Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Dreamless City Writing Excerpt – Thief’s Wick

I’m still in the process of rough drafts, rewrites, and editing, but I had some people ask for more details about Nissa. I struggled with describing her, then realized that showing is better than telling. Here’s an excerpt from The Dreamless City, my steampunk urban fantasy novel.

This is my work-in-progress, so constructive feedback is greatly appreciated!

This takes place right at the beginning of the book. It is one of the events that sets Nissa down the path of no return.

nissa design page 01

Nissa Rhodes did not like the look of the two lads hovering in the Golden Gadfly’s stable yard. Crouched in the shadows across the street, knees tucked under her chin, she was waiting for the stable hands to turn in for the night. The Gadfly’s hayloft was snug and dry, and Nissa occasionally weathered bad nights among the scratchy bales. It shared a wall with the Hobbled Hackney, a seedy taproom, and made climbing into the hayloft easy.

The two lads wore woolen greatcoats and cavalry boots cobbled to fit like expensive gloves. Their clothes were custom-tailored and without a tear or patch, marking the lads as Youngbloods, probably down from Hightown district. Nissa wondered what business they had in the Cobblecourt. As the pair approached the stables, the shorter lad looked up and down the street too many times. It was a novice’s mistake, not something an experienced sneak like Nissa would do.

The chill wind gusted, billowing out the taller lad’s greatcoat and exposing the thief’s wick at his belt. It was shaped like a small lantern, but only as tall as her hand. It kept a small flame burning within it, most of the light shielded around the bottom and sides. The fire could not burn without air though, so there were vents in the top of it. The vents gave off a distinctive star-shaped pattern when there was a fire within it.

Nissa’s brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. Trouble is often found at the end of a thief’s wick, citizens of the Cobblecourt were fond of saying.

With a final glance around the yard, the two lads disappeared into the darkness of the stable. Nissa eased her weight from one leg to the other, warding off muscle cramps, and waited.

In the distance she heard the South Foundry whistle blow, signaling the end of the swing shift. She imagined men in coveralls wiping the sweat from their brows, faces reddened from the molten metals they worked. They would be leaving, heading home to families already abed, or nipping into an alehouse for a quick pint. She wondered if any of them would pass this way.

She heard a horse scream, a furious sound that made the hair on her arms prickle. The scream was followed by a heavy slam of something against wooden panels. Possibly something man-sized, Nissa mused. The ruckus was followed by loud voices, then a hush.

The two Youngbloods emerged from the stables, the tall lad smoothing the lapels of his greatcoat. The shorter lad was holding his abdomen and shuffling gingerly. Walking away with head high as if he owned the district, the tall lad led the way, heading towards Brighthurst Street and likely transport to Hightown. Nissa peered at the suspicious pair as they strode into the gloom, but she could not determine if they still had the thief’s wick. They turned the corner and were gone.

Ever vigilant, Nissa waited another quarter bell, the chill wind ruffling her ragged, blond hair and creeping through the ripped coat seams. Her fingertips were tinged a pale blue. She smelled grilled meats from the kitchen of the Hobbled Hackney, and her stomach grumbled in wistful hunger. She tried to block out thoughts of tender morsels dripping savory juices down her fingers and chin. She had not eaten meat in a fortnight, ever since her last job had gone sideways on her.

Damn Oscar Darrow to the starless skies. She would not be waiting to
sneak into a hayloft if not for his highhanded ways. She had been cut out of the Cobblecourt’s grey trade by the Grey Rogue himself.

Overlaying the smell of cooked meats was another smell, dangerous in crowded Rivenloss districts such as the Cobblecourt where houses six stories high leaned wall to wall, sometimes arching over streets and casting them into permanent darkness. The smell ebbed, then came back to Nissa stronger on the next breeze. It was the smell of a building fire.

“What mucking bad luck,” Nissa whispered to herself.

She heard the horses in the stable shifting restlessly. Looking about in the dim coglight, she spied a small stream of smoke escaping from the hayloft window.

Nissa knew she should leave now. If she stayed, there would be trouble, which she could ill-afford to find her. Besides, she needed to find another bolthole to weather out the chilly night.

One of the stabled horses began a frantic neighing. Its calls were answered with silence. No one from the taproom bothered to investigate. Probably too deep in their cups, Nissa thought. The stable lads were long abed. She should leave, but as she listened to the horses’ escalating sounds of alarm, she knew she could not leave them to die.

Again, this is my work-in-progress, so constructive feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

12 comments on “Dreamless City Writing Excerpt – Thief’s Wick

  1. Mark
    February 15, 2013

    Well muck me, this is really good so far! Good work Tracy.

    I felt the pacing could’ve been a bit quicker, but I also acknowledge you have a lot of introductory information to get across so that mightn’t be possible.

    Looking forward to seeing the final product!

    • tracycembor
      February 15, 2013

      I agree, Nissa is probably spending too much time sitting around in the cold. I’ll be sure to tighten that up… and toss Nissa into a burning barn to warm her up.

      I’m glad you like my use of “mucking.” I didn’t want to swear, but I realized my story was about street people and teenagers, and they have foul mouths. Some people don’t like “fracking” or other swear substitutions, but it felt right for me.

      • Mark
        February 15, 2013

        Mothermucker is probably the funnest thing to say ever.

  2. Katie
    February 15, 2013

    I never grew out of the loving-ponies stage, haha. And your friend’s artwork is beautiful!

    The genre Dreamless City falls under piques my interest. I will be reading more.

    • tracycembor
      February 15, 2013

      Thanks! (from me and my friend)

      The book came together from two separate pieces. I wanted to write about things I loved, so the plot grew around a girl and her horse. I had this steampunk world that hadn’t found a home, so I squashed the two things together. It needed a twist, so I decided the horse may or may not be real. Ta-da, story!

  3. Chris Edgar
    February 16, 2013

    Enjoyed the puckish, plucky Nissa character as depicted in her drawings and the prose — it looks like you have a bunch of different talents.

    • tracycembor
      February 17, 2013

      I can only claim the character concept and writing. Visual arts are not my forte, but my awesome friend Heather Mills has been enduring many paragraphs of exposition to bring Nissa to life for me. We’ll have more sketches ready for reveals soon. Thanks!

  4. Cortney
    March 6, 2013

    Cool! I like how you are building your world with little cultural references and idioms. It feels very natural and right. Nissa is intriguing – I’m curious where she goes from here.

    • tracycembor
      March 7, 2013

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked the little touches. Most of those are the surprises I learn about the world while I’m writing the story.

      As for where Nissa ends up, well, a big mess of trouble is in her near future.

  5. Caylie Sadin
    March 7, 2013

    Cool! This is awesome so far! I’m definitely intrigued by this excerpt and by your novel concept! I’m definitely super excited for more!

    And I’m really glad she didn’t leave the horses to die. It would have been a distinct character choice, and the fact that she can’t leave them to die shows that she still has empathy. Probably a good thing, though something that will probably bring her trouble out on the streets!

    Also, it’ll be exciting to see her use her thief skills!

    Thank you for the follow on my blog, and I’ll be following you back! :)

    • tracycembor
      March 7, 2013

      If you want to see her talents as a sneakthief, check out Pocket Change, one of my other writing excerpts. Writing it made me giggle at times.

      Glad you enjoyed reading about Nissa. :)

      • Caylie Sadin
        March 7, 2013

        I’ll check it out now! If you’d like a sample of my writing, I posted my first chapter of my book on my blog! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! :)

Comments are closed.

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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