Other Writing

May Reading

Writing is coming along, more slowly than I'd like for now with a few other things having been added to my plate. I have a solid outline and some good chunks done for my story about Jonathan Harper, vampire and artist. I also got the kinks worked out with a writer friend of mine about some possibilities for Akitis' story, and I'm very pleased to have the green light for that! Writing Akitis is probably one of my favorite characters right now. I've also gotten a few more scenes done for a very new story that has bullet lists and character sketches littering my hard drive. No news on Fire in the Blood yet, but I'm still hopeful for Kallizar's story to be published. As always, the effort continues and in the meantime, I keep busy with other things.

In reading news... I'm at 101 books read this year, which is very cool as that's already more than I read during all of 2011. Sadly, I'm 56 books behind schedule to make my goal of 365 by Dec. 31, but I maintain hope. And so, here are the books I read during May.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - 3.5 stars. Ok, so I lied in my previous post regarding this series when I said I was reading the final book. Somehow I got the impression that it was only a trilogy, and the ending of this bok (#3 in an ongoing series) certainly seemed to close things up nicely. The ending felt very solid and the series could have ended there, easily. That said, I'm looking forward to what the next book does with the situation. Would have been a straight 4-star review if the foreshadowing had been subtle in some way, but since it more or less bashed you in the face, big parts of the Big Reveal fell flat. Still a good series- excited for more.

C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton - 3 stars. Much better than the previous book. I actually cared about the characters and the fact that we knew going into the story that one of the characters was going to die (seriously not a spoiler- the first intro page tells you this person is dead) made it easier for me to connect with him and want to see justice. The end was rough and more confusing than the other two books, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in continuing the series. We'll see.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I've read the books, listened to the unabridged productions (I love Jim Dale!) and seen the movies, and I really just love the story. There's great character development and just a lot of fun going on in this first book.

Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick - 4 stars. Fun, quick read. (And yes, I enjoyed a piece of chick-lit. Surprising, but it does happen.) This tells the story of three couples who all get married by the same pastor, only to find out that the pastor has died days later- without having signed their marriage licenses. As each couple is already having serious problems, they have to decide whether the relationship is worth saving, or if they are going to go their separate ways. I'm fairly certain I had some life lessons snuck upon me while I was reading this, but it was cleverly disguised by humor and fun, so I will accept it. Adam dearest, if you are reading this, I did not question our decision to get married, and if our paperwork had been bad, I would have married you again in a second. :)

The Black by D. J. MacHale - 4 stars. This is the second book of a trilogy. It tells the same story as book 1, but from Cooper's perspective instead of Marsh's- which is a big deal, considering the circumstances. I found it very clever and thoroughly enjoyable, building on what we learned in book 1 and filling in the other side of things, while still pushing the overall plot forward to the Final Showdown that I assume will happen in book 3. Really looking forward to reading the end of this trilogy!

Individually Twisted by David Pickering - .5 stars, and even that is generous. I read this on a bet with a friend, who prefaced it with "this is probably the worst story I have ever read. You must read it so we can discuss its badness." The only good thing I have to say about this is that it was short, so the torture didn't last long. The structure was crap, the characters were laughable and couldn't even hold continuity with themselves, and there was No Plot. Really. There were times when it seemed like something *might* happen to the kids, but nothing ever did. Supposedly written to be a warning against letting your kids do drugs, this "book" not only failed to deliver a warning but actually ended with the message that if you go sell drugs, you can be millionaires and retire at the age of 20. I kid you not. Do yourself a favor, people (two, actually): don't do drugs, and don't read this book. Ever.

Naruto vol. 6: The Forest of Death by Masashi Kishimoto - 4 stars. I don't want to give any spoilers for ongoing stories, so reviewing the manga volumes I read is going to get more and more vague. This book has Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura in the middle of their Chuunin ninja exam in a dangerous place called the Forest of Death. They run into one of the main antagonists of the series, a rogue ninja named Orochimaru. and Sasuke and Naruto both get more than they bargained for, and Sakura steps up.

Vampire Knight, vol. 1 by Matsuri Hino - 4 stars. I'd never heard of this series and came across it randomly, and I'm glad I picked it up. The art is gorgeous and the story seems promising- there's a boarding school with two groups of students: the day class and the night class. The day class is regular kids, and the night class is all vampires. The day class doesn't know this; they've been told that the night class is made up of the "elite" students. The story centers around a girl named Yuki and her friends- Zero, fellow human and guardian of the students keeping the two classes separated, and Kaname, vampire who saved Yuki from a rogue vampire when she was young. There was a twist at the end of this volume that I saw coming a mile away, but I'm definitely going to continue the series.

Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth - 4 stars. Loved this one. Cade grows a lot, which is pretty cool considering he, as a vampire, doesn't change in a lot of ways. The enemy was fantastically creepy and reminded me of someone straight out of the TV show Supernatural (which is also excellent, by the way). The ending was solid and made me angry that the next book isn't out yet. I'm actively watching for it now. If you are squeamish, do not read this. It gets pretty grizzly.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix - 3 stars. It's a Nix book, so there was no question about whether to read it. Overall, it has promise, but the symbolism gave me whiplash. I plan to read more, if only to spend time in the awesome world Nix has created (his strongest point, I think) but I don't know when book 2 will make it to the top of my "on-deck" list.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (audiobook) by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale - 5 stars. I still love this world. Lockhart really annoys me (as well he should). The Chamber part was also excellent. One thing that I've never understood is how Hermione, as smart as she is, managed to confuse a cat hair for a person's. :)

The Dark Sleep by P. N. Elrod - 4 stars. Book 8 in the series, and it spends a lot of time on the supporting cast, letting Jack step out of the limelight for a bit. We learn a lot about Escott, something I've been dying for since we met him. The story itself was great, but there's one part - just a few paragraphs - that kept this from being a 5-star review. Jack is a former journalist, now trying to write and someday publish a fiction novel. Fine. But Elrod took a few paragraphs to basically say, "look how hard it is to write something cool that will get picked up by a publisher! It's so much work. It takes a lot of perseverance and the author should really get a pat on the back for being so determined and pushing through the struggles." That really annoyed me. Yes, it's true that it can be hard to write something good, and even harder perhaps to get it printed. But that's what writing is about - what any kind of art is about. You create it because you want to, you polish it because you care and you want it to be the best it can be. When you present a piece of artwork, you want people to notice how nice it is. You don't then pull out the fifty failed attempts and shove them under their noses to tell them how hard it was to get right. Effort is behind-the-scenes stuff. Or at the very least, if you want to talk about the process of creating it, you find an appropriate time - and the middle of a novel is not the place for telling readers how hard it was to get the script done.

Anyway. Aside from those paragraphs, it was very good.

Bleach vol. 22: Conquistadores by Tite Kubo - 4 stars. I'll combine my review of all three Bleach volumes here. Basically, Ichigo is having some serious problems with his Hollow, and the Visoreds know it. Then some new enemies drop in from Hueco Mundo and go after the scouting Soul Reapers, breaking into  five different battles across the night sky of Karakura Town. Arrancars are tough, and these ones are led by the even tougher Espada 6, Grimmjow (who, incidentally, is one of my most favorite characters to date). The Soul Reapers realize they are in some serious crap, and Ichigo finally realizes what must be done to save himself.

Bleach vol. 23: Mala Suerte! by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Bleach vol. 24: Immanent God Blues by Tite Kubo - 5 stars.

Reached by Ally Condie - 3.5 stars. The introduction of the plague saved this book from the brink of oblivion. Just by the nature of the other two books in this trilogy and the way things were heading, it was obvious that not one of the main characters was in danger of dying, so that killed a lot of the suspense. But the way the plague was introduced, and the explanation of the viral growth and mutation, was very cool and accurate and brought something new and interesting to the table. Overall, a stock ending to a stock YA storyline. Worth reading once if you are looking for something to pass the time, but I think there are better things out there.

Sushi 101: The Fundamental Ingredients, Techniques and Concepts of Sushi by Cooking Penguin - 4 stars. This rating comes from ease of use, not from actual book formatting. This book can get away with being more conversational because it's a short little ebook on the how-to of sushi-making. Being a big sushi lover, I was happy for this book's existence, because I now know the basic ingredients and needed preparations to try making a few maki rolls at home. Yum!

Up next I've got plans to continue with the Harry Potter audiobooks, as well as a book called The Rook by Daniel O'Malley that's on the agenda next for my book club. Bleach, Naruto and other manga will also continue, and beyond that, I intend to keep on raiding the library. I also have some advance copies of novels soon to be released for sale that I have on the schedule to read and review. For more info on any of these books, or to see what I've said about other books in the past, check out my GoodReads read shelf. Anything read this year has a review along with it. Feel free to send me recommendations, either on here or through GoodReads messages - I'm always looking for new books! (And if you have a horrible book like Individually Twisted you think I would enjoy tearing apart, let me know- just be sure to warn me that it's terrible or I may question your sanity.)

At the Hands of a Hunter

Alec - Vampyra, wild cousin of the vampire. Bound by the new moon and the nightmare of nightmares, this Vampyra can still feel fear... and it has been said that Hunters know how to make even demons hide their faces. Click on the tag "Alec" in the word bubble to read more about Alec and the people in her world!

 

 

Hunt me no longer. End the terror that keeps me prisoner. Such pleas have never crossed my lips, but I have never wished for anything so hard in my life.

 

Of course the Hunter does not oblige. Even if he could hear my pleas, he would not. But I can only beg silently. My jaw is held tightly shut. Paralyzed, but not by fear. By iron. A cold, cruel iron stake through my heart. The point of it protrudes from my back, into the ground where I’ve fallen. I cannot free myself – the iron freezes my boy, rendering me completely vulnerable to whatever the Hunter has in store for me.

And the pain… the pain at the hands of a Hunter, the torture he can devise, it is worse than the Turning that so many have endured. I would rather have been Turned a thousand times than fall victim to one Hunter.

Tears born from that agony creep silently from the corners of my eyes, forbidden but still present. I cannot blink them away, and they leave a shining, cool streak down my temples to the ground.

The Hunter grabs me by the ankles. I try to fight back, but I cannot even twitch my toes. The Vampyra within me snarls at his touch, even of his soft black gloves. He gives a nasty yank, jerking me forward. The end of the iron spike drags a rough furrow along the ground, wrenching me into new agonies. Screams tear at my throat but cannot escape. I endure silently, by force, unable even to close my eyes against the pain wracking my chest. Along the furrow is a smeared, sticky trail. Although I cannot see it, I know it is there.

Even though my heart does not beat, it can still feel pain. The twisting, jolting, of that spike is such fierce pain, I long to pass out, to flee from my feelings. But such is the true cruelty of iron: we must remain awake, conscious, for every second. We must feel everything.

Is it any wonder why we hate and fear the Hunters so?

Worse fear wraps around me as I realize where we are headed, where the Hunter is dragging my immobile body. Into the last, fading rays of sunlight.

There is nothing I can do. I am going to die. My only consolation is that, because I am a Vampyra, it will be quicker than he expects. He will not be able to torture me for long.

We stop moving for a moment while he regains his breath. When he sees my stone face, he laughs viciously.

Beside me, my tears fall with a whispered splash into the seeping pool of black-red blood.

Akitis and the Poison Blade, Part 2

Part 1 introduces Akitis to the world, so if you don't know who she is, that would be the place to start. This piece directly follows Part 2, picking up the conversation where Part 2 left off. In other news, Even unto Death is getting closer to a smooth draft. I'm very happy with the scenes I've already edited - I feel like I'm actually making progress! Yes! Soon, I think, it will be time to send it out...

***

“Beating or not, it will still hurt when I tear it from your chest,” the vampire hissed, her eyes blazing with hatred.

“Enough!” The declaration came from Namryn, who had looked up from the registry book with tired frustration. “There are bounties listed for all whom you’ve brought us tonight, Shadowknives. You shall be paid for your efforts, as usual.”

“Excellent. I’d hate to think you were backing out on me,” Akitis replied smoothly.

Sheila glowered.

“And you in turn will surrender the medallions.”

This voice was new. It grated and moaned like the last gasps of the dead against one’s ears. The assassin's eyes flickered quickly around the room to catch the speaker, and when she realized who it was, she stiffened instinctively.

One of the demons looked back at her, its glittering amber eyes barely more than vertical slits. Usually, the creature kept itself shrouded in shadows, but now, as it spoke, they shivered away to reveal its true form.

Four arms rested against the tabletop. Two hands were folded calmly, held motionless, but the other two were curled atop the wood, the tips of their long claws clacking as the demon drummed his fingers in an almost casual movement. There were no facial expressions, for there was no face – only blackness in what Akitis could only think of as a feline shape. She imagined the demon standing properly, four arms and two legs to the ground, and realized it looked similar to the giant black cats that roamed the foothills of the Gothemere Mountains – aside from the extra limbs. She could even make out the tip of the demon’s long tail above the edge of the table. But those cats did not instill the fear Akitis now felt as she looked into the demon’s eyes.

“The medallions stay with me,” she said. The laughter was gone from her voice, but the power remained. Never show fear to an enemy. Never show weakness. Falter and you will die.

“What use are they to you? You have your gold,” the demon replied. Just barely, Akitis could hear masculine tones behind the words.

“What use are they to you? If you want them, you should have taken them yourself,” Akitis retorted. “What I kill, I own. These are my trophies and I am not bound by anything to hand them to another. Particularly not to you.”

“Then take your gold and go,” Namryn said, crossing the last of the names off his list. “Here.” He tossed a sack of gold to the assassin.

Akitis caught it one-handed and tucked it away without releasing the medallions. “A pleasure, as always,” she said, nodding sarcastically to Sheila in particular. “Any new jobs for me? Otherwise I’m out. Spent too long in this dank little hole already.”

Loranus slid a sheet of paper toward her. “The latest requests.”

Akitis scanned the list. “Nothing special… more werewolves? Full moon’s not for another few weeks. Let’s see… usual bunch of vampires… this one posted by a human though, that could be interesting… aha, here’s something fun.” She smiled. “So the Halps manor ghost finally pissed someone off enough to list. Excellent.” She folded the paper and pocketed it. “Done. I’ll be back when those wolves finally get around to showing themselves.”

“I hope they drag your shredded carcass in here for me to feed upon,” snarled the werewolf from the other end of the room. Even in her human form, her speech was rough and low.

Akitis snorted. “Keep a leash on your pet, Loranus,” she said, “or you might find yourself needing a replacement.”

“Get out, Shadowknives,” Loranus shot back.

Akitis laughed again and stepped toward the door.

“I’ll be waiting for you, half-blood,” Sheila snapped.

Akitis spun around, tossing a silver blade at the vampire’s shoulder. It found its mark perfectly and the room began to stink of burning blood. “Keep that,” Akitis called back to the snarling woman. “Call it a gift.”

As she turned back around, her eyes caught the glowing slits of the demon who had spoken earlier. Neither moved. No one spoke, but Akitis still heard the vile whispers crawling towards her. I can see you, little black Shadowknives. I can see the Darkness in your heart.

Akitis’ vision blurred. Her breath froze in her chest and her head pounded. And she felt the crawling within her, the stirring of the Dark Magick as it answered the call. We keep this body, Calmo-rin, it said. You will keep the silence. The Dark Magick will keep the silence and we will have this creature descended to us. And she will bathe in your blood even as we feed on her life.

Akitis shuddered. She grabbed at the Dark Magick and pulled it down, down into the depths of her silent heart and locked the door once more. It raged and fought, as always, but Akitis would not let up until every strand was once again locked away. Her vision refocused and she found herself still staring at the demon. Calmo-rin, she thought. The Dark Magick had named this demon Calmo-rin. When Akitis finished her new weapon, this Calmo-rin would be the first to die. It had been the Dark Magick binding his unnatural creation that had resonated with the Magick within herself, and had forced her to fight it again.

And the Dark Magick was getting stronger. Every time she beat it back, the task was more difficult. Every time she locked it away, the doors weakened.

Before the Poison Blade could figure out what had taken place in those seconds, Akitis vanished from the room. Sprinting down the corridor at full vampire speed, she was outside before the door to the council had fully swung shut. But even outside, with the cool night air against her skin, Akitis sweated. Fully changed creatures had no battle with the Dark Magick. It worked the change and sealed itself inside the medallion, giving the creature its strengths and weaknesses according to its race. But Akitis had not fully changed. She alone battled the Dark Magick as it swarmed inside her, trying to tear down her mind and destroy her from within.

Akitis gritted her teeth and headed for home. She would find the vampire who had marked her – the one so inept or so careless that he could not even control the change. She would make the Dark Magick tell her the reason it longed for her, why it healed fatal wounds instead of finding a different host to control. Akitis drew her orange blade and nicked the tip of one finger, reveling in the fierce pain that came with life.

She would not lose.

Envisioned, Part 3

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them originally.  

The instant my skin touched the glass, pain reared up behind my eyes. Pressure made them feel that they were about to burst out of my skull, and I squinched my eyelids closed, just to be safe. Somewhere else in my head I was sure there were knives being stabbed into me, but I couldn’t tell where. My focus dimmed and I wondered vaguely if this really was the one that was going to kill me.

Think of something else. Nothing came, the pain was too intense. There were pyres in my skull, their towering flames rearing up to devour me. Molten heat dripped inside my brain, covering my head in its sadistic torture and making me break out in a sweat. I half-expected the flower to melt beneath my hand, but the heat was all within me. I shuddered as another flash of agony ripped through me, threatening to tear my body apart from the inside. With what little focus I lad left, I concentrated on keeping my hand on the rose.

A tiny, distant sliver of myself marveled at my strength. Look at what I could go through. But then again, I had done this before. I knew what to expect, more or less. Yet it did nothing to lessen the pain.

Only a second later, the vision began. I welcomed the distraction from the pain, choosing to ignore the part where it would get worse as it went on. Random images flared in my sight: molten glass, a woman’s hand tracing the petals with a short finger, money passing over it as it rested on a wooden counter. My hopes began to die as the flashes continued without any information about my quest.

Wait, there – one second, not even a whole second, but I had seen something. Her hand on the rose. And a note beside it, clutched in her other hand, one word written on it: Duke.

More images flooded me, blurring together so quickly I had no chance to decipher them. The pain in my head throbbed. My limbs shook; my system was telling me it had had enough. One leg gave out and I tipped sideways, nearly smashing the rose.

I had to concentrate. Get my hand off this thing, before it killed me. How did my hand work? Uncurl the fingers. There we go.

It took only ten seconds to get my hand free, but it felt much, much longer than that to my tortured body. Finally, I let my hand drop, empty, down to my side.

The pain subsided. The pictures ceased. I was left in the blessed dim light, myself again. Each breath I took shuddered through me, and I sank shakily to my knees to keep from falling over. I kept my eyes closed, but the images of the rose would not dim.

Meet Sam Kaplan

Remember Jean? Here's the scoop on her counterpart, Samuel Kaplan.  

Sam Kaplan

Age: 25

Profession: Bodyguard

Favorite Pastime: Brawling (Kicking Ass)

Notable Activities: Drinking, Gambling (moderately), Occasional Art Immersion

Languages: English (bits of French from Jean)

Sam Kaplan was born in NYC. His father is a member of the old NYC mob, a fact that only a select few know. Nothing is known about his mother – it is assumed she was a hooker. At any rate, Sam was raised to be a quiet, observant man with patience, confidence, and a large dose of kick-assery. Many people have (wrongly) assumed Sam’s quiet nature to be a sign of stupidity, and when they have attempted to attack him, they have paid in missing teeth, broken bones, and bruised egos. Sam is a small but very fit man who blends easily into the background – making him ideal as a bodyguard, hence his current employment to Jean. His previous jobs include Judo instructor, debt collector, taxi driver, and museum guard. This last job, particularly, gave him some insight into the world of arts, and explains why he was on his way to a gallery opening the night he met Jean.

He has told Jean very little about his background (for obvious reasons), but instead of putting her off, as his silence did most people, Jean became intrigued and asked if he would like to be paid to be her bodyguard. The pay was considerably better than his previous job and he accepted. He is now happily employed and is most at home when he gets to throw around people who get too close to his employer.

As far as romance goes, Sam has had two girlfriends, neither of which were very serious. One was shot and killed and the other left him for a very old, very ill, very rich man. Sam does not hate women but simply does not have time for a dedicated relationship. He knows Jean by reputation and thinks that, if anything, the talk about her does not do her justice. She is a very spirited, very beautiful woman. He has not admitted, openly or privately, whether there was anything more than professional interest when he agreed to hire on as Jean’s bodyguard. Speculations, however, are leaning toward yes.

Miss Jean Levoix

A character sketch for a gaming character that ended up not being used. Potential writing material? We'll have to wait and see...  

Jean Levoix

Age: 27

Profession: none

Favorite Pastime: Socializing

Notable Activities: Smoking, Flirting, Drinking

Languages: French, English

Jean moved to America with her parents when she was 6 years old. Her father was a very successful artist who instilled a love of the arts in Jean before both he and his wife were murdered for his pocket money shortly after the Crash (when Jean was about 12). Jean was not with them at the time. She inherited a vast sum of money (mostly jewels and gold but some money also) and attended a school for women until she graduated with a degree in English and a pretense of becoming a librarian. However, she never worked, preferring to spend her time frequenting the clubs and galleries in NYC. She is always dressed to kill and has had many suitors chase her, but so far she has not had a relationship lasting more than a few months. The most recent one, with an older gentleman named Byron Worthington, ended over a year ago when Byron proposed and Jean politely but completely declined. She is a favorite of many of the club owners and often gets in for free because of the other company she attracts. Jean loves to study human interaction, which is why she can be found frequenting the upper and lower crust clubs and bars. In the high class businesses she is welcomed as a member and a friend. In the low class businesses she is a source of intrigue and income. A welcome piece of eye-candy in the down-and-outs of the post-Crash, pre-War people. Jean has recently been seen often in the company of a young man (a shock in and of itself, as all her other male “companions” were much older than she). Speculation runs rampant about the nature of the man and his relationship with “Jeanie” or “Miss Levoix,” depending on who one were to ask, but nothing is known for sure. So long as there is no ring on her finger, the other single men remain hopeful that they have a shot with “the hottest broad in NYC.”

Jean’s companion is a young man named Samuel (Sam) Kaplan. She met him in a taxi on the way to an art gallery opening, and after a long and interesting discussion, discovered that he was available for hire as a bodyguard. He is extremely good at his job, even having ties to the NYC mob (which he keeps out of the public's eye, of course). Jean hired him out of self-preservation and out of curiosity. The nature of their relationship beyond employer-employee remains to be seen, but if Jean’s private thoughts are anything to judge by, there may be some budding romance.

Lamentations

It is autumn, and the forest around your castle is alive with color even now, in the early night. Licks of candle-flames sear through every leaf, bursting into colors as bright as the sun. The dark stone of the castle seems even more beautiful with the fiery frame of the trees surrounding it. Around your garden, the silvery ivy begins to slow its creepers, anchoring itself deep within the sleepy earth for the winter it knows is not far away. The few flowers you planted display their soft clothes in silence. Your fine horses prance around their pasture, stomping their glinting hooves and sending their mournful songs up to the heavens. They do not know where you have gone. They whinny anxiously, hoping you will answer their desperate call. I do not know what to do, how to tell them the truth, so I rub their velvety noses for a moment before returning to the garden. I can see my breath in little white wisps as I kneel down beside you, as I tell you all that has happened since you left. There is no comfort for me in this place, even in all the beauty that surrounds it. Like you, it will soon pass away into the dregs of winter’s memory.

But you know none of this, for you are locked away inside an iron box, forced there by others’ hatred. A white marble stone sits above your head, marking the spot where you lay, hidden from the world. How I wish I could have you in my arms, your head against my chest and your hand in mine, as I rest beneath this old oak tree! But, I do not have the key to unlock you from your prison of death.

I lay a single, red rose on your grave. The moonlight illuminates each droplet of dew on the rose’s petals, turning them into shimmering tears. They are not the first tears that have been shed over your grave, but I worry that, after I am gone, they will be the last.

For Her Brother's Sake

Here's a character intro for a story I'm writing about time travel. She is one of the three main characters. So far I have the main characters and the world build/rules hashed out, and I'm just filling out character sketches to get a feel for the story. Danny was awesome. Annoying as hell sometimes, but always there when it really counted. That’s what big brothers were for, right? Like the time when I was five, and we were climbing trees in the backyard. Dad told us not to but we did anyway – like we gave a damn what “Dad” said, even back then. And when I fell out of the tree and broke my arm, Danny scooped me up and took me in to the ER or wherever, but he teased me about my crying the whole way there. Or when I was fourteen and had my first boyfriend ever – although calling him a real boyfriend now seems like a real joke… honestly, no one can seriously date at fourteen. You’re so confused about too much stuff, like starting high school and being one of the “young adults” of the world, and finally getting privileges from your parents (if you’re lucky), and learning to drive, and figuring out just what the hell it means to actually be mature (and meet other people who are just as “mature” as you are).

Anyway, the point was, when we broke up, Danny listened to my sob story and then promptly told me I was just being an angsty teen and that sooner or later I’d better get a grip on myself and realize that there were better people in the world than scumbags like that who would dump me for some sleaze. Later, I saw my ex with a black eye. I laughed at him and thought about kicking him in the shin, but decided not to (not because I was too mature… because my teacher was standing about four feet away from us and I probably would have ended up with a detention).

Yeah, Danny was awesome. He was the golden child of the family. My parents loved “their Daniel”: he was all A’s in school, played center on the soccer team in high school and got a full ride to college. Strong, handsome, smart, and just great. Girls couldn’t get enough of him, but he never dated anyone, that I know of. He knew they were all just shallow, sleazy girls who wanted a piece of the stardom. Danny was better than that.

He was better than anyone I had ever known… he was the only one who ever acted like they really loved me. I was the “oops” child, and my parents always regretted not having an abortion. Danny was twelve when I was born, so he was always looking out for me. Mom and Dad never cared about what I did – they just didn’t want to hear about all my screw-ups. So when I broke my arm falling out of the tree, Danny said we had been playing at the park and he pushed me too hard and I fell. He knew he’d never get punished, no matter what… and especially not for something as trivial as breaking the oops child’s arm. And when I got into a fight (that I didn’t start) at middle school and the principle sent letters home to the parents, Danny got the mail and stole the letter so they wouldn’t find out and punish me.

He never, ever left me alone with them if he could help it. I even started staying at college with him when he moved away, because we were afraid of what Mom and Dad would do to me if I was always alone in the house with them. Danny told everyone I was his niece that he had adopted because her parents had died. Everyone there loved me… it was weird, but nice. I had a family of college guys, and they were cooler and way better of a family than my “real” parents had ever been.

And when the strange stuff started, Danny refused to look away. He said that no matter what, he was going to stick by me. He wasn’t some crummy shithead like Mom or Dad who would dump me on the street because of some weird-ass vibe I had. He was going to try and help figure out what was going on… no matter how creepy it felt.

I was so glad to know that. The strange vibe, the “feeling” that had been surrounding me had been getting more and more potent, and it was starting to creep out some of the other guys. I remember one of them, Mike, I think his name was, coming by Danny’s room and saying, “Dude, you’ve got some major psycho thing going on here. What are you doing?”

Danny’s answer was that he was just tired and cranky because of some project or other he hadn’t gotten done yet that was due soon. Mike seemed to believe him. But as soon as he left, Danny closed his door and sat down next to me. “Millie,” he said, using his nickname for me (my real name was Amelia), “do you know what’s going on? What’s with this ‘Danger’ aura you’re sending off all the time?”

I had no clue. Apparently, I was surrounded by this feeling, this aura, that I was dangerous, and everyone else was picking up on it. I was nervous – what if I got Danny in trouble? Or if I got kicked out? I’d have to go back and live with Mom and Dad – and I sure as hell didn’t want to do that.

Danny didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t get kicked out. But I still had to go back to the house, because I couldn’t live at the college anymore. Danny was out late one night, at a party for one of his friends, and there was a party crash by one of the city’s local gangs. There weren’t very many of them, but they had been drinking… and they had guns. Danny took a bullet for the girl who had been having the party. She called an ambulance, but he bled out before they could save him.

The gang got busted and arrested by the cops, but I didn’t care. Danny was dead.

The girl came to see me. She was cute – pretty, even – and had puffy red eyes. She told me what Danny had done, how he had saved her life, and that she was really sorry for me. She offered to do what she could to help me, but there wasn’t anything to be done. She wasn’t going to be able to take care of me. Danny had been a part-time student and a part-time worker so he could earn enough money to take care of me. This girl wouldn’t be able to do that. I could tell just by looking at her. Plus, it wouldn’t be long before my “dangerous” vibe kicked in and scared her off, anyway.

I thanked her and left. Looking back on it now, I wonder if she and Danny were dating, after all… the way she talked about him, she seemed like she really cared about him, and that he was important to her. And I guess she must have been important to him, too, since he took a bullet for her and died for her.

Mom and Dad were pissed. They were shocked, of course, and totally upset and grieving that their son had died, but mostly they were pissed at me. They blamed me for Danny’s death. If I hadn’t been with him, he would still be alive. Why didn’t I use my freakish power and save his life? I was useless, completely useless. What a waste of a child. They couldn’t believe that their genes had made something so grossly pathetic and worthless. I should have died instead. Why hadn’t I died and let Danny live? I couldn’t even have done the only useful thing possible and traded myself for him?

Then they started to come after me with more than just words – and the words hurt bad enough. Mom got the first slap in, right across the face. I was a little surprised that she could hit that hard. I think that’s what caught me off guard for Dad’s turn. He landed a solid punch to my nose, breaking it on impact. It bled everywhere, making them yell and scream even more about how I was ruining the carpet and my clothes, never bothering to appreciate all the things I had before I just ruined them all with my useless, worthless self. As though I purposely kept the blood flowing, just to piss them off.

Of course, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I decided to get a little revenge. I blew my nose into my hands and wiped the blood all over the front of Mom’s sweater.

Damn, but it felt so good.

The second punch to the stomach felt significantly less good. Dad stood over me where I’d fallen, winded, looking like his eyes were about to pop from rage. Behind him, I heard a drawer rattle. We were in the kitchen. “Here, honey,” I heard Mom say. “Use this, and finish the brat. I can’t stand the look of her anymore. The murdering, worthless bitch.”

She gave Dad one of the long, sharp, carving knives that you only ever see in horror movies. Dad stepped on my foot, pinning me down. He had this crazy smile on his face, like he was about to kill a fly that had landed on the wall.

I couldn’t scream; there was too much blood and I choked, instead. I put my arms up over my face, although it was a useless move because I couldn’t shield all the soft spots at the same time. I don’t know what was going through my head… something to the effect of Oh God, I’m gonna die. I don’t want to die. I’m gonna die. If I die, will I see Danny? At least I’ll be rid of these guys… I don’t want to die!

Dad swung the knife down…

…It shattered just above my face.

To say that it scared the shit out of all of us would be an understatement.

Mom stared. Dad kept driving the broken knife down towards me like some kind of deranged robot, but his fist kept hitting the air and stopping like it had hit a brick wall. I watched, frozen, my heart beating so fast I thought for sure it was going to break my ribs and beat right out of my chest. I do remember my thoughts then.

What. The Hell. Just. Happened.

I recovered from the shock first. I think it was my survival instincts kicking in (or possibly kicking me in the face). I screamed as menacingly as I could, waving my bloody hands in Dad’s face. It had the desired effect: he stepped back quickly, and my foot was free. I rolled to my feet and sprinted out the door. Behind me, I heard my mom screaming for me to get back here, and then for Dad to follow me and finish me off.

Bitch. I hated her then, and I still hate her now. Makes my power get all hot inside just thinking about her. Of course, back then, I had no idea what was going on. I reacted out of instinct. Protect myself, or die. Now I know how to use my power. I still give off that dangerous vibe, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Frankly, I don’t care. If people don’t like me, then they won’t get close enough to me to be able to hurt me, either. And since I seem dangerous, I’m not too likely to get jumped, either. And even if I did, I know how to take care of myself now.

The reason that the knife shattered was because I had thrown up a shield, using the air around me and hardening it until nothing could get through to me. If someone attacked me now, I could use another one of those shields, or I could make the air take on any shape I wanted… a rope to tie them up, a knife to attack them, or anything else that could come to mind. I bet it would be really freaky to get tied up by an invisible rope… or to get cut up by an invisible knife.

I want to try it, just to see. But I’m not a monster. I am not Mom and Dad. I’m not about to go out of my way to attack someone just because I can, and I sure as hell am not going to start a fight just to have an excuse to beat someone up.

I was raised better than that. Thanks to Danny, I am a decent person… even though something about my power screams to the world that I’m dangerous. Well, I guess I am dangerous, but only if you go after someone I care about. Which would only be me, at this point, since Danny’s already gone.

Thanks, Danny, for raising me to be better than scum like Mom or Dad, for showing me that I’m worth something. Thanks for teaching me how to survive in this shitty world. Thanks for helping me understand that there’s more to people than first impressions and first feelings. Thanks for telling me that I was loved. You saved me from a lot of shit, Danny, taking me away from Mom and Dad. But you saved me from even worse by loving me even though I was different. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you… but I will do my best to live a life you’d be proud of, so that when I see you again, I can tell you, and you won’t be disappointed.

God, I miss you, Danny.

Envisioned, Part 2

Missed the beginning? Check out Part 1!  

“Trista, focus! You will never get this right if you don’t pay attention!” I dropped my hands, letting the blue flames I had conjured die out.

My student sighed and narrowed her brown eyes at me. “I know, Vulcarus, and I’m sorry, but I can’t help it!” She chewed her lip, and I knew she wanted to say something else.

I walked over to the stone bench that was at the edge of the small courtyard where I was trying – and, at the moment, failing – to teach the girl magic. “Come, take a rest,” I said, tapping the bench.

She strode nervously over, her youthful face turned down to the tops of her bare feet.

“I know you want to ask me something, Trista,” I prompted her. “You’ve got that look again.” I smiled at her, trying to calm her down. After so many years, we had become close. She was more of a sister than a student, and I was sure she regarded me as more than a teacher. After all, I was the only person left in her world, since her mother had died.

Trista looked up, then quickly down again. Sitting, her feet did not reach the ground and she swung her legs anxiously. “You said you would tell me about your hands,” she said finally. “About why you always wear those gloves.”

My fingers twined together as I glanced down. Black silk covered my hands, gleaming softly in the afternoon sun. Beneath the cloth, I knew, my skin would be white – as white as the dead.

I wished they were dead. Then I would not have to live in terror of what they might show me.

“Before you came to me, when I was still a student myself,” I told her, “I had a teacher who wanted to challenge me. He told me if I could make a spell that let him overhear what the other teachers were teaching their students behind closed doors I would be able to get my Master’s title that year. I would be the youngest student ever to successfully pass the tests for Mastery.

“I tried. I failed.

“The spell shattered. It didn’t just break, or die, it turned on my with a vengeance. I almost died.

“It took me a while to figure out what had happened. At first, all I knew was that I had painful, wrenching visions – images of whatever I touched – whenever I touched something. I got so terrified that I refused to touch anything. Finally, desperate, I enchanted a pair of gloves with the most powerful silencing charm I could make. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I pulled these on and did not find myself on my knees, clutching my head and screaming from the images flaring in my eyes.”

Trista cautiously rand her fingers along a seam on my left hand. “What do you see?” Her voice was quiet.

“History.” I wasn’t sure how to explain it. “For every thing I touch, I see pieces of its history, its past, where it’s been, where it came from. I can’t control it.”

“And does it hurt?”

I shuddered. It hurt enough to make me wish I had cut off my hands. Or cut out my eyes. Or both.

I took a deep breath and tried to smile. “You shouldn’t worry. As long as you practice your lessons with me, you will be fine.” I winked. “Like what we’re supposed to be doing right now.”

Trista jumped to her feet. “Maybe, if I practice hard, I’ll get my Mastery title soon?” she asked.

“Don’t hold your breath,” I told her. “You’re only twelve, you know.”

Trista stuck out her tongue and opened her hand. There, burning softly in her open palm, was blue fire.

Palace of the Dead: The Tattered Soul Returns

Random sketch I wrote - styled like an intro to a movie or series of books. He lived. He died. He escaped the unescapeable, breaking out of the Palace of the Dead and rejoining the living world. Now, with the threat of the Dead looming ever closer, he must return to the Palace - life's one Ambassador - and discover the reason for the restless dead.

 

Listen to the whispers that crawl around your ears

Listen to the voices that give life to your fears

Heed not the warnings spoken long ago...

Walk down fate's path where the living dare not go.

 

Once, I was as they are. They see it, curled around me like a cloak, swirling through my soul in a black, sinister mist. Their chilling eyes see what was my past but has become my eternal, unbreakable future, and they yearn for it... for me. They call me with their soundless voices as only they can, and they can feel the will to respond stirring in my soul. Yes, they know well what the sight of my tattered soul means - for me, and for them. The Dead always know.

There was a time when I was dead.

I walked the ancient castle corridors. I saw the foundations of the ageless fortress that holds the dead. My spirit's footprints once covered the broken stairways and crumbling rooftops. Searching, searching... always searching for a way out of the Palace of the Dead but never once finding one. Behind every door, I found only more corridors, more rooms, more winding passageways. From atop every rooftop, I could see only more peaks and spires, more of that endless castle.

To be truly trapped in death... the living dread it and the dead despise it. It is the ultimate horror.

And now I must cross over into that ultimate horror once more, for if I do not, there will be no escape for any of us...

Kitten and Mousie

Here's a fun little story I wrote while watching my at-the-time kitten, Jasper.  

I crouch down as far as I can, flattening my little self to the floor. My tail twitches just a tiny bit as I stare at my prey. A growl rumbles in my throat. Time to die, Mousie! I pounce on the green, fluffy toy, batting it around with my little paws, flipping it up in the air, catching it with my teeth…

Once, I miss the catch, and it hits me on the nose. I hiss. Mean Mousie! I swat at it; it goes sliding away across the slippery floor and manages to hide under the big oven. No! The Mousie cannot hide from me! I stick my paw under the oven, claws extended, trying to hook the long fur, but I can’t reach it. I yowl at it, thinking that maybe the toy will listen to my warnings and show itself. When nothing happens, I reach out again. Maybe my other arm will be longer? But no, I still can’t reach it.

Well, time for plan B, then. If I can’t reach it by myself, I’ll get that big dog to do it for me. I call for him, but Raven is too busy being petted by Mom to answer. I try again, using all my cute kitten skills to get Raven away from the cuddles. It works! He’s eager to come in and investigate my problem. When I show him the crack the Mousie slid through, Raven paws at it a few times before giving up. Wimp! I meow after him as he returns to the couch, and his nap.

I flop down onto the kitchen floor. This is frustrating. I want that Mousie! Wait, maybe Mom can get it for me… I run into the family room and jump up onto her lap, stepping over the big, hot laptop that’s in my way. Any other time, I would amuse myself by seeing how many of those little buttons I could press before Mom shoos me away, but I am on a mission this time. The Mousie will be mine. I rub my nose against Mom’s chin and meow in her ear, trying to get her attention. It works, but too well, I think. “Jasper, get off,” she says before pushing me aside. I bat at her hand with my paw, but with no claws. Mom doesn’t like my claws, for some reason. I try to tell her what’s wrong, but she doesn’t listen. She’s too busy. Fine. I’ll just leave, then, I say, and jump back down to the floor, my little tail held as high as I can make it to show her how annoyed I am. Trotting back into the kitchen, I sit down in front of the oven and stare at the crack. The Mousie is down there, I know, staring back at me with its black plastic eyes. Some day, I will be big enough to reach it… and then I will leave its big, fluffy tail on Mom’s pillow, to show her what a good kitten I am. I hunker down, still staring. If that Mousie comes out, I’ll be ready.

 

In case you're curious, Jasper is still like this. He is now about four years old and has taught the latest edition of the family, Hime (who is one year old), the same tricks. Cats are so wonderful... :)

Akitis and the Poison Blade, Part 1

Here is a second look at Akitis, the assassin known as the Shadowknives. She's just had a run-in with an old, experienced vampire fighter named Nyria, which ended in a draw. Akitis is headed for the Poison Blade, a group that runs the crime and tracks the bounties in the land. This is a story I'm currently writing with another author, and I'm very excited to see where it will go. All the pieces posted here are parts I have written, so they will mostly focus on my character (Akitis) for a while.

(Also, as a side note, I am smack in the middle of heavy editing for Even Unto Death, so the postings here have been a bit thin. But don't worry - I'll post what I can, and in the meantime, know that I'm working hard to get the story ready to send out!)

 

 

Akitis swore vehemently as Nyria ran off. She had gotten too close, that one, with her sword against Akitis' throat. It was insulting.

But Nyria was an old vampire - a legend of her own, with stories as varied as the Shadowknives' own. In a way, Akitis was happy to have drawn her out. Maybe she would finally have a decent rivalry. And what was all that about, anyway? This Nyria character definitely didn't belong in a crap vampire town like Delt'Ini. Nor was she exactly welcome there, from the looks of the fight. Akitis smirked. That could likely be used to her advantage. If this vampire was an outcast among her own kind, perhaps Akitis could convince the vampires on the council to raise her bounty.

The council. Bounties. Akitis' smile widened and she began rifling through the dead, collecting their medallions. The Poison Blade, the overlords of the crime world, would have to give her something just for the sheer amount of death she brought with her tonight. Soon, Akitis would have enough gold to buy some more of the items she needed to finish her latest project: a demon-slaying blade. The do-gooders living inside the Monastery doubtless had what she needed, locked away somewhere "for the good of the people" - but if Akitis knew anything, it was that anything could be bought for the right price.

One of the medallions was snagged, its chain pinned beneath part of the metal doorframe that had collapsed during the battle. Akitis wasted no time trying to move it; instead, she pulled a shimmering orange knife from the sheath at her hip and pressed the edge of the blade against the offending metal. Hissing filled the air and the metal began to glow cherry red. The knife slid through it effortlessly and bit into the flesh of the dead vampire below. Skin and muscle burned instantly, sending a foul stench up to Akitis' sensitive nose. She withdrew the knife and retrieved the medallion with a scowl - although she couldn't really complain. Things like that happened when you cut into flesh with the power of raw flame.

Akitis took one last scan of the room, her eyes pausing only briefly at the door through which Nyria had fled. "Luck has nothing to do with it, vampire," she said, a dark laugh in her voice as she remembered Nyria's last words. "You did the right thing, to run from me, but it will not save you."

***

The Poison Blade met in a cavern deep underground, where all eleven members could claim sanctuary from the dangers of the natural world. Akitis hated walking the long tunnel to reach them. Her footsteps echoed in the smallish cave, and the whole place felt black and confining. There were torches scattered throughout the length of the tunnel, but the Poison Blade had been either too dumb or too lazy to keep the entire walkway lit. Large chunks fell in darkness, where any number of other creatures, bounty hunters, or other annoyances could hide, waiting for a chance to strike. Akitis had been attacked like this only once, and the culprit's head outside the Blade's door, one of the Shadowknives' signature blades stuck through the top of the skull, quickly discouraged any more attempts. However, apparently that hunter had been a favorite for some members of the Blade, and Akitis had to shut up their rants with the threat of the Monastery finding them. It was a dangerous game, being on no one's side, and Akitis thrived on it. The looks of disbelief, fear, and annoyance on the members' faces had nearly made Akitis laugh right there, which would most certainly have ruined the dramatic tension.

The heavy door was open. Akitis sauntered in, a dark smile on her face. "Glad to see me?" she asked.

"Shadowknives." The man who spoke had a permanent frown etched onto his face. Loranus, one of two humans on the council, held only bitterness toward the assassin, but he was far too smart to act upon it.

"You have the proof of Dailon's death?" hissed another voice - female this time. She was a changeling. Akitis longed to see her other form, to battle her and measure her strength... and, of course, to kill her.

The other changeling shifted in his seat but said nothing. Akitis did not give him a second glance. Corroth never said anything.

Nor did the trio of demons, but they unnerved Akitis in a way she would never admit aloud. They were creatures who had been most touched by the Dark Magick, the evil power that gave life to the unnatural creatures of the world... and she would be damned if the council, or anyone, found out her dangerous vulnerability with the Dark Magick. Her eyes took in the fact that they were present before pointedly settling on the three vampires seated at the end of the room. She heard the werewolf growl but ignored him - he had nothing to do with these particular bounties.

"Of course I have the proof," Akitis spat, answering the changeling's question. "The question is, do you have enough payment?" She pulled out the medallions she had collected from the night's festivities.

"We hired you only for Dailon," said one vampire, a man called Namryn. "Why should we pay you for these?"

Akitis dangled the chains in front of the vampires with one hand and ran a finger along the edge of one disc with the other. "Check the records. If there are bounties on these, I will be paid for their blood." She sneered as Namryn sighed and pulled a heavy book in front of him and began to flip through the pages. "And it might also interest you to know that the vampire Nyria is in town."

"What?" Sheila, another vampire, asked.

"Nyria. The vampire. In Delt'Ini," Akitis said slowly - and very mockingly.

Sheila growled low in her throat. "Do not patronize me, hunter," she muttered. "I do not fear you, or your strange blades."

Akitis barked out a laugh. "Do you think I care if you fear me?" she asked. "Fear me or not - your attitude towards me won't save your life when I come to cut you down."

"You forget your place, mortal!" Sheila snapped.

"And you forget your facts, vampire!" Akitis retaliated, her eyes flashing. Inside, she was still laughing. "I'm half-blood tainted, remember? Not a mortal. Or has it been so long since you have truly hunted that you forget mortals require a beating heart?"

Alec Meets the Wolf

The new moon is out and the Vampyra has emerged. Alec takes notices of a boy after a particularly gruesome killing spree. Like all of Alec's pieces, the first few lines are written by her, reflecting on the moment she is remembering.

 

How do I describe him? There are no words.

Stubborn? Arrogant? Irritating? Possessing an insatiable desire to prove me wrong?

A friend.

 

 

I can see him, straining his eyes against the darkness, unsuccessfully trying to make out the shapes beyond him. I laugh to myself. What are you doing, boy? On this night, with the new moon free, only the Vampyra can roam the streets! Standing where I am, it is a minute before I can smell him. When I do, I do not know what to think. He cannot be human, with a scent like that. But he is no vampire, either. His heart is beating.

He is short, at least compared to me. Freckles on his face, short and rather unruly black hair, streaked with silver. Not grey. Bright eyes, honey-brown. Well-built. Very attractive, for a human.

Very attractive meal, for me.

It surprises me when he advances, slowly, and then calls for me. His voice fits the rest of him, dark and soft and slightly foreboding. His words shock me. Am I the vampire? He knows me. He knows.

No witnesses. He must die.

And then it comes. He is not here to turn me in, or fight. He needs my help.

My help? The help of a murderer? It must be a lie. There has never been anyone, that I know of, who has ever willingly sought the help of a vampire. To seek one out is to die. Or to kill. I knew which one I preferred.

It is not until I am beside him, my long nails pressed tight against his throat and my fangs bared in a menacing growl that I figure out what I am smelling. Wolf.

He is a Werewolf.

I give him ten seconds to tell me what he wants. My hand does not leave his neck. He knows what I am, or close enough, and with his own nature at its weakest on this night, he has no real chance to escape me.

He can give me what I want.

How can you know what I want?

Don’t kill him. He came to me at his weakest to show me he is telling the truth. Help him kill this tracker, and he will owe me his life.

I intend to take that now.

He speaks so softly I am sure I am not meant to hear his comment. But I do anyway. Have I no humanity left?

No. There is no mercy in me.

Then let him appeal to the villain. He promises a good fight. He promises blood.

At the mention of blood, heat comes to my eyes. It has been a long time since I have had a good fight. Since I have tasted sweet victory. But how does he know me?

He has been tracking my scent. It is distinct even from other vampires, and he has met a few. He sees that I still am unconvinced, and his time is run out. But he gives one more comment, and it is that which stays my hand. He is a werewolf, who follows the call of the moon when it rises. He is Wolf, loyal and true. He will hold to his bargain, once made. And if he cannot appeal to my mercy, then he will appeal to my vampire: bring death to this tracker and he will be my servant, as the werewolves of old once were.

What need have I of a servant? But I accept regardless – not because of his offer, but because of his nature. In this one simple, crucial way, he is as I am, and it is because of this that he lives.

He follows the call of the moon.

Envisioned, Part 1

“Here we are, sir. Item 37: one glass rose.” The merchant was very polite; he didn’t even ask why I had chosen to look at this particular item. All the better for him. Nosy merchants tended to lose their lives when they were selling to mages. I nodded a brief thanks and turned to the rose. It was exactly as I had last seen it – crystal petals tinged red, stem and leaves green, resting on a lightly faded and rather dusty silver pillow. Dust had settled onto the rose as well, making its vibrant colors muted. And look, beside it was a wooden trinket box with a glass panel on the top. I had never actually set eyes on it before, but I knew that I would find a crack in the glass if I cared to look.

Why not? I did, and there it was, running from the upper left corner to the middle of the panel before splintering away like the tiny rootlets of a plant. I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I would have been much more surprised – and worried – if it had not been broken.

What good were visions if they were wrong?

I pulled my hand from my pocket and looked at the black satin glove that covered it. My one protection. I lifted my gaze and scanned the cluttered room for the auctioneer, but I was alone.

Good man. No doubt he knew something important would be going on, if he dealt in trinkets often. There were always mages who would pay good money for these things… and then murder the seller to cover their tracks.

I tugged at the glove’s fingers without any kind of enthusiasm and tried not to think of what I was about to do. After a minute or so, my hand was free. I marveled at its whiteness, and wondered if my right one was the same. Probably, why wouldn’t it be? After all, it had been years since I had not covered them with the black fabric.

I took a deep breath, trying to steel myself. I’m no coward, but I don’t relish the thought of doing something so painful it feels like my head is being ripped apart, only I know it isn’t because then the pain would stop.

A finger. That’s all it would take. One brush against that rose, the cold glass flower, and I’d have my answer.

Of course, I could always die, too. The pain built up with each touch, and I didn’t know how much more I could take before my body gave up.

Optimism, Vulcarus. Let’s go.

I wrapped my hand around the dusty rose.

The Shadow's Clutches

This is a very short character sketch I did a few years ago. The idea came to me out of nowhere, and I've kept the sketch around because maybe someday I'll figure out some more of what's going on in this world. Enjoy! He was running. The sound of his sneakers slapping the hard, wet pavement echoed eerily off the tall buildings surrounding him. His breathing, harsh ragged gasps, rattled in his throat as his panted for more air. His dark brown eyes spun wildly around, trying vainly to see into the night for some place of safety. Voices streamed along behind him, whispering sinister threats into his mind, feeding off his fear. Shadowy hands clawed at his sweaty shirt, hooking their long, sinewy fingers into the thin cotton and pulling him backwards. He screamed, panicking, and used the new burst of adrenaline to push forward. The voices whispered more insistently, begging him in deceptively honeyed tones to relent, to come back to them. The fingers tightened their grip. He struggled, then fell, and knew he was lost. He threw up his hands to shield his face, though it would not stop the shadows from getting him.

They slowly, almost lovingly, wrapped their cold, soft fingers around his wrists, prying then from his face. The voices began to laugh with dark, quiet snickers, deep-toned in the night. Slowly, terrified, he opened his eyes a crack. He had to see his attacker.

There was no one there.

The deathly chill hands gave a sharp yank, and he disappeared into the surrounding black, even his final scream being swallowed up by it.

A few seconds later, a new voice joined the whispers, new shadow-hands reached out, straining for the next unwary soul to ensnare.

Introducing: Akitis Shadowknives

The air was chilly, but that was to be expected in the long dark hours of a springtime night. The assassin crouched low on the roofs of one of dozens of abandoned buildings as she waited for her prey to come into view. A slim silver dirk was held ready in one hand, while the other rested gently on the rooftop. Her eyes searched the abandoned village below, her vision able to detect detail even with only the slim moonlight shining in the sky. Even if she had not been able to see, Akitis knew Delt’Ini like one of her own handcrafted knives. The village had been deserted almost overnight, the terrified humans fleeing with the onset of the vampire clan. Slaughter and death still reeked in the streets, although the massacre had occurred some several decades ago. Delt’Ini, the capital of the vampire nation in this region… and therefore the town with the most promising bounties for an assassin such as Akitis.

While her senses were kept focused on the road below, she allowed herself a brief moment of entertainment. Would she have been able to claim sanctuary in this town, had she not killed so many vampires who had hidden here? She was, after all, at least partially related, but she suspected her bits of humanity would have prevented it. That, or her reputation as the Shadowknives assassin: cold, cruel, selfish and backstabbing, and the absolute power of the crime world. The Shadowknives was the creature that scared vampires into locking their doors, and kept the werewolves and the demons from leaving telltale trails. The Shadowknives was a ghost, and all who had caught her eye were the same: alone one minute, dead the next, a signature blade buried in the corpse.

Akitis loved it. She had worked very hard to become the crime lord, the best of the best, and she intended to keep it that way. What passed for a ruling body, a Council called the Poison Blade, tried to keep her in check by paying her for bounties, but sooner or later they would run out of gold… and Akitis was more than happy to be paid with their blood. She had very carefully started the rumors of the Shadowknives, never using her true name and never, ever revealing her true nature to anyone. Those who became too curious quickly disappeared, turned into examples of how not to treat such a power-hungry assassin with the skills of a vampire and the mind of a murderer.

Most importantly, no one knew Akitis’ truth, her most vulnerable weakness and her most guarded secret. Assassins had no fear: fear was weakness and weakness was death. The Shadowknives had no fear. Akitis, however, had one fear, and it never missed an opportunity to get inside her head and wear away at her defenses. Lucky for her, it seemed tonight would be a quiet night – no damned whispers crawling inside her head, demanding to be let out.

Her target had still not shown himself… the weakling. Akitis had thought he would at least have had the courtesy to pretend to fight, but it seemed having a bounty on his head had just made him cower away instead. Akitis plopped her chin into her palm and sighed in irritation. Come on, she thought, you’re not worth enough to keep monopolizing my time. Her eyes flicked to the sky. The moon was still not even half-full, so chasing werewolves was out, and there weren’t likely to be any around Delt’Ini, anyway.

A darting motion in the streetway below pulled Akitis’ gaze back to the job. She could see him clearly, even in the dark night, and grinned. Finally, her target had shown himself. She watched him scan the rooftops and doorways around him, but Akitis, dressed in all black and still as stone, knew he would never see her. Vampire senses were very good, but looking for a shadow in a street full of shadows was useless.

Two more vampires entered the alleyway. Akitis’ eyes narrowed slightly. Dailon, the mark, should have been alone. He had a price on his head offered by high members of Delt’Ini – what were two of the city vamps doing here with him?

“Are you crazy, Dailon?” A thin voice, no real strength behind it. Probably belonged to the smaller vampire, a woman who apparently actually cared about this Dailon character, Akitis analyzed. Tactically, no threat whatsoever.

“I’ve got to go. If the Shadowknives is after me, I’ll be dead if I don’t get out of here.” This voice obviously belonged to Dailon. He sounded fairly strong, but pathetically scared. Akitis resisted the urge to roll her eyes. This was looking less and less interesting by the second.

“Dailon, you know what you’re saying, don’t you?” This voice was deep and male, and carried a fair bit of power behind it. This vampire had probably seen a few good fights before. “Or haven’t you heard the stories about the Shadowknives?”

This perked Akitis’ interest. Storytime about the Shadowknives was always good fun.

The girl spoke again. “She’s crazy, Dailon.” Apparently, the girl was in love with that word.

She continued. “You had to have heard the stories or you wouldn’t be running away. But she’s a monster! No one gets away from her!”

“A monster, maybe, but I’m more confident about running than I am getting trapped somewhere and getting pinned by her,” Dailon replied.

“Listen to the girl, Dailon,” Deep Voice said. “The Shadowknives isn’t just some hunter after you. The Shadowknives is like one of the devils of Hell.” His voice quieted. “Think about it, Dailon. She is a vampire and yet not. People have sworn to have killed her, and yet here she remains, alive and killing anything she can. How can you outrun an immortal devil?”

Akitis laughed silently. These two actually had some of their facts straight, but a devil? Akitis found it difficult enough being half-blood human and half-blood vampire; if devil got thrown into the mix, she doubted she’d be able to do much of anything. Although, I certainly have a devil’s mark, she thought, her good mood evaporating. Thinking about the Magick that had taken up residence in her only made her cranky. And as for the immortal bit, that wasn’t quite right, either, but she supposed it would seem like the truth to an outsider. After all, she was the only half-blood she had ever heard of, and to top off the mixture with Dark Magick certainly gave her a bunch of bonuses against dying…

…but the cost of those bonuses was extremely high, and it was getting harder and harder for Akitis to pay it.

Introducing Alec, Vampyra

As previously mentioned, my main trilogy currently has books 1 and 2 out for proofreading, and book 3 on standby until I know for sure how certain things in the prior books play out. But I haven't been sitting around writing nothing - I've been giving life to some of the build-up of characters that have been romping around in my head, waiting for their own stories. This is a character sketch intro to a completely unrelated story - one about werewolves, vampires, and the vampires' more dangerous cousins, the Vampyra. The main character is a Vampyra girl named Alec (Alexandora). I will never be like the vampire, whose instincts are like guides. They do not feel the pull of the wild, hidden moon.

The Vampyra is the true predator of the world. It is true what has been said of us:

 Woe to them that cross our paths

Woe the ear that hears our laughs

Fear us for our deadly crafts

For we know not what we do

When night is black and moon is new

But we bring certain death to you

And then comes dawn with fiery eye

And we remember who has died

And hear the screams of all who cried

But when the wild moon is new

Flee from us, though we pursue

For we bring certain death to you.

The smell is intoxicating. Not just delicious, not just mouth-watering. All I can sense is her: the beating of her heart, the flutter of her breath, the overpowering scent of her blood as the breeze twirls it across my face. It makes me crazy. Nothing else matters beyond that I sink my fangs into her throat and drink, let the hot, tangy blood course over my tongue and light a fire in my mouth. That I clench her thin shoulders and press her neck up as close to my mouth as possible, so I can taste every drop of her blood. I hunger for it, I ache for it. Twice now, I have caught myself running my tongue across my teeth, clenching and unclenching my fists in mounting anticipation. I can feel the heat of the hunt in my eyes, and I know they are ruby-red. My muscles tense as I crouch, ready to give chase as soon as she moves from her car.

I still know of the others in the area, but they hardly matter. There are only three people in this little parking lot, and none of them are close to this girl. Also, none of them, including the one I just pronounced death upon, know of my existence.

A snarl rises in my throat, low and eager.

The girl does not even have the time to scream. The little green purse she is holding drops to the ground as I launch myself out of the shadows into her path. My speed is incredible, covering the forty yards in half a second. To her it is as though I have appeared out of thin air. The surprise makes her heart beat even faster, the blood rush even quicker through her veins. I do not even try to stop myself. I want her blood and nothing on this earth can stop me.

I inhale deeply, my face inches from her throat, to pull in the sweet smell, then sink my teeth deep into her flesh. My hands, tight around her shoulders, feel her stiffen in shock and fear, then wilt as the strength flees her body. My nails dig deeply into her skin as I press her close, drawing out every last red drop I can.

It is incredible, the sensation, the taste, of human blood. The heat of it rushing through my own veins, spreading its fire to my entire body. The Bloodlust holds us tight within its grasp, but the reward it gives is… exhilarating.

More! I demand silently, crushing her against me, and her terror complies, her frenzied heart beating all her blood into my waiting mouth. My gaze finds hers for an instant, and I watch the spark die behind her deep brown eyes. What I feel is not sadness. It is disappointment. So fragile, humans!

But the hunger, the terrible ache, is sated. I free myself from the girl and let her body slide down the ground like a ragdoll. I smile, baring my fangs. Blood drips from them to hit the ground beside her.

I can hear footsteps headed in my direction. Time to leave. No one will ever find me. And if someone does, no one will ever find them. I race off, down a black, unlit street that led to nowhere except an old, dead-end road with an old, worn-down house that had been condemned by the city years ago. It was not my home. But this place had been a haven to me before. The wind steals my laughter as it flashes past my face.

The sliver of moon glints at me as I run. Come morning, I will be trapped, barricaded in by the sun. But come nightfall, I will be free once more… and the moon will be completely hidden. A Vampyra moon. The moon that pulls us out to the streets, like its opposite does for the Werewolves.

Vampyra are not condemned to sleep. There is no natural law that dictates when we must rest. We can go for weeks without it, but we will certainly feel the strain, the weakness in our bones. Tonight I will sleep. I want my time to recharge, to rest up for tomorrow... when the moon hides its face from the evil that lurks in the streets.