Hiya peeps! We have Don Allmon visiting today with his brand new release The Burning Magus, we have a great excerpt and a fantastic giveaway, so check out the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! ❤ ~Pixie~
The Burning Magus
Love can make a good crime go bad.
JT was a perfectly happy orc building cars in the Arizona desert until his old friend and sometimes lover Austin showed up and talked him into one last crime. Now “one last crime” has snowballed. With a new team of thieves — a supersoldier, a hacker, a driver, a graffiti artist, and a seafaring wizard — JT and Austin are determined to free an artificial intelligence from the dungeon of the Burning Magus.
For JT, this job is more than a prison break; it’s a do-over of The Job That Went Bad two years ago, the catastrophe in which JT lost his closest friend and then chose to abandon everything, even Austin. Maybe this time no one will die. Maybe this time JT can return to Arizona and bury his old life for good.
Except Austin won’t be buried. After two years alone, Austin knows he wants JT — not just as a partner in crime, but as the lover he always should have been. Maybe this time they won’t make the same mistakes, especially when it comes to each other.
Don Allmon & Excerpt!
Howdy all! And welcome to the blog tour for book three of the Blue Unicorn trilogy, THE BURNING MAGUS!
THE BURNING MAGUS is a cyberpunk/fantasy Ocean’s 11. Or it would be if Danny and Rusty had been an orc and an elf, they’d been lovers, and the Bellagio casino had been an evil wizard’s tower.
If you’ve been following the series, BURNING MAGUS brings the whole gang together: JT and Austin, Comet and Buzz, the Blue Unicorn and Roan.
It’s the final book in the series where the heroes get their HEA, the villains get their come-uppance, and well… I won’t spoil everything.
To celebrate, we’re gonna have a drawing! The lucky winner gets a hardback copy of BIG GAY ICE CREAM by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint. To enter, leave a comment below with your email address, and at the end of the tour I’ll draw a name! Good luck everyone!
The confessional smelled of fresh-cut cedar, the church was that new. The window separating Austin Shea from the priest slid open, snap. A golden cloth screen kept the priest obscured: nothing but the vaguest hint of a silhouette through the tiny gaps in the threads, even to Austin’s elven eyes.
“Bless me, for I have sinned. It has been six years, four months, and four days since my last confession.”
6-4-4 was the code. There was no response for long seconds. The wrong priest might have taken his strangely precise dating as disrespecting the sacrament, and a scolding was coming. The right priest, on the other hand . . .
“You should not be here.” Mother Minerva’s voice was the liquid purr of a chocolate cat. And now that he knew it was her, he thought he could feel the calming warm brandy of her glamour. It was a good glamour for an elven priest to have.
“I got a job, a big one. The kind that makes a reputation. I need some help.”
“I should say so. But not from me.”
“It’s a hit on a wizard’s castle. Rescue operation. Stealthy, smart. Sneak in. Sneak out. All tracks covered.” He downplayed the job as if it were any old castle they were raiding and not Alcatraz Island; as if it were any wizard they were hitting and not Firelight, whose patron was a dragon; and as if it were any prisoner they were freeing and not an AI with a scientifically impossible elfish glamour, made doubly priceless because that AI had been made from the memories of Austin’s murdered sister. “I need a geek, a ninja, and a wizard. A metamorphic or a water wiz would be good. Is Ortez available?”
“No one is available.”
“Jenny Hatchett or Penthesilea Logan?”
“Are they fighting again?” Jenny and Penth were always fighting. “How about—”
“No one will work with you, Austin.”
“Is this about money? The job pays. It pays real good.” Which was a lie. He had nothing to pay anyone. He’d cross that bridge later.
“It’s not about money.”
“Everything’s about money.”
“All right, yes. It is about money. The answer’s still no.”
“Did you not hear the part where I said ‘the kind of job that makes a reputation’? We’re talking job of a lifetime here. You heard I got JT with me, right? We’re together again.”
Together again. Well, they were speaking and fucking and working with each other, so that counted as “together,” didn’t it? Just like old times.
“We’re together again,” he repeated, as if repeating it made it more true. He could repeat it as many times as he had breath; it still wouldn’t make them together the way he wanted them to be. “People should be lining up to work with us.”
“You have a bounty on you. You’re persona non grata.”
“I’ve had a goddamn bounty on my head for years and—” His volume had gone up along with his frustration. She shushed him. “—and it hasn’t been a problem yet.”
“The bounties before have been token complaints. Feathers in your cap, quite honestly. Bragging rights. They’ve never been serious. These are serious.”
“Who placed the bounty?”
“Who didn’t place one? Lisa Kuang-Li, Mountain Head of the Electric Dragon Triad, has put up two hundred million for software theft, property damage, and the murder of two dozen of her people.”
“They shot first. That’s not murder, that’s self-defense.”
“Reportedly, you stole from them first.”
“Technically that was Buzz, not me. How come he doesn’t have a bounty?”
“He does. His is two hundred fifty million.”
“Buzz’s bounty is more than mine?” That hardly seemed fair.
“The druids of Boise have offered fifty million for the return of an artifact you stole from them.”
And that pissed him off even more. “Those fuckers. I didn’t steal nothing. It was mine!” The unicorn horn had technically belonged to his grandfather, but his grandfather had gone and left it sitting right there on the mantel, so that hardly counted as theft.
He’d gotten loud again, and she shushed him again. “And there are others. You’ve been very busy over the last few weeks. If you worked half as hard making friends as you do making enemies . . .”
“Blah blah blah.” He waved his hands dismissively though she couldn’t see them. “You sound just like Buzz. And JT. And everyone else. There’s gotta be people who’ll work with us.”
“Oh, there are. Desperate and stupid people. I don’t represent desperate and stupid people. I represent professionals.”
“You’ve fixed me up for years.”
“The only one I can fix you up with now is God. Would you like to confess your sins? The way your life is about to go, Austin Shea, I strongly advise it.”
* * * * * * *
The stained glass windows of Our Lady of Avalon portrayed the Knights of the Round Table. The dust mote–scattered rainbow light made the place a fairyland, which wasn’t far from the truth. The Church (capital C) wasn’t comfortable with elves and orcs—too much bad history (never mind it was all fiction). Our Lady of Avalon was New Catholic. Their Pope was French and they traced their made-up lineage back to the Avignon Papacy. History was everyone’s plaything these days.
Old elves and orcs—zero-generation Catholics no longer welcome in other churches—knelt scattered in pews. They prayed and lit candles in alcoves before unusual saints. At least everyone here knew the proper pronunciation of Gawain.
Would Mother Minerva sell him out? Was she online right now telling one old enemy or another, He’s here; come and get him. Remember my price? She wouldn’t really do that, would she? Had Austin gone so far off the rails that Minerva would risk her reputation like that?
Maybe he had.
Two weeks ago Austin, JT, and Buzz had stolen a “ghost”—an AI fragment—from the Electric Dragon Triad and had shot up a block of Telegraph Hill and destroyed a druid’s lodge in the process. And not two days later (though it wasn’t their fault), a wizard had burned down a forest near Boise. So Austin had to admit they’d racked up a lot of ill will and bad karma in a very short time.
So maybe Minerva would risk her reputation. Hear his confession? Fuck that. Most likely Minerva had wanted to delay him a few minutes (hell, a few hours) so she could make her calls.
He should have run from there. He imagined Triad foot soldiers, 49ers, positioning themselves outside; cybernetic assassins in sniper nests; or druid-awakened rose bushes waiting to strangle him.
He didn’t run. He would never run. He stopped at a shrine. He lit a candle for his sister, Roan. He knelt and prayed to Mary-called-Magdalene. It was a formless kind of prayer. He made no promises, no requests but hope, though hope for what, he was too superstitious to think.
What kind of faith was it when you were so assured of your own damnation you couldn’t properly pray?
Outside, he wasn’t mobbed by 49ers or shot by snipers. There were no bloodthirsty roses. He made it to the parking garage just fine. It would have been disappointingly dull if not for Diego.
* * * * * * *
The Corvette was parked just where Austin had left it: level three, hind-end first like an asshole parks, between an Audi and a BMW.
Diego Silva lounged against the front fender, both hands shoved deep in the pockets of his cream-colored mulberry silk trousers. His hair was as long and curled as a Bach cantata. It was tucked behind his elven ears. His eyes were dark and gently upturned like some elves’ eyes did. He cocked his head one way and his shoulders the other, contrapposto, and pouted full glossy lips. He shrugged as if embarrassed to be found there. “You stole my car.”
“I borrowed it. You gave me the key.”
“‘Borrow’ is a few hours. It’s been two weeks. I knew you wouldn’t bring it back. I told myself, ‘If you love someone, set them free.’ That’s what I told myself.”
Diego spoke the same way he fucked: in a slow, accented drawl, like he’d learned both English and fucking in South Carolina. His glamour was exquisitely bitter, dizzying in small bites and trace quantities, sickening in anything more. Like radiation.
He slid a hand over the Corvette’s curved fender. That touch would have made JT close his eyes, would have sent an electric spark through him that lit him up like a downtown Christmas. Austin ground his teeth. Touching the Corvette like that wasn’t for Diego to do. It was for Austin to do.
“Well, since I’m set free . . .” He pulled out the fob and unlocked the car.
Diego wasn’t a wizard. He had the same kind of built-in tech most people had. He locked it again with his mind. Austin should have known he could do that. The alarm and plasma field were off after all. Diego could have taken his car back anytime he’d wanted, but he’d waited here for Austin. That meant Diego didn’t just want his car back; he wanted something else too.
Austin focused his attention on the garage. The lighting was poor. The ceiling was low. It was packed with cars jammed between concrete support columns. The floor sloped gently. That shadow there, that boot scuff there, that click of plastic against plastic from somewhere over there: telltale signs Diego had brought friends, the lurking-in-shadows kind of friends.
So it was vengeance he wanted.
Diego said, “A cynical man would think those weeks we spent together meant nothing to you. All you wanted was my money, my booze, my dick, my car, not in that order. All my friends told me so. I didn’t believe them. I still don’t. They’re wrong about you. It’s not like it looks. There was a good reason you took my car and didn’t come back. Just tell me why, Austin, and I’ll give you a second chance.”
Okay, not vengeance. It was Austin himself Diego wanted.
Sometimes Austin was just a touch more amazing than he’d ever intended.
“I don’t really need a second chance. Your friends were right.”
The car locks popped open as Austin pressed the key fob. “I’m trying to.”
Pop. Diego locked it again. “Come here and kiss me. Kiss me and I’ll know if you’re lying or not.”
He wanted to point out that Diego hadn’t known the first five dozen times Austin had kissed him, so why was this time going to be any different?
For two weeks Austin had let Diego fuck him because Diego had a car that Austin needed, a car that would seduce an orc named JT. He supposed he could just do it again. Except it didn’t seem as much fun this time around.
“Austin, I said kiss me.”
Austin shuffled toward him, feigning shy apologetic reluctance.
Diego grabbed Austin by the hair, swung him around, and backed him into the Corvette, thighs against its arched fender. He kissed Austin bruisingly hard, all the bone and teeth behind soft flesh, tasting of the cigarettes Diego preferred, woody like an elf should taste, but burning.
Glamour, all eros and sensuality, Austin’s tinged with a need to make it rough and Diego’s bitter as a grudge, swept out from them in a wave. There were johns who paid good money to watch two elves fuck and feel the faerie wash of their sex-heightened glamour. Austin wondered how Diego’s little gang of thugs hidden among the cars were handling it.
Diego crushed hard against him, pushing Austin’s ass up on the fender and laying him down over the hood. Through thin trousers, Diego’s long and slender cock ground against the inside of Austin’s thigh. Inside Austin, it would shove up against his gut, deep as medieval impalement.
Diego fought with the zipper of his pants. “God, I love you. I’ve never met anyone like you.”
Austin pawed back at him, sucked at his mouth, thinking the burning-cherry taste of Diego was a bit stale. “We should take this somewhere else,” he said, wanting to delay.
“We’re safe here.” Diego smiled down at him. It should have been a perfectly beautiful smile. Tusks would have improved it.
But then Diego’s smile faltered and dropped. He blinked. “What did you do to my car?”
Austin turned his head to follow Diego’s gaze. The ’Vette was an odd shade of blacker-than-black meant to absorb radar. In the dim light of the garage, the edges and lines of the car were nearly invisible. Up close, Austin could see that the hood was dented and scarred like it had been through a hailstorm, scraped all to fuck.
Austin smiled, remembering how all that damage had gotten there.
“I . . .” The sound came out like a long croak as Austin scrambled for a lie that seemed believable. Aw, fuck all the lies. Lies were for people he cared about. “I fucked an orc on it.”
“Yeah, you know: Green? Muscles? Tusks? Big cock? Well, this one at least. Pathologically technologically inclined? Also this one; not a species thing.”
“An orc?” Diego hissed in Austin’s ear, still pressing him down. “You fucked one of those things on the hood of my car?”
And with that one word, Austin was going to end this here and now. Except he felt a small plastic circle press firm against his temple. Austin hadn’t even noticed Diego’s pistol, and it wasn’t often Austin failed to notice something like that. Maybe he hadn’t researched Diego Silva as thoroughly as he should have. It was possible Diego was more than an LA businessman.
“Let go of that knife, Austin.”
Austin let go of the little knife he’d drawn. It clattered to the concrete floor. The sound rattled off the ceiling and pillars. He held his hands out, empty: no threat here.
Diego backed away, gun still on him. Six armed and armored people stepped out from behind cars and support pillars. They pointed assault rifles at Austin, fingers on triggers, which seemed an unnecessary escalation. They were a bit of a mess. Some had hard-ons. Austin could see them through their fatigues. The rest looked a little shaky. Shoulder patches said SecCorp, so these bodyguards were run-of-the-mill. They didn’t even make Austin’s blood pressure bump.
Austin sat upright and straightened his clothes. “His name is JT. He isn’t a thing. And I gave him your car. It’s not yours anymore. It’s his.” He pointed to the marks on the hood to prove his point.
Diego circled around him to the door of the ’Vette and sprang the lock. The door fanned up and out, and Diego slid into the seat where JT belonged. The door swept closed. The car came on. The window came down.
Diego said through it, “You know, I made a mistake. I forgot that when it comes to bad boys, you gotta tame ’em. Someday, Austin, you’ll realize what you’re missing. You’ll come back to me, and I’ll forgive you . . . if you beg long enough.” He slipped on a pair of sunglasses, which was ridiculous because this was a parking garage in San Francisco. “You six. Tame him for me.”
He smiled at Austin, bittersweet-sad, and said, “I’ll see you around,” because if nothing else, Diego wasn’t an idiot, and he knew those mercs didn’t stand a chance.
The car spun out of its spot, fishtailed a bit with an eye-watering smell of rubber on pavement, and then roared down the garage lane, ten times louder than it should be, squealing, echoing, squealing and squealing over slick concrete each turn to the exit.
The merc captain shouldered his gun, cracked his knuckles, and said, “You heard him, folks.”
Austin sighed. If JT found out he killed six people and still lost the Corvette, well, he didn’t even want to think of what the orc would do. This was gonna have to be bloodless. And right now bloodless was the last thing he wanted.
* * * * * * *
Austin sucked at a knuckle, skin broken, and watched the bus stops pass. He pulled the cord for the next one, not sure he knew what he was doing, but it was what everyone else had done. Austin could count the number of times he’d ridden on a city bus on one hand.
The bus stopped at the corner, sank, hissing, and Austin stepped onto the sidewalk hoping JT wasn’t watching.
But he was. The orc was sitting at the table in the front window of Harvey’s Bar & Grille. He was sitting frozen, pint of beer halfway to his lips, mouth all agape, tusks at funky angles, eyes on Austin. Those eyes tracked him past the window. None of the rest of him moved.
Austin went in. Harvey’s had seen better days. It did most of its business at three in the afternoon. There was a bit of a crowd, mostly humans, a few orcs, all of them down on their luck, the kind of crowd that didn’t ask many questions and kept to themselves. There wasn’t a single elf in the place other than him. He took a deep breath and told himself he was awesome, better than everyone, prepping himself for the inevitable glares.
He slid into the seat opposite JT. JT hadn’t moved from his storefront pose: drink still tipped exactly so. “Did you just take the bus? Where’s my car?”
“We got a problem.”
“Yeah: Where’s my car?”
“In the shop. Mother Minerva’s blacklisted us.”
“Blacklisted? What do you mean ‘in the shop’?”
“Apparently we’re on everyone’s shit list. No one wants to be associated with us anymore.”
JT set his glass down with a hard clunk. Beer sloshed over the rim, which meant he was annoyed. “Us, or you? Shop, Austin. Why is my car in the shop?”
It was best to stay calm and matter-of-fact. “The hood was all dented and scratched. It needed to be fixed.”
“We can’t do this job on our own. And you can’t just take that car to a body shop.” JT hissed extra quiet in case anyone was listening, “They record VINs. It’ll flag the police. What are we gonna do?”
“It’ll be fine.”
“How do you know it’ll be fine?”
“Because I know everything, all right?”
JT folded his arms, cocked his head, and rolled his eyes: triple-sarcasm. “‘Everything’ like where we’re gonna get help without Minerva? Maybe I was gonna fix it.”
“Well, now you don’t need to. I know some wizards okay. Down-low wizards.”
“‘Down-low wizards’? Virgin fucking goddess! Maybe I wanted to fix it!”
“You’re kind of loud.” Austin signaled the bartender. She ignored him because he was an elf, so he sighed, and JT waved his hand in the air like ordering a beer was a spell. And goddamn it, she brought a beer over, but of course she didn’t crack the cap for him, so Austin did it himself. He pulled JT’s plate of un-eaten ketchup-drenched fries toward himself. Like all orcs, JT was a carnivore. He ate veggies when he had to. It was weird how many orcs thought French fries were meat. It was doubly-weird how JT thought they became more like meat by spraying them with ketchup. Austin supposed it was the red that did it.
“Look, I’m sorry about the car, okay? I should have asked you first before taking it to a shop. I didn’t know it would bother you so much.”
“Well, it bothers me. That’s my car.”
Sometimes Austin had a good idea, like stealing the Corvette to win JT over. But he was so used to his ideas being awful that when they weren’t, it was fucking magic. And he knew he’d fucked up by losing that car. And he felt bad about lying, but somehow that made it all the more important for the lie to work. “If you want, we can dent it again when we get it back.”
JT pulled his Massey Ferguson ball cap off. His hair was cut short, lightning bolts shaved into the temples, except for his bangs. His bangs stuck out all directions, adorable and disheveled, and he swept a hand through them and made them worse.
“So do we need to scrap the plan and start over? It’s kind of late to start over. The summer solstice is less than a month away. Solstice is a shitty time to do it anyway: a fire festival. All Firelight’s wizards are going to be there. Probably Firelight too. Let’s push the job back.”
JT was a planner. Austin wasn’t. Austin was perfectly fine with whatever plan JT decided upon. Austin took a fry from the plate and drew a picture in the ketchup, using it as a brush. Austin wasn’t much of an artist; repertoire, limited. He painted balls and a cock.
JT went on, “But if we keep with the plan, we’ll know where they are, no surprises, right, and they’re all going to be busy reworking their magic, all their wards and protections and stuff, so half of those wards won’t be working, so yeah, you’re right, I agree, we stick with June 20. Good.”
Austin had realized a long time ago that there was some version of himself that lived in JT’s head, and it was that version that JT talked to at times, not the real Austin.
Austin pushed more ketchup around, elaborating. He squiggled some veins on the side of the cock. He corrected mistakes. That vein there wasn’t quite that squiggly in real life. He sucked all the ketchup off a fry leaving it soggy and flaccid. He let it hang from his mouth until JT noticed, then slurped it in.
JT pretended to ignore him. He tugged his cap down. He tapped his beer bottle against one tusk, tonk tonk tonk. “Maybe we can do it ourselves. We got you and me, Buzz and Comet—and I know you’re not happy with Comet, but Comet knows his shit.”
The funny thing was: JT’s head-version of Austin was better at being Austin than Austin was himself. Head-version knew all of real-life Austin’s arguments and was better at defending them than real-life Austin could ever hope to do. It was like JT practiced arguing with Austin and had perfected it to an art, and Austin didn’t even have to be there.
He wasn’t sure if he liked that. But at least it meant that JT thought about him when Austin wasn’t around, and he did like that.
“And Dante can drive, and I’m not happy with that, but you’re right and she ain’t gonna just sit around, so she might as well drive. So we can do it ourselves.”
Austin chewed the slurped-in fry and nudged ketchup with a new fry-brush. It was a passable half-retracted foreskin.
“No, you’re right, we can’t do it ourselves. We still need a way to get to the island—a water wizard is best. And a way to get off the island if everything goes south—someone who makes a good distraction.”
Austin cocked his head, studied his drawing.
“Okay, you take care of it. You know people, right? No goddamn down-low wizards! I mean good people? Somebody’s gotta still like you, right? Yeah, that’ll work. Okay, we’re set. Same plan as before.”
Austin nodded, satisfied with the plan (which was the same plan as before). He slid out of the booth and drank his beer in a long series of gulps, thumped his chest, belched loudly, and set the empty bottle down. “I’m glad we sorted that out.”
JT squinted at the ketchup-painted cock and balls.
Austin said, “That’s you. That’s yours. It looks just like that, life-like, down to that squiggle there. If this was performance art, I’d squirt the whole bottle on the window. Ketchup come.”
“What did you do to your hand?” JT had finally noticed the cut on his knuckle.
“I punched someone really hard. I got some ideas for help: a wizard and a distraction.”
“How about an idea of how we’re going to get home without a car.”
“This is San Francisco, everything is ten blocks away, fucking walk. Except . . .” Austin pulled a paper ticket from his pocket and laid it in front of JT. “Bus pass. See? I think of everything.” And Austin patted him on the back and left him there in that hopeless bar and grill with a plateful of bus pass and ketchup cock.
Blue Unicorn Universe!
JT is an orc on the way up. He’s got his own boutique robotics shop, high-end clientele, and deep-pocketed investors. He’s even mentoring an orc teen who reminds him a bit too much of himself back in the day.
Then Austin shows up, and the elf’s got the same hard body and silver tongue as he did two years ago when they used to be friends and might have been more. He’s also got a stolen car to bribe JT to saying yes to one last scheme: stealing the virtual intelligence called Blue Unicorn.
Soon JT’s up to his tusks in trouble, and it ain’t just zombies and Chinese triads threatening to tear his new life apart. Austin wants a second chance with JT—this time as more than just a friend—and even the Blue Unicorn is trying to play matchmaker.
In his night job, Don Allmon writes science fiction, fantasy, and romance. In his day job, he’s an IT drone. He holds a master of arts in English literature from the University of Kansas and wrote his thesis on the influence of royal hunting culture on medieval werewolf stories. He’s a fan of role-playing games, both video and tabletop. He has lived all over from New York to San Francisco, but currently lives on the prairies of Kansas with many animals.
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To celebrate the release of The Burning Magus one lucky person will win a hardback copy of the cookbook BIG GAY ICE CREAM by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint!
(Just leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest.)
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(Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 24, 2018. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.)