Excerpt: BITTER MEDICINE by Mia Tsai (Tachyon Publications)

TsaiM-BitterMedicineNext month, Tachyon Publications are due to publish Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai. This debut novel is a “xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy”, in which “a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands.” Here’s the synopsis:

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother.

Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job — except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

On with the excerpt…


Luc holds out his left wrist, expectant. Elle has in the past told him she needs to read his energies before she makes his potions. All he buys from her are agency-standard items, which dont require personal exams, but shes the artisan. He isnt about to question her competence.

Elle takes his wrist in her hands, her touch hesitant. Shes always warm, thanks to her pyrokinetics. Luc steadies his breathing, corralling his heart rate as she lines up the long fingers of her hand on his vein. She closes her eyes as she probes, for which Luc is grateful because he likes to watch her as she thinks.

Youve got such incredible control,” she murmurs. Usually it takes only a few deep breaths before shes done, but Elle examines him for much longer. A furrow appears between her brows. She probes again, the pressure of her fingertips changing, and frowns.

She opens her eyes. Can I sit next to you?”

Of course.”

She takes a seat, their legs separated by inches. Other arm, please.”

Luc obliges. Elle turns his arm to show the underside of his wrist, then rests the back of his hand on her thigh as she performs her exam. He tenses. Despite his efforts, his heart rate increases.

She pulls her hand away, gasping, her eyes popping open. What happened to you?”

Thats a question with many answers, some of which hes forbidden to give. What do you mean?”

Youve been hurt, and bad. Everythings out of balance. Why are you here when youre this injured? You need to rest!”

He needs a moment to gather his words, stunned at her reaction. I came to give you a gift as thanks for saving my life.”

For what?” she yelps.

Saving my life.”

Elles mouth drops open. When she recovers, she says, Because of this? What happened? Can you even tell me about it?”

Luc shakes his head. If I could, I would. You might find it funny.”

Funny how?”

Describing himself as a chew toy for basilisks will violate his NDA. Showing her the bite mark wont. Would you like to see?”

Her eyes narrow by a hair. Please.”

Under my collarbone.” He unwinds his scarf, hiding his wince, and undoes the top buttons of his shirt, pushing aside the collar to reveal twin scabs surrounded by an area of lurid, angry red.

She leans in to inspect the wound, freezes, then looks up at him, alarmed. Shes so close he can see the brown-on-black striations in her irises, so close he can feel the mist of her breath on his skin. Are those bite marks?”

He nods.

What bit you?”

That, I cannot say. My apologies.”

She regards him as she straightens. Can I ask a kind of inappropriate question? You can say no.”

On the inside, a hue and cry go up. On the outside, Luc merely lifts an eyebrow. Yes.

Did you get bitten because youre tasty?”

He does his best not to smile and fails. No. It didnt bite me a second time either, so I will take it as confirmation.”

Elle purses her lips. Youre high rank and active in the field, which means you have access to the best healers here. Youre still hurt. That bite is fresh, and from the looks of it, from a venomous creature. Necrotoxin. Close to your heart too. You survived that?”

Impressive. Hed ask what training shes had, but theyve made it a point not to ask about each others backgrounds. Luc will have to resign himself to Elle being a mystery. Its better that way. If she knew what he did or heard the rumors about him, shed stop being his friend, like all the colleagues who have gone from cooperating with him to whispering behind his back.

And now, mocking him for botching a routine mission hes completed dozens of times. Its shameful for someone whos seen as the model agent, the perfect Fixer. The original and the best. Barely. I found life to be more preferable.”

And you thought Id find that funny because . . .?”

My coworkers found it funny.” Luc remembers hearing laughter before passing out. Im sorry. I shouldnt have said it.”

Almost dying isnt funny. Your coworkers are jerks. Your injury must hurt a lot.”

Not as much as the venom had. Hes since walled off the pain, acknowledging its presence but not allowing it to take up space. Its bearable, thanks to you. With more treatment, I should regain full function.”

If it does bother you, try acupuncture. Wounds like that often stagnate, and acupuncture will get your energy flowing again. I can—” Elle takes a breath. I can recommend a few excellent doctors who could work with your special needs.”

Part of the puzzle of how he survived clicks into place. She knows hes half-elven, and has been customizing his order for him for who knows how long. No one save for his boss, his aunt, and his physician know what he is. His full file is inaccessible to all but the founder of Roland & Riddle, and the semi-pointed ears that would have marked his heritage had been docked many years ago.

He speaks quietly. How did you figure it out?”

She shifts on the couch, looking everywhere but at him. Your pulse diagnosis. Your energy flow isnt human.”


The first time. Right away. I just didnt say anything.”

Thank you for keeping it confidential. And thank you for your concern. Suffice it to say Im now in good health, in no small part thanks to you. Your glyph of restoration, along with your healing potions, were the difference between mission success and mission failure.” He watches as her eyes widen.

Your skills are extraordinary.” After eight months of getting to know her, hes finally caught a glimpse of the breadth and depth of her abilities, and its staggering. Luc has sat with Elle many times as shes drawn up his order. He doesnt recall her stopping to reformulate his potions; she combines ingredients with a confidence hes assumed was born of routine.

Luc reaches for the ink, presenting the box to her, meeting her eyes before he speaks. This is how he should have approached the situation, and not the shove-it-at-her-and-hope-for-the-best method. I wanted to give you a gift of gratitude for saving me. You have my deepest thanks.”

She takes the box from him, her fingers brushing against his. A jolt crackles between them, racing up his arm and through his body.

Elles head comes up, her lips parting, her hand stilling against his. Luc looks at the fullness of her lower lip. The longer they stay in contact, the more he wants her touch.

The water begins boiling.

Excuse me,” Elle murmurs, getting up, setting the box on the table.

Luc swallows and lets out a silent breath once her back is turned.

Elle returns with a teapot and two cups on a tray, pours tea for them both, and sits.

The commission,” Luc continues, pretending nothing has happened, was supposed to be part of it. I didnt know how else to show my thanks.”

Would it, um, hurt your feelings if I backed out?”

According to his colleagues and an anonymous intranet post from earlier in the year, Luc has no feelings. No. I dont take things personally.”

Really?” Elle looks worried. Because you just gave me this ink, and if Im not doing your commission, then I wont need it.”

That stings. Its a gift. Its yours regardless.”

She glances at the box, yearning on her face. Are you sure? Its so expensive.”

Lucs mouth reacts faster than his brain. Measured against my life, it comes up short.”

Elle freezes as if someone has hit pause. You say that to every gal who saves your life? How would your doctor feel?”

He has to recover the situation and run damage control. Perhaps he should open a ticket and request interpersonal communications” to be bolded and underlined in his file. My doctor is an old werewolf whos tired of seeing me.”

With a wound like that, hes going to see you lots.”

Im aware. I have reduced responsibilities until he clears me.”

Reduced responsibilities?” Disbelief is written all over her face. You arent on medical leave?”

Unfortunately, I am not.” Dr. Clavret had recommended a minimum of ten days of PTO in his report to Oberon, Lucs boss, but it had gone ignored. Luc could argue, but he knows from previous experience that his position as Oberons right hand means nothing. No one says no to the founder of Roland & Riddle.

You should be resting!”

I agree, but theres the matter of work.” Prior to being bitten, Luc had been daydreaming of asking for several months off and renting a small apartment in Strasbourg, then spending much of that time researching curse-breaking. Thats out of the question now. Oberon wont reward him for failure. If he wants to escape—no. Calling it escape is a conceit, as he can never leave Oberons side. If he wants a respite, he needs absolute success on the next mission.

Elle gets to her feet and goes across the room to one of the baskets where she keeps spare glyphs. She returns with a stack of them and smacks them onto the coffee table. Im giving you a bunch of restoration glyphs. Use them all. Im sorry I cant do more for you.”

My commission,” Luc reminds her. Its necessary for my job. I apologize for pressing you. I believe your glyphs would give me the edge I need.”

Luc,” she starts.

Please.” He meets her eyes, despair welling up from where hes kept it sealed. He cant leave Oberon, but if he can get that month, he can pretend his boss doesnt exist. For a month, he can devote himself to helping the two children who need him.

Just the thought of it is enough to raise a guilty flush in his neck. Luc throws the intrusive thoughts and emotions back into their boxes and buries them.

Elle wavers, then sighs. Ill at least hear you out. But it depends on what youre asking for. I have limited ability.”

Relief breaks over him. Please dont undersell yourself. I wont believe it for a second.”

What if I oversell myself?”

I doubt you could.”

She cocks an eyebrow. An immortality serum would cost you a million cool ones.”

Cool what?”

Cool ones. You know, money.”

He tries not to laugh, closing his eyes briefly, taking a measured breath. He hasnt heard that phrase before. Coming from her, its adorable. Do you mean a cool million?”

No, cool ones. Dont you call money cool ones in French or something?”

No, and I dont think we call it cool onesin English, either.”

Elle scowls. I said what I said. Cool ones. A million of them.”

Very seriously, he replies, I will have to check the cool ones bank to see if I have the funds should I want to live forever. Youre still underselling yourself. Thats an unreasonably low price.”


Mia Tsai’s Bitter Medicine is due to be published by Tachyon Publications in North America and in the UK, on March 14th, 2023.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, InstagramTwitter

One thought on “Excerpt: BITTER MEDICINE by Mia Tsai (Tachyon Publications)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s