7 Tips From a Reticent Spymaster

When it comes to fantasy storytelling, Charles Yallowitz is your man. From why only some vampires can (and should) reproduce to the proper way of knowing the best mapper shop in town, he’s the expert.

He recently dragged one of the best spies from his Legends of Windemere series out to ask him for 7 Tips to Being an Effective Spymaster. The post is as follows:

(From a Yahoo image search)

So, I’ve asked Kai Stavros from War of Nytefall: Rivalry to give some tips on being a spymaster.  He doesn’t really want to share his secrets or be out in public, so he gave me a list.  It was written into my car with a warning that I should never ask him to do anything like this again.  Here we go:

  1. Never do public appearances unless they are on your terms . . . Just going to voice a complaint right away, huh?  You know, I could have asked another of my spy characters to do this.  Well, I don’t have any, but I know a few who would willing to make stuff up.
  2. Always double-check your information.  (That makes sense.)  Torture is a good way to confirm . . . Really!?  This is what I get for asking a vampire how this goes.  In his defense, vampires regeneration, so what would be a fatal wound for a mortal isn’t a big deal for them.  Still, there could be kids reading this, Stavros.
  3. Maintains some friendships with your coworkers, but remain distant.  You don’t want to get attached to those you might have to sacrifice for the sake of a mission.  The exceptions are your masters or employers depending on your personal employment position.  (That was bizarrely bureaucratic.)
  4. Never fall in love because that will inevitably be used against you.  If not your lover then children, so celibacy is a good idea as well.  (I know of one famous spy who would really disagree on that last one.  Why doesn’t that guy have kids on every continent?)
  5. When sending messages, you must write in code to protect your secrets.  It is best to have multiple code systems and randomly cycle through them.  Only one person should know the locations of the scrolls needed to decipher them.  It helps to put two spells on the messages as well.  One is to share the information with your employer if you and the translator are dead.  The other is to curse or kill anyone who manages to get even one word correct.  (Wow.  That’s actually a good one.)
  6. Never agree to appear on a blog to share secrets.  It doesn’t matter how much the author pathetically begs.  (And we’re back to the sass.)
  7. Uh . . . This one is in code and I don’t want to risk anything.  I mean, he did give me a warning in #5.  Oh, it’s just messy penmanship since I guess he was in a rush to get out of here.  The tip is: Don’t bring attention to yourself, but don’t try to hide from society.  You need to find something in the middle because blending in and understanding human nature are essential tools of the trade.  (I think that was cursed . . . No, just the Taco Bell I ate, which is basically the same thing.)


See? Spies can be handy -you know, when they’re not stabbing you in the back or whatnot.

Be sure to check out Charles’ books for more adventures. He writes unique stories where vampires are the main characters, and not because they sparkle.

Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Two

Wil used Dr. Lombard’s momentary distraction to enter the classroom and move to a seat near the front. She told herself she would sneak; she even thought the phrase, slipped into her seat. In actual practice and true to form, however, her entrance was more distracting than any lecture on acids and bases.

Still, she might have avoided detection if she hadn’t stepped on two people’s feet. She certainly would have avoided attention if she’d been more silent. But even a nearsighted, absentminded science enthusiast notices when a desk falls over.

“Ms. Windows,” Dr. L. said, turning and speaking over a background of laughter. He squinted at Wil’s blushing figure through his thick glasses. “Chemistry begins when the bell indicates, and not one Planck more.” He wagged a stern finger in a direction somewhere to the right of her as Wil hastily set the furniture to rights and sat upon the chair.

Dr. L. nodded a definite scowl to the girl on Wil’s left and turned back to puzzle over his notes on the board. They were barely legible to Wil and most of the class, yet seemed clear enough to help their teacher regain his train of thought.

“Water is not completely zero, of course,” he continued, and shot what he thought was a commiserating look back over his shoulder. “Buuut, some say it’s close enough to put it there. Really, though, nothing is absolute zero because of contaminants and outside influences…”

As he droned, Wil settled into her seat. Her face still felt hot and she tried to keep her head low. She dragged her backpack around to her side, on the floor, and opened it. If she didn’t take notes, she knew, she hadn’t much chance of passing Chemistry this term.

“…Like soap, bleach, and liquid drain cleaner…”

Wil rifled around the dark cavity of her backpack. She withdrew a notebook, and was very surprised to find it was her Chemistry one. It even had a pen shoved in the rings. She yanked the pen free, flipped to a mostly-blank page, and began sketching a pH scale similar to the one on the board.

“No, Mr. Urn, you would not survive drinking drain cleaner. Chemicals and solutions at the far end of the scale cause irreparable damage to tissue…”

Not a bad idea, Wil considered, For Carl, anyway. She doodled a bit in her margin, then noticed some text showing through the page. She flipped her notes over to see what was behind them. Somehow, there lay a green page with dots and lines in half-box and part-triangle shapes: a coded message.

Wil felt eyes on the back of her head, but knew better than to look. That Hope! She really was sneaky. How the small, quiet, shadow of a girl slipped the paper into her notebook, Wil would never guess; and therefore didn’t try to.

Keeping an eye on Dr. L.’s flapping-arm explanations and her own interpretations of them before her, Wil slowly unfolded the green paper. She picked up her pen and started drawing a codex diagram at the bottom.

She wondered what message The Talented Teenagers (name still a work in progress) had sent her. She couldn’t wait to find out.


Continued from Eighty-One.
Keep reading to Eighty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Three

Fortunately, Wil was able to keep awake the remainder of History. She wouldn’t have put it past Mr. G. to try the correctional fluid method if she dozed again. There was no telling what that crazy Air Force fanatic would do.

She hurried to finish the reading and its questions. The silence around her was slowly replaced by the hum of conversations, as her classmates began visiting with each other or working on other homework. They had started the simple assignment whilst Wil was airborne, and most were now finished.

“Done,” Wil said quietly and triumphantly. She set the notepaper with her answers to the top right on her desk, then extracted the secret crossword from her binder. “T-M-E-E-Y-B-R-R-L-I-A-B-Y-R-E-F-A-T-S-C-H-O-O-L,” She read, under her breath.

She had despaired a bit, at first glance, that she had yet another step before resolution. Now, however, Wil could see that not all of the words were scrambled. Clearly, there was “by,” “fat,” and “school.” Perhaps the letters AND the words were scrambled, which would account for “fat” being right before “school.”

Logic told Wil that there wasn’t a good reason to have “fat” anywhere in the message, though. No one at school was named that, nor any location. Perhaps she was supposed to seek out a person who was fat, but she also doubted that.

She stared at the page, thinking, as the room buzzed around her.

Just then, Wil noticed that the key letter boxes in the crossword itself were not all the same. Five of the squares had an extra line on the side. She’d thought it an error of the print before, but now entertained the idea of it being another clue. The letters affected by the extra line were E, B, Y, T, and L.

Thanks to the assignment she had just completed on Morse Code and other methods used for communication during America’s wars, Wil remembered that a space between words is written with a slash. This meant that T-M-E-E was one word, IF her code-writer intended for her to copy the letters down in the order she had. Wil sincerely hoped that was the case. She felt reassurance that it was, since “school” copied that way was not scrambled.

“Eetm, Mete, Meet!” Wil said, a bit too loudly. A few people near her looked at her questioningly, and she smiled shyly before quickly looking back down at her paper. She pretended to be absorbed by it as she attempted to cover most of it with her textbook and hand. They returned to their own conversations and work.

Wil exhaled in relief, and really did become absorbed.

Y, B became “by;” R, R, L, I, A, B, Y was “library;” and R, E, F, A, T was “after.”

“Meet by library after school,” Wil read excitedly in her mind. In answer, the ending bell rang.


Continued from Thirty-Two.
Keep reading to Thirty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters: Sixteen

Despite finishing her simple assignment in a reasonable amount of time, Wil was not able to progress much through her coded note.

She looked for repeated symbols, but there were few. She tried an obvious opening address like her first message, but could not see one. Also, the different lines, dots, and half-squares were bunched together in orders that made word spacing too difficult to find. If written in plain English, themessagewouldappearalltogether.

Wil grunted an exasperated sound, then quickly blushed and sunk farther behind her monitor at the curious looks she received in return. She had burned through the small fuel curiosity and novelty had provided. In frustration, she crumpled the paper into her pocket.

The final bell sound played, and the class awoke to chatter, smiles, and the hustle and rustle of materials gathered and chairs returned.

The teenage mass rolled toward the door, then down the halls to other waves of young persons. They all moved toward lockers or toward friends, to eddy in conversations of tide pool depths.

Wil retrieved her backpack and school things without the bother of popularity at all, eyeing the empty chatterers a tad enviously as she usually did. She turned to shut the locker door after putting everything into her pack. Then, Wil jumped and gave a small shout of surprise.

There was another paper in the dust of the locker floor, though she was certain it had not been there when she first withdrew the contents. As usual, it was a torn piece of notepaper. Wil reached in and picked it up.

The writings on this paper matched the printed examples of the lines and line-dots code of her computer work: two X’s and two box grids, each with and without dots, were drawn …with letters! Someone had just dropped her the key to the code!

Wil looked round suspiciously, but her chance had clearly fled. She kicked at the thin carpet floor in frustration. “Zut alors!” She exclaimed, borrowing one of Mrs. T.’s expressions.

“Well,” she thought, “At least now I can crack the dumb thing. Maybe the person’s name is on this one.” She doubted it.

Hefting her backpack onto her shoulders, Wil hurried down the hall and outside. She headed to the usual carpool pickup area.

She saw her neighbor whom she rode with, but the middle-aged woman wasn’t sitting in her usual hunched position over her phone as the engine idled. True, she still hadn’t left the driver’s seat. But, Mrs. Crandall was actively and agitatedly looking at and around departing bodies of students for Wil.

This was never a good sign. Wil increased her pace as worry slowly creased her face.


Continued from Fifteen.
Keep reading to Seventeen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Fourteen

Wil walked among her chattering, self-absorbed peers in a protective bubble of her own thoughts and attentions. She held the second note against her heart with her books and notebook. She walked in as straight but casual a line as she could to the lunchroom.

Though she worried about the person behind the spying eyes at the door from earlier, Wil had to eat. She often wasn’t full from what they ate at home, and school lunch was a reduced cost besides.

As such, Wil found herself looking through clear sneeze guards at options that resembled edible items a few minutes later. She selected the Chicken Fried Steaklike Meat and Potatoes with Vegetable meal, snagging a roll and a bowl of previously-canned fruit.

Wil relayed her account number to the bored lunch lady sitting at the computer, then carefully spied around to find an unoccupied table. She checked around to ensure no one was paying her attention, either, and saw nothing suspicious. Hopefully, whoever had seen her in the courtyard was long gone.

Since the lunch period was nearly over, Wil was able to find a vacated blue table near a wall. She carefully set her food on it, retrieved some utensils, then came back and sat herself down on the matching blue bench. She casually pulled out the folded note she’d saved from under the brick, then picked up her roll and took a bite.

Wil began unfolding the paper, separating the little edge tatters that had interlocked a bit. She felt the excitement in her chest flutter like a hyperactive butterfly. She wondered what she’d find.

Immediately, Wil saw that this paper also was not written in regular English. This was turning into a regular treasure hunt!

Although excited to crack another code, Wil also felt annoyance. Who was leaving these notes? For what purpose? Spies would have assigned a mission at this point. Fairies would surely get right to the point and not leave a person hanging on clues.

Wil looked over the symbols on this new cypher as she ate her way through the chicken fried substance and its accompanying instant potatoes. The “letters” were lines, dots, and some lines with dots. They were confusing enough to distract her from the lack of taste as she chewed.

Wil wondered if her keyboarding teacher next period would give them extra time at the end of class, so that she could do some searching. Looking over the lines and dots and line dots, Wil felt out of her element.

Once again, the interminable bell sound resounded in the halls. It was a depressing death knell tone in the lunchroom where Wil and slow eaters still sat.

Wil finished her fruit, some of the vegetable-shaped side dish, then shoved her roll in her shirt pocket to finish once she was done chewing the rest.

Would she solve this message? What would it say? Where would she go? Would she ever know who was writing them?


Continued from Thirteen.
Keep reading to Fifteen.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twelve

Wil’s current school had been remodeled a few years ago, and someone along the chain of command had decided that large, chunky furnishings in the primary colors would make a good decorating idea. As such, the public areas like the common and lunch rooms had tables and chairs painted brightly in red, yellow, or blue.

Also, some large, odd accents that may have resembled the idea of modern art were periodically attached to the walls in ways that were meant to be artistic and interesting. These were painted in the primary color scheme as well. The wall shapes reminded Wil of plastic preschool utensils that had been garbled in a disposal accidentally; or of a young scribbler’s interpretation, in crayon, of swooping birds.

Wil crept carefully under a yellow swanlike wall spoon, listening; ruminating on the décor. The hallway was nearly empty.

She was no novice to top secret missions like this one, though she admitted being a little rusty after so many months assigned to a desk job. If only her partner hadn’t moved at the last second on their last case! -Well, regrets wouldn’t help now, and she was finally able to prove herself again.

Wil wouldn’t give “N” the chance to censure anything. She’d slip in completely undetected, finish the job, and file her report before anyone even knew she’d left for her mission.

There was a general hum of sound Wil was attuned to, punctuated by louder exclamations at times. As Wil drew closer to the front of the school, this noise resolved into collective conversations with occasional bursts of laughter or shouts. Wil paused and bit her lip. How would she get past a crowd that size, unnoticed?

A brave beam of sunlight pushed past the dissipating fog and overcast sky outside to lay across the floor of the hallway in front of Wil. Her eyes were drawn to it. She could take the door to outside, since no one would be out there in this chilly weather. Indeed, the doors were all locked this time of year, even to the small outdoor yard with tables by the lunch area. No one would want to eat in the cold.

Wil checked for any prying eyes, then headed right to the door. Wrapping her scarf more snugly, she pushed the door open into freezing air. In an unusual gesture of forethought, she sought a small rock and lodged it in the bottom of the door. This was a trick she’d used back in the Gold Onyx Mission. The latch wouldn’t connect fully, but the rock made the door look fully closed. Wil hoped that enemy sentries would be inattentive, at least till her return.

She folded her arms tightly around her books and herself and traveled quickly around the back of the building where there would be fewer people. It was cold. Wil wasn’t certain what sort of surveillance was in place; so she ducked under windows, hurried past doors, and kept her face shrouded in her purple hood.

In this fashion, she reached the wall that turned to fence the outdoor lunch court. Her stopping point faced north, and somehow also exposed Wil to a chill wind. Shivering, she tried to look spy-like as she peered around the corner into the yard.

Red, yellow, and blue tables and benches sat empty and frozen. Small snowdrifts were gathered in the shaded wall alcoves and at the bases of the tables. Wil’s scarf flapped a bit in the wind, but it wasn’t the only thing doing so.

As she looked closer, Wil could see a discarded brick from the wall sitting on one of the red tables. And there, pinned by the brick, flapped a blue-lined paper with a torn, serrated edge.


Continued from Eleven.
Keep reading to Thirteen.