flashing against his dark beard. She was his favorite and it was easy to see why. Cordelia was a natural, and she was good-natured to boot.

Somehow, her fae robes didn’t get a smudge of dirt on them. I wondered if they were spelled to repel dirt. It would explain how Cordelia managed to stay so clean even after rolling in the mud. I always came out of these workouts a hot sweaty mess, my samue jacket usually sporting a rip or tear. 

Cordelia had taken a shine to me at the first Trial and I’d never understood why. I was a grubby street fighter who favored hammers for my weapon of choice. Cordelia harkened from a noble fae family and wielded a milky sword that gleamed like moonlight. She’d earned my loyalty and my friendship, and I’d learned to ignore her critiques of my messy fighting style. 

The only time I’d ever seen her smile fade was when she dealt with the mountain fae. Like our first encounter with Ulf and his brothers.

I’d grown fond of Ulf, which was a far cry from how we’d started out. His former sworn brother, Harald Stenson, was a prince of the mountain fae tribe Ulf hailed from. Harald had taken an instant dislike to me in the first Trials to become a Slayer. The battle lines had been drawn that day, with me and Cordelia on one side, and the mountain fae on the other.

Then the Trials escalated. We were forced to put aside old blood feuds, petty grievances, and just plain annoyance to work together and survive those Trials. Ulf and I had made it out of the Box. His sworn brotherhood with Harald had not survived.

Ulf and Cordelia had never explained to me what happened on their Trial together but they had reached an uneasy truce, with the millennia old blood feud no longer at the forefront of their dealings. They were Slayers now, and their fae politics had taken a back seat. At least, that was how it looked to me. 

I was still relatively new to the Veil. This intersection of Tarim magic and powerful factions like the fae, the two vampire courts, the various churches, and the Slayers often confused me. But I tried to keep it simple, like cleaving to my identity as a Slayer. Sometimes things got messy for me, like my interactions with Tyee Wilder, the Night Prince. He was a vampire that I was better off avoiding but couldn’t help thinking about. I appreciated that Slayer training kept me busy. Busy enough to avoid wandering by the Pleasure District to bump into Tyee.

Especially after tonight.

We were getting our ink. I would be a Slayer, like my father before me. Cordelia, Wen, and Ulf would be by my side. If that meant I had to avoid a certain flirtatious vampire prince, it was worth it. 

“We should go celebrate tonight.” I said to Ulf.

“Aye.” Ulf was always up for a party.

“Anywhere you want to go?” I asked.

“Why not here?”

“Sure. Here is fine with me.”

I was actually surprised he didn’t want to go to The Rose and Horn pub. He was fond of the ale, which they served in enormous mugs, and I was fond of the meat pies. There were cheese platters for Cordelia and even salads for Wen. Overall, we’d spent our fair share of time grabbing meals out at The Rose and Horn.

Ulf bunked here at the Dojo. Wen did as well, so they didn’t have kitchens. Cordelia kept where she lived underwraps but I also gathered that she didn’t cook much. As for me, I kept my cozy studio apartment in the old international district, or risked my landlady’s displeasure. It turned out that my baking was a good side hustle as well and the rest of them often bought my meals at the pub since I kept them supplied with baked goods. 

Also, I liked having that bit of personal space. It was me, my pigeons, and my side hustle projects, which was just the way I liked it. Slayers was too consuming otherwise and I kept my space to remind myself that I still had to follow through on my promise to my dad. It meant becoming a Slayer but betraying the geas that kept Slayer secrets. Away from Slayers, I could look at that picture of my family and remember that my work wasn’t done. Soon.

“Yield.” Kotori had maneuvered Wen to the wall, her staff pressing into his neck. 

Wen had lasted three times longer than I had. While Kotori often expressed her irritation at my candidacy, I could tell she approved of Wen’s addition to the ranks. That she thought he was what Slayers needed more of.

I wanted to be like that, but earning Kotori’s approval seemed impossible, so I aimed to avoid her wrath.

Kotori released Wen and he bowed to her. She bowed back and gave him a punch on the bicep. I’d never seen her do that with anyone other than Bashir. I guess after our ink, we would all be equals, but some of us were more equal than others.

Ulf gave Wen a fist bump and then we moved through some stretching routines together and I asked Wen if he had a preference for celebration festivities. 

Wen’s eyebrows drew down and he frowned. “I wanted to tell you all together.”

“Tell us what?”

“I will not be getting the ink.”

“What? Why not?”

Wen looked at me, his dark eyes solemn. “Roxy, you should ask more questions about the effects of the ink.”

His words hit me like a punch in the gut.

All of us were supposed to get our ink tonight. We’d survived the Trials together and it had made us stronger. And now Wen was telling us that he didn’t want the ink. 

It was also strange that he should direct that only at me and not Ulf. I hadn’t thought about the effects of the ink at all. We all had the scars of our last interaction with the Tarim crystal. When I cut myself on the crystal, it had drunk from me, then healed me. Until that ceremony, I’d always thought of the crystal as inert. But now I knew better.

And Wen was telling me the ink was why he wasn’t going to be Slayer.

Now I had to ask myself, did I want to know? 

Would I do it anyway?


I went home for a shower and to get a meal in before the ceremony this evening. Normally I’d be weary after a long workout session but tonight I took the stairs two at a time to my apartment. 

A faint blur of light hovered in my doorway though. 

“Hi, Ernest.”

The light coalesced into more form and substance. Ernest could manifest pretty solidly now. Apparently my feeding him had something to do with that. But he’d saved my bacon at the Box and I was happy to always leave an offering for him.

“Slayer,” He mouthed.

That never got old. Ernest had faith in me before I’d even passed the Trials. “Yeah, and I get my ink tonight!” 

We grinned at each other and I dashed inside to grab a bowl of rice for Ernest. On my kitchen counter was a small glass jar. I picked it up and inspected it. Pork floss. This had to be from Mrs. Chu. I debated showering first or eating first and food won out. I heated myself some congee, pulled out some pickled turnips and dumped a heap of pork floss on top. The savory fried pork with the cool pickles was so satisfying and for a minute I just blissed out, happy to fill my body with protein, fat, and carbs. 

Two sharp raps on my door. “Roxy.”

It was Mrs. Chu.

I stopped chewing and concentrated on releasing my locks, my magic opening the series of charmed locks in a rapid fire release. When I used my magic for small tasks like this, the recoil was barely noticeable. 

Mrs. Chu came in, decked out in a green velour tracksuit with white stripes. Her face brightened when she saw me eating. “Oh good, you’re trying the pork floss.”

I nodded. “It’s great! Thanks so much.”

She sniffed. “You need the protein.”

I needed any calories. I’d always been on the lean side and the work at the Dojo coupled with long patrol shifts meant I’d honed down to a form rippling with tight muscle. It also meant I was a furnace for calories and had to constantly eat. Which meant I cooked a lot of batches of stuff that would be portable.

The pork floss Mrs. Chu had given me would be great in onigiri. She was so thoughtful. I’d really lucked out having this gracious woman take me into her home. 

“Could I send a pigeon to Bev?”

I swallowed the last of the congee and stood. “Sure, let’s go out on the balcony.”

Noodle and Dumpling stepped up their cooing when they saw Mrs. Chu. She cared for them often when I was out on patrol and I suspect she snuck them extra treats. 

She chatted with Noodle as she tucked a note into the capsule. With a gentle lift, Noodle was off to the Wilds.

“You expecting a return message from Bev?” I asked.

Mrs. Chu shrugged. “Bev missed our Market day, which isn’t like her. Her farm produces a lot of essential oils and herbs that do well at Market. So Malia and I picked up some provisions for her. I just asked if she needed anything else before I come down for mahjong night this week.”

Ah yes, their mahjong night was regular as clockwork. Sometimes I lost track of the days and wandered up there and always regretted it. The scrutiny of four aunties was too much for me. Bev Peterson owned the River Rock Farm and enjoyed her privacy. She came out from the Wilds twice a week, once for Market and once for mahjong. But I guess it was her turn to host this week. 

“I’m going to be gone tonight, Mrs. Chu.” 

“That’s fine. I can come up and check for Noodle’s return.”

I beamed at her. “I get my ink tonight!”

She patted my shoulder. “Congratulations. I know how hard you’ve worked for this.”

I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a quick squeeze. “Thanks for helping me through it all.”

I’d made it at last. And soon I would have the ink that proclaimed to all of Seattle that I was a Slayer.