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and she is the woman

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Two choice pieces of gossip arrived from Vienne that week, in short succession of one another.

The first, that Inspector Ronsarde had announced his intention to retire, which Nicholas dismissed as an exaggeration at best - wishful thinking on the part of those with a reason to find it desirable for the good Inspector to direct his attention to the pursuit of interests less likely to intercede with their own, perhaps.

The second, that Doctor Cyran Halle had published a sensational account of certain events that involved the darkest of magics and pictures not suitable for the faint of heart.

Needless to say, Halle had clearly indicated the story to be entirely fictional, and not to be regarded in the same light as his previous works, those depicting the exploits of his good friend, Inspector Sebastion Ronsarde.

Needless to say also, there were those who regarded this disclaimer with a certain amount of scepsis.


Madeline, as it turned out, was already familiar with both items. More: she had already secured for herself a copy of the book in question.

It had been personally inscribed by the author himself, delivered to their doorstep by a sea captain disinclined to linger or share the details of how, precisely, he had come to accept his commission.

Nicholas found this deeply suspicious; Madeline, true to her nature, was inclined to look on it as simple good fortune.

They argued about it for the rest of the day - not heatedly, but each of them secure in their own position and disinclined to abandon it for any but the most excellent reasons.

At dinner, she gave him the note.

Not Halle's, as he would have expected. Not Ronsarde's, either, which he might have welcomed as a sign the Inspector was still very much at work, and in possession of as sharp an intellect as ever.


I thought you might enjoy this.


"Do you know, I think he did it to make sure nobody would ever believe it," Madeline said.

The book lay on the table. On its cover, a woman who might bear some superficial similarity to Madeline stood, facing a group of ghouls with a lit torch in one hand and a wand in the other.

"The dress?" Nicholas asked. It was not a dress very suitable for underground adventuring, although he imagined its appearance might be deceiving. To be sure, it was large enough to hide a great many things under. Running might pose a problem, though - walking with any speed, merely a challenge.

Madeline snorted. "A female lead."

There was no mention of Donatien, in the book. No merry band of criminals to support the heroine in her undertakings. She was an actress and an ingenue, and yet more skilled than lucky. Unlikely knowledgeable on sorcerous matters, for all that Halle had her travel to Lodun, to consult 'an old family friend' who lived there.

Unlikely capable with a sword and pistol, also. Beautiful, although Halle had not dwelled on this as much as a writer of pulp fiction might have been expected to.

Well. Doctor Halle was, after all, a gentleman, and both sensible and intelligent.

"Do you think he might write a sequel?"

She grinned at him. "Assuming someone provides him with some new material, who knows?"