Steampunk character interview: Lorel Clayton

Title: Tangle of Thornes
Author: Lorel Clayton
Genre: fantasy/mystery/steampunk


Amazon purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SS8P6PA
Author website: www.lorelclayton.com
Synopsis: When Eva’s brother is murdered in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarves where humans have no rights, she is forced to investigate the crime herself. What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and—worst of all—her twin sister. Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she nearly loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry. Femme fatale turns hard-boiled investigator in this first Eva Thorne novel. Set in a fantasy world where magic and machines can’t stand against the God of Death, humans are on the run from the god’s invasion. Highcrowne is the only refuge, but that means living in the Outskirts of an ancient city ruled by Avian mages, indifferent dwarves, and elves who’d prefer to see humans as their slaves. It’s worst for Eva’s people, Solhans, because they were the ones who summoned the Dead God into the world. No one wants her kind in Highcrowne and there are plenty who would be happy to see her brother dead. There are too many motives and not enough time to unravel them, because other people are dying … and Eva is fast running out of vacation time.

Character Name: Eva Thorne
Protagonist
Age: 21
Nickname: I wouldn’t try to give me one if I were you
Occupation: femme fatale/turned worst waitress in the world/turned detective
Location: Highcrowne, capital of the Three Kingdoms, ruled by elves, dwarves and Avians, and where humans are either refugees or slaves
Ethnic background: human, actually Solhan, but most people can’t tell the difference, and if they do know I’m Solhan they hate me more, so I don’t brag about it much
Goal in life: to not turn into an evil necromancer and save my soul
Family: Thorne dynasty of Solheim, former leaders of the Council of Nine turned refugees, and the ones who ended the world by summoning the Dead God
Current conflict: the one and only good thing in my life, my big brother, Viktor, has been murdered
Motto: evil is a choice, so is wearing pants

Addictions: men
Best friend: Gypsum, a dwarf I went to school with whose sister got the royal title
Pet Peeve: I hate just about everything except for handsome guys standing around who I haven’t learned to hate yet
What do you do for fun? Reading, people watching and drinking kaffe (this would be the answer for an author interview as well, but swap reading for writing and kaffe for coffee)
Guilty Pleasure: actually sitting for a moment by the fountain and liking my home, my neighbors and the whole wretched world
Most embarrassing moment: getting caught indulging in my guilty pleasure
Taken or single? Any love interests? I don’t believe in being ‘taken’, as I don’t like to feel owned by anybody. Currently, I’m between men. You might call them ‘love’ interests, but what is love really? Lust with conversation?

Favorite Food: cheese wheels
Favorite Hobby: reading mysteries
Favorite childhood memory: playing with Duane and Viktor on the snowy streets of Highcrowne
Dream job: something where I get to hit people when I’m angry but not be a bad person doing it
Pessimist, Optimist, or Realist: Pessimistically, I’d have to say, realistically, I’m an optimist
Most annoying person in your life: Duane. Or maybe Nanny. Uncle Ulric? Ilsa, hands down.
Pets: Not a good idea. Nanny would put them in the stew. It’s a Solhan thing.
Biggest Fear: Becoming like Uncle Ulric, or my sister, Ilsa
Greatest Strength: stubbornness
Greatest Weakness: stubbornness
Who do you most admire? My brother, Viktor
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Alive? Maybe?
How do you feel about secrets? Everyone has them, but some of them you’ve got to unravel else the bad guys win
Advice for the reader as they follow you through your journey? Expect surprises. I surprise myself all the time.

Meet the characters from Witches & Whiskey

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Aly Warren- Earth Witch

Aly Warren had a small apartment just outside Washington D.C. She worked in a tiny section of the Washington Institute. It was a rather cramped office, and it didn’t have nearly the equipment that she’d wanted, but it had taken years just for her to get this far. Her peers outside the scientific community didn’t understand her pursuits, and her co-workers didn’t even know that she existed. She was just a woman that they saw from time to time in the parking lot, but she never showed up at functions, and she wasn’t on any employee roster.

She sat in her cramped quarters and impatiently tied back her long, silky, black hair. If she had her way, she’d chop all of her hair off, but then her mother really would never speak to her. It was hard enough trying to straddle her Japanese mother and her American father, but it was even harder as a powerful but covenless witch.

Aly was already a disappointment to her mother. If she chopped her hair off, the woman would no doubt disown her.

“I don’t suppose this is what you had in mind when you asked to study magic?” a strange voice asked behind her.

Whirling around in her chair, she nearly fell out of it when she saw an air witch council member hovering in her office. She wasn’t worried about anyone walking in on them. The lab was warded against non-magical humans, but it still caught her off balance. Few people came to visit her.

Especially council members.

She should have introduced herself and her lack of coven status, but her brain was too addled by his appearance. “Sir?” she asked nervously as she stood and pushed her black frame glasses higher up her nose. “Can I help you?”

“Actually, I’m hoping that I can help you. What are you working on here?”

He wanted to talk science? She could do that. “For the past year, I’ve been isolating the DNA markers that differentiate the Elementals powers. Now, I’m trying to discover what makes one witch more powerful than the other.”

“What about Blood and Bone witchcraft?” he asked with interest.

Aly was silent for a minute while she contemplated what she would say next. She hadn’t told anyone that she secretly searched for a way to isolate the other witches. It was illegal for her to mingle with one, let alone study one.

Or even find one.

“That’s not permitted,” she said softly.

“But you still want to. It’s all right, Ms. Warren. You have no need to be frightened. I am here because of your hunger for knowledge. My name is George, and I have use for you.”

“I’m sorry. Did you say that your name was George?”

“Yes, I did.”

It was obvious that he was lying about his name, but she chose to let it slide. He could call himself whatever he wanted. He was a member of the Cathedral. “What do you need me for?”

“I need you to be part of a small but important coven.”

Aly’s eyes widened in surprise, she began to fiddle with the buttons on her lab coat. “No coven will have me,” she whispered. ”I don’t focus on my magic enough.”

“Oh, but Ms. Warren, this coven is so much more than just magic. Something interesting has occurred in our community. A mortal has been granted an Elemental power.”

“That shouldn’t be possible,” Aly said slowly with a frown, but her mind was already whirling. An Elemental not born into their power? The community would be in an uproar, but she would be a truly unique individual.

She should be studied.

“You of all people should know that simply because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. I need a coven to protect her and train her quickly. The Elementals haven’t called for her death just yet, but there are already threats against her. And if the Blood and Bone witches realize what she is, they’ll want her for themselves. You are a level four earth witch, one of the most powerful covenless earth witches out there.”

“But that’s not what you want me for,” Aly said thoughtlessly as she reached for her notebook. “You want me to study her.”

“She is not a specimen in a jar,” George said with a frown, “but yes. I’ll need someone to monitor her and make sure that the magic doesn’t consume her. Are you interested?”

“Yes,” she said instantly. “But I’ve never been part of a coven before.”

“I assure you, Ms. Warren, that this coven will be unlike any other than you’ve ever seen. I’ll need you to move your equipment. You’ll have a workspace set up for you, and allowances will be made for your living arrangements.”

“Where am I going?”

“Westfield, Colorado.”


Aaron Lane- Water Witch

The breeze swept across the ocean and gently fluttered the mat beneath his feet. The waves from the ocean crashed along the shore, and he inhaled the salt air deeply. This was his place of peace, but something wasn’t right. Aaron Lane closed his eyes and slowly counted to thirty. He felt the presence of the air witch, but he knew the witch wouldn’t reveal himself until after he was finished. He also knew that for the witch to so easily cloak himself, it wasn’t a member of a local coven.

What would a council member be doing visiting him?

Aaron wasn’t welcome in the magical community. He wasn’t even welcome in his own family. A truce between him and the Cathedral allowed him a solitary practice so long as he didn’t reveal his magic to mortals and didn’t use his magic against anyone. He carved himself a little place by the beach where he taught yoga and meditation. It wasn’t a classy living, but it was simple, and Aaron thrived on simple.

After his past, a simple life was a blessing. He had a horrible feeling that the councilman was going to take all of that away from him.

“Now roll yourself up, slowly, one vertebra at a time. Breathe with each count. Inhale one, two, three, exhale four, five, six. Lift your arms up toward the sky and release what tension is left in your body. Inhale one, two, three. Exhale and bring the palms of your hands together and to your heart center. Four. Five Six. Press those hands together and empower yourself with positivity and strength. Feel free to remain here until you’re ready to release and continue with the rest of your day.”

Normally, at this point, he could focus on his magic and balance it, but today, his attention was on the invisible witch hovering behind him. Slightly upset by the intrusion, he focused instead on the techniques that he taught his own students.

As a water witch, Aaron was naturally calm and balanced, but without the proper guidance that he needed as a youth, his magic required constant attention, and his temper wasn’t always as cool as it needed to be.

Opening his eyes, he saw that most of his students were already finished and waiting for him. Several of them were beginners. Some wanted to tone their bodies with yoga, and others were seeking to calm their minds and bodies. More than a few were only there because yoga was trendy, and a good half of them were there because of Aaron.

With thick blond hair and dark green eyes, Aaron’s natural ease attracted women, but he didn’t indulge nearly as much as he could. No self-respecting witch would have him, and no mortal would understand him. Aaron had long ago come to terms with the fact that he was meant to be alone.

When all of his students were finished, he stepped off the mat and into the warm sand. “Good job, everyone. For those of you that are interested, I have a meditation class tomorrow, and this weekend, I’ll be hosting a brand new water and yoga class. I promise that it will be perfectly safe. Check out my website if you want more information.”

Normally, the women came up to him afterwards with questions about private lessons or questions to keep him there a little longer, but he could feel the magical barrier that quickly went up between him and the class. Whatever desires they had were dispelled, and they left the beach quickly.

“I am without a coven,” Aaron said with a sigh. The traditional greeting didn’t come as easily as it used to since he had to use it less and less. “And you might as well show yourself.”

“Mr. Lane,” the air witch said as he shimmered into view. “You are not an easy man to find. Why is your space warded?”

“I’m an untested Elemental,” Aaron said as he bent down to roll up his yoga mat. “I drew some unwanted attention from the Blood and Bone community trying to recruit me. When that failed, I needed to protect myself. It normally isn’t an issue. Few Elementals seek me out.”

“The wards are impressive,” the witch said as he stood in the sand. A strange smile crossed his face and he wiggled his toes. “You’re at the very least a level four.”

“Maybe,” Aaron said shortly. “I don’t see why that matters.” At the age of sixteen, Elementals reached their power maturity. From the age of eight, those powers are honed until they face a test in front of the local council members. By the end of the test, each witch was labeled between one and five.

Level one witches were those with barely any power at all, and they’re quickly ostracized from the community. Their magic exists, but it can’t manifest itself into anything. It was rare, but it did occasionally happen. Level two and three witches were most common. Level four were much more powerful and trained to be coven leaders.

Level five witches were extremely rare, and they were almost always automatically trained to be on the council. There were whispers of a recent level five fire witch, but there was never any substantial truth to the rumors.

From his eighth birthday, Aaron trained with his father. His mother had been a level two fire witch and his father a level three water witch, so it was always a given that Aaron wouldn’t be all that powerful. When he went into his test, everyone had expected that he would perform no better than a level two.

In the middle of his test, Aaron blacked out. Having failed to properly balance his magic, he let loose too much and failed to account for it. No one told him what happened after he fell unconscious, but when he came too, the council members were drenched. And because he’d been out for too long, he wasn’t able to finish the timed test.

As far as he knew, Aaron was the only untested witch out there. It was an embarrassment to his family, and he’d been alone pretty much ever since.

“You’ve made quite a life for yourself here,” the man said casually. “You keep yourself in check, and you’ve adhered to the rules. I have no doubt that you find the balance and symmetry of your life soothing, but I’m here to upset that balance.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mr. Lane, I need you to join a coven.”

Aaron couldn’t help but snort in derision. “I think you’ve forgotten the rules,” he muttered. “I can’t join a coven.”

“Things are changing, and as you well know, we must all adjust to accommodate.”

“What’s changing?”

“What if I were to tell you that you are no longer the only untested witch out there? What if I were to tell you that there is another, a witch who gained her powers not through birth or death.”

Aaron stilled. “You’re talking about a prophecy that borderlines heresy.”

“And I imagine that something like that might interest you.”

The man was right. Despite his better nature, Aaron was very interested.

“Come inside,” he said finally. “Let’s talk.”

 


Thalia Montgomery- Air Witch

Thalia Montgomery was the picture of calm when the council member arrived. She’d been unexpectedly dismissed from her coven three weeks ago, and that could only mean one of two things. The least likely was that Guy Horton, the leader of her coven, had finally complained loud enough to get his wish, or that she was finally about to achieve her next goal.

From a young age, Thalia’s family had groomed her for success. She’d always had perfect control over her power, and there was speculation that she’d test at a level five. When she didn’t, it only made her want to work harder to prove herself, but everything always seemed just beyond her fingertips.

At the age of eighteen, she was accepted into the Colwyn Coven, the largest in the United States. She rose through the ranks rapidly, but two years ago, she lost her chance to lead the coven when Guy Horton was unexpectedly endorsed by the high council themselves. For the longest time, she couldn’t understand why they would hold her back, but when she’d been relieved from the coven, she hoped that maybe it was because they had even more power in mind.

Witches that were accepted into the Cathedral were not allowed to have coven ties. It only stood to reason that she was to start training as part of the lower council. She’d spent the better part of her free time practicing and preparing herself for whatever test they would throw her way.

When the council member arrived, she took one look at his silver-blue robes and tried not to smile smugly. If only her aunt were still alive. She’d love nothing more than to rub it in the old woman’s face. No matter what she did, nothing was ever good enough.

Bowing her head in respect, she tried to stay calm. “I am Thalia, and I am currently without a coven.” The words were foreign on her tongue, but everything about this initial meeting had to be perfect, and she was careful not to stumble over anything.

“I know who you are,” the man answered softly. “I’m George.”

“How may I help you?”

“Your resume is quite impressive, Ms. Montgomery. Had any of your family still been alive, you probably would have been made leader of the Colwyn Coven. While it is unfortunate that bloodlines mean so much to the Elemental community, I have to say that it lands you in the perfect position to help me out. I realize that your goal is be groomed for a position in the Cathedral, and what I’m about to offer you could either put that goal forever out of reach or expedite the process.”

Thalia struggled to keep the surprise from her face. It wasn’t exactly how she expected the meeting to go. “What offer would that be?”

“I’m starting a new and very small coven. Five members, to be exact, and I need a leader.”

“Five members?” That wasn’t just highly unusual. It was illegal. All covens have to have an even mix of elements and power. If one member died, another was waiting in the wings to take their place.

“Yes, five. I realize that it’s unusual, but I’m afraid this will be an unusual coven. If things go as planned, you’ll be the only member who has previously been in a coven. I have a level four earth witch who has been pursuing scientific endeavors, and an untested water witch.”

This time, Thalia couldn’t keep the horror from showing. “Aaron Lane? Are you sure?”

“I also have a level four fire witch in mind, although new information has come to light, and that may change,” George continued as though she hadn’t interrupted. “All are powerful, unattached, and unconventional, which is exactly why I need them. I also need someone just as powerful to keep them in line. Ms. Montgomery, that is where you come in.”

“That’s only four,” she said as she narrowed her eyes. “You said there were five.”

“Indeed, I did. I’m not sure how quickly the news has traveled, but there is a new Elemental witch that requires training and protection. I’m personally endorsing this coven, and it will have the full backing of the Cathedral…provided they do not order the execution of the new witch.”

Thalia held her breath. “You’re talking about Johnson’s little band of misfits,” she said shrewdly. “So it’s true. They managed to create an Elemental.”

“They did, and she is in a grave deal of danger. The High Council has remained strangely quiet on the subject, and I imagine that they will stay quiet until they see what she’s capable of. In the meantime, she will be targeted by Elementals and Blood and Bone witches alike. Her power is growing at an alarming rate.”

“She’ll expose us,” Thalia said as she pressed her lips into a thin line. She couldn’t even pretend to be excited by the prospect of the new witch. She was raised on traditions. Elementals were born into their power. To accept any other idea was heresy.

“That very well could be the case. Although she has more control than I expected, she’s a temperamental little thing. I need her protected, and I need her trained. She’s an air witch, Thalia. She needs a mentor.”

A mentor to the abomination? George was right. It could kill her career before it even got started.

On the other hand, if the high council did endorse this new Elemental, Thalia would be in a position of great power. She examined George carefully. It stood to reason that he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think the witch had a good chance of surviving.

There was something that he was keeping from her, but the fact that he was creating a coven spoke volumes. A new coven hadn’t appeared in over a hundred years, so he thought this new creation was important.

“I’ll need to see her in action,” she finally decided. “Not a full coven test, of course. She’d never pass that, but something similar. I assume that this is a temporary position?”

“If the girl is tested and passes, your services will no longer be needed.” George nodded his head. “She’s stubborn and hard-headed. I hope you’re up for a challenge.”

If George thought that one woman could stand in the way of her and her goals, he hadn’t done his homework. Thalia would be at the top, and she wasn’t about to let this stand in her way.

“Let’s talk details.”

 


Declan Coulter- Fire Witch

He sensed the older man’s presence before the witch revealed himself. As an air witch. elementally speaking, they were brothers in combat, but Declan could sense the tension between them. The elder witch wasn’t there on friendly business.

“Show yourself,” he said softly.

The man shimmered into view. He was tall, portly, and dressed in Cathedral robes. Declan immediately set his jaw. The only reason that a member of the Cathedral would seek him out was if they had no other choice.

“I am without a coven,” Declan said as he tried to reign in his temper. It was customary to announce their chosen family, but he was buying himself more time rather than being polite. He had no idea what the councilman was doing in his living room, but he guessed that it wasn’t good. If they knew that he was at the scene, he’d be done for.

Maybe they wanted to question him about Ian.

The elder looked around Declan’s open and sparsely decorated apartment with a frown. “You come from a good deal of wealth and power. Why are you living here?”

“I don’t believe my living standards are any of your concern,” Declan said tersely. “Please state your intentions.”

The bearded man smiled. “I apologize for my rudeness. My name is George. I’m an air witch of the low council.”

Declan raised an eyebrow. “George?” All council members were renamed once they ascended to the Cathedral. Declan doubted very much that the man was named George.

“Yes,” the councilman said without explaining. “I heard about your abrupt loss. My condolences.”

“Your condolences aren’t necessary. My fiancée didn’t die. She left me.” Declan shut his book and rose from the desk. “I have very limited time, George.”

“Once again, I must apologize. I’m not very good at small talk. I’ll get right to the point. I’m assembling a coven, and I require your power.”

Declan shook his head. “Not interested.”

“But you haven’t even heard what I have to say,” George protested.

“It doesn’t matter. It won’t change my mind.”

The elder man crossed his arms. “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why I feel the need to create a coven?”

“No,” Declan lied. Of course he was curious. Covens were forged thousands of years ago to combine powerful families. Witches were either born or invited into covens, but Declan didn’t have time to be roped into whatever political scene the elder man was plotting.

“Magic has been infused within a mortal.”

Declan cocked his head in mild interest. So that’s what this was about. He hadn’t expected the Cathedral to get involved so soon. “Excuse me? That’s not possible.”

“A month ago I would have agreed,” George said with a shrug. “But an entire coven managed to transfer their magic to her. It’s manifested as an air power.”

“An unnatural witch,” Declan mused. “I’m sure that’s pissed off the magical community.”

“Yes, I suppose she is, and it most certainly has. She’s also an adult witch immersed in a mortal society. Not only is she in danger of revealing our secret, but Elementals are calling for her death, and it would be a disaster if Blood and Bone members got their hands on her.”

“So kill her,” Declan said coldly. It would certainly make his life easier.

He watched warily as the furniture began to hover in the air. George was angry, and his rage infused the air around them. “How can we call ourselves light magic if our first response to something new is to kill them?”

Declan snorted. George had the power to kill him, but he’d never use it. They had to stay neutral. “You know just as well as I do that light magic has nothing to do with our moral judgments. We call ourselves that to make us feel better for what we’ve done in the past. There isn’t a single witch among us who truly believe that we’re good.”

“Johnson was my friend. He believed she was our last hope.” The furniture gently returned to the floor. “She needs a coven to teach and protect her.”

“I’m not the only untethered fire witch. The answer is still no,” Declan said shortly.

“Think about it,” George said as he ignored Declan.

“I don’t need to.”

“I didn’t just come to you because you’re untethered. You and I both know that another coven will never take you in. You have certain talents that would do well in this situation. I’m not going to let the matter rest. You will think about it, and I’ll be back.” The man shimmered out of view, and Declan was left staring into empty space.

He realized later on that George hadn’t asked what he was doing so far away from home. Nor did he seem to care. It was easier to hide his true intentions behind that of a broken-hearted man.

But there was a reason that he was untethered, and it wasn’t entirely by his choice. If George had come to him, he’d done it out of desperation.

Or maybe he really did want the unnatural witch dead.

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