draft

The End of Last Year

Well, I didn't make my goal of 365 books before December 31, but I managed a happy total of 230. If you want to see what filled up my reading year, check out my GoodReads page!The reviews for December's reads will be coming, but it's been a very hectic - and exciting! - time in life right now, so thanks for your patience. In writing news, I'm making progress on my next book - yay! It's still in the (very) early stages, so my writing focus will be on that instead of here, but don't disappear! I will be posting updates as well as previews for books that haven't been published yet, and of course reviews for anything I get a chance to read that's already on the shelves. Reading goal for the year - 150 books Writing goal for the year - finish the first draft of my new book. Hopefully this won't take all year, but with a full-time job and all the other craziness in life right now, I'm giving myself plenty of time.

Screams in the Red Rain

How has it been so long since my last post? Shame... But here's some quick tidbits of cool info going on in my writing/reading world, followed by another character sketch I wrote for my time travel story. (The other sketch for the character named Millie can be found here.) - I set a reading goal for myself this year: finish 365 books before midnight, Dec. 31. Bonus points if they are all first-time-reads. So far, I'm only 1 book behind schedule. (Want to see what books I've read and check out some reviews? Look me up on Goodreads.) (Interested in other fun shenanigans my brain decided? Check out and sign up for my other blog, RealmwalkerWriting!)

- I have a list of literary agents who are looking for work by new authors or my genre and will be submitting queries and such to them very soon.

- When I go to the library on Monday to pick up a book that's being held for me, I will have to pay my first-ever fine for having a book too damaged to return. Sadly, my puppy found a way to get onto my dining table while I was out getting groceries, and slightly mangled The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay. Sad. At least I got to finish reading it, though.

- Two of my friends recently had me over for dinner and decided we would watch My Little Pony. I later went home and read Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. Consequently, I had Applejack from My Little Pony narrating this book set in post-Civil War Texas - extra funny when the zombies showed up. :)

Enjoy the character sketch!

-----

My first thought was, it’s raining. But that didn’t make much sense – I was in my house. How could it be raining in my house? My second thought, that the roof had a leak, didn’t make sense, either. No self-respecting builder would have a leaky roof on a house he built.

But I was lying on the floor, on the soft rugs covering the hard wood, and I knew there were drips of water on my face. Had I been crying? No. Besides, if I had been crying, the drips wouldn’t have hit me from the ceiling – they wouldn’t have startled me awake.

Well, lying there wondering wasn’t going to solve the mystery. If I wanted to figure out why it was raining in the house, I’d have to open my eyes. I expected to see one of my siblings – probably my younger brother – standing over me, holding a glass of water and giggling at me.

He wasn’t there. No one was. I felt another drip and looked up at the ceiling, but with the late hour and the fireplace too far away, I couldn’t see. Sighing, I stood and grabbed one of the candles from the dining table. Mother would be annoyed that I disturbed her decorations, but I would put it back and just pray she didn’t notice. Mother always liked to have things perfect for the holidays, especially for Christmas. The tree, with its own decorations of carefully hand-carved ornaments, painted by my siblings and me as we had grown throughout the years. The garlands of evergreen boughs tied together with silk ribbon – expensive, Father said. Pretty, Mother said, and worth the money to ready our house for the coming of the Baby Jesus. It’s funny… I never saw him actually show up. With only a few days left before Christmas Day, the area beneath the tree was stuffed with presents wrapped in shiny paper, bright scraps of cloth, or tucked away inside pouches that Mother and I had sewn new for this year. Our stockings were hanging over the fireplace, just like always. I had stitched the names on them myself this time, instead of having to follow Mother’s patterns. From this far away, I couldn’t read them, but I knew they were there and I smiled nonetheless.

Even holding the candle up toward the ceiling didn’t help much. We had a big house, and the ceiling was too far away. I looked around, but since I didn’t see anyone, I decided to chance it and climbed up onto the table, my bare feet stepping carefully around the other candles and the fragile manger scene that decorated the tabletop. I held the candle up again…

…and screamed.

I was right. It was raining inside. Only it wasn’t water… it was blood.

Where was my family? My brother, my sister, my mother and father? Whose blood was this, leeching down from the roof? I looked down at myself and had to clap my hand to my mouth to keep from screaming again. I was covered in drops of sticky blood. I had been lying on the floor for a long time… had I slept through some terrible nightmare?

No… Now that I was awake, filled with adrenaline, I could feel the pounding in my head. I hadn’t fallen asleep. I’d been attacked.

I jumped down from the table, making the manger scene rattle. “Mother!” I yelled. “Where are you?” I was terrified. Where was everyone? Had they run away, thinking I was dead?

The rest blurred together in my memory, too much to take in so fast. Somewhere, out of the darkness, a hand snaked out and grabbed my arm, pulling me in. I began to scream when a second hand quickly covered my mouth. My nose caught the scent of soap and lavender and I realized these were my mother’s hands. I remember her whispering to me in a frightened voice. We had to get out, she said. They were still very near, and they would not let us leave alive. I asked about my siblings in a whisper crushed by my own emotion, and my mother’s choked-back sobs were answer enough.

Most unluckily, the flickering light of my candle lit up a sliver of the room for a moment and I saw a flash of what had happened to my siblings. They were not dead. They had been murdered, brutally and savagely killed and tossed aside like garbage. I was angry and scared… and then I was sick, all over the floor of Mother’s closet where we were hiding. I had never seen a dead body before.

Mother and I made it out of that house. We had to climb out onto the roof because we could see dark shapes blocking the stairs leading down to the first floor and to safety. I could tell Mother was scared. I had not told Mother about the blood-rain in the dining room. I hoped I was wrong, but I thought I knew whose it must be, if Mother and I were here and my siblings were still inside.

Mother did not look. She did not know to look. I think if she had known, she never would have left, and we both would have died. Instead she let down the escape ladder my father had built into the roof, in case there was ever a fire, and began to climb down. She called for me to come after, but her voice was small and far away. I was caught, stunned and terrified, by the scene on the roof.

My father was dead, that was certain. Whoever had attacked us had made it clear that he was not able to protect his house or his family. Spikes, like the big ones they used down at the railroads, gleamed red in my eyes. My stomach heaved again even as I ran over to him and grabbed the slick iron with both hands,  begging my father to get up. I don’t know why. I knew he couldn’t hear me. I knew.

My mother called again, frantically, and I heard her. I jumped to the ladder and slid down the sides, getting splinters in my hands. Mother grabbed me and dragged me along behind her, running as fast as she could away from that house. I was running, too, but my legs were too slow to keep up with her, so I mostly stumbled and slowed her down.

I don’t know how long we ran. I remember looking back and seeing the black shadows moving around that house, hearing voices that faded away as my panic overtook them and turned them into howls of demons. We finally stopped, what seemed to be miles and miles away, and collapsed, panting hard and trying to uncramp our exhausted lungs and limbs.

Mother looked at me. You look a mess, she said, attempting to smile, but instead she began to cry. I felt a mess. Blood, vomit, sweat all clung to my clothes, splinters dug into my hands. It didn’t matter. Mother wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close, crying low sobs that rattled the soul to hear them. I buried my face in her shoulder. This time it was raining inside, and leaking out through my eyes as tears that soaked my mother’s clothes. Why did it happen? I remember asking her through my hiccups, trying to control myself and failing miserably.

My mother pulled away a little so she could look at me. Cupping her hands around my face, she smiled. It was a real smile, even though her eyes were so sad. She didn’t know, she said, but she was thankful that she still, at least, had me, and I had her. We were not alone.

I cried again. My mother frowned and brushed the tears away, making them mix with the blood on my cheeks and leave sticky trails behind. She said she understood, and she knew it would be hard, but we would get through it. God always had a reason, and he was watching over us.

I looked up at my mother and asked a question that had been burning in my heart for all the years I could remember: Was this my punishment because I was different?

I had always felt responsible for everything when I realized I was different. When my brother was born, I knew he was not like me. When my sister was born, I knew she was like my brother. Like Mother and Father. Not like me.

My mother gripped my hands tightly in her own and pressed them to her heart. She looked at me and told me to listen very closely, that I must never forget what she was about to tell me. I was different, I was special. I had power inside of me. God would never give His child such a gift and then punish her for having it. I had this power, and I should remember to always, always, do good with it. Use it to honor her. Use it to honor my family. Use it to honor God.

I felt safe there, with my mother, sitting beneath the trees. She had told me that I was not the reason we were alone now. It had been a cruel act of violence, but it had been random. There was nothing we could have done.

Lies.

Although my mother did not know it, the fear I had harbored since I had been a child, the fear that my difference, this “power,” would bring pain to my family, had come true. Those shadow-men had been after me, and it cost my brother, my sister, and my father their lives, and my mother her husband and her children.

I left my mother with some family friends who promised to take care of her. We did not explain everything, only the bare facts – that we had been victims of a terrible crime and were all that was left of our family. I left. My mother begged me not to go, but I could not bear to stay. This power, whatever it was, had killed my family. I would not let it hurt her, too – not any more than it already had.

***

Memory fades with time. All these events happened so long ago, I cannot remember much. I cannot remember the sound of my mother’s voice, my father’s face, or my sibling’s laughs. I cannot remember the town in which we lived, nor even the country, anymore. I cannot remember my family’s names… I cannot even remember my own name.

I can remember my scream, when I first saw the blood-rain oozing through the ceiling. I can remember the shadow-men darting around that house.

I can remember because I still see them, I still hear them, in my dreams, sometimes… and it always ends the same way: I am running around that house, trying to catch the shadow-men and see who it is that has murdered my family. I lock eyes with one of them through the darkness, and it is as though he can see me through my own dreams, from within my own mind.

I do not wake screaming anymore. One grows used to such nightmares, when one has them for so many years. But the unsettling feeling never grows dim, and I fear that one day, soon, all that will remain of my memory are those soul-piercing eyes and a child’s scream as blood rains down.

FITB: Lee and Z

The manuscript for EUD (Book 1) is currently out to a friend for proofing. The manuscript for FHBB (Book 2) is finished, but I'm still in the first round of revisions. It's exciting, seeing the two big binders on the shelf with print-outs of my novels. Hopefully soon they'll be in real bound-print format. For those of you who don't know anything about FHBB, here's a fun introduction (taken from the script) to one of my favorite characters. And Lee takes great pride in his pirate slang, so he better not hear you mocking him. For those who do know more of this story, here's also the first mention of Z being uptight. I suspect The Glass may make an appearance in a future post to share this wonderfulness with everyone. :)

***

Even below decks, Kallizar could hear the shouts of the Saphira’s crew mixing in with the jeers of the pirates. One particularly loud man’s shout was audible even above the din. “Run an’ hide, ye cowardly Vaerish dogs! Cap’n Freeman’s come to get ye!”

“You won’t take me without a fight!” Captain Cath screamed back.

Someone laughed, and then Kallizar lost all traces of understandable conversation to the roar of the battle.

It did not last long. The merchant men, hopelessly outnumbered, were subdued in minutes. Some of them died, screaming or cursing, but Kallizar tried to ignore it. All that mattered was that Aeva and Riat were safe.

“Search the ship. Cap’n wants to make sure everyone’s up to see their cap’n dispatched,” a female shouted, causing a round of coarse laughter from the pirate crew.

Kallizar brought her magic to her hands. If they thought to take her quietly, they were mistaken. If Kallizar had her way, they would not be taking her anywhere.

Heavy footsteps thudded down the stairs. A huge, muscled man came into view, his eyes darting expertly around. When he saw Kallizar, he grinned. “Ye gonna play nice or is Lee gonna have to make ye come up?”

Kallizar recognized his voice as the man who had shouted the insult about the Vaerish dogs.

The man, seeming to get a better view of her, suddenly furrowed his brow. “Ye look awful too pretty to be a part o’ that rubbish crew,” he said. “Ye sure ye be on the right ship?”

Kallizar was completely confused by the man’s statement. “You mean, I should be on your ship?” she asked, not letting her defenses down.

The man laughed. “My ship?” he chuckled. “I’m not the cap’n, and the Fury not be me ship. But I have me place. Cap’n Freeman seems better than this what ye got yerself here.” He arched an eyebrow at her. “Or don’ ye know that this ship here belongs to one o’ the crummiest, scummiest, evilest cap’ns still sailin’?”

Kallizar did not know how to respond, so she said nothing.

“True, true,” he said with a shrug. “Creepin’ Cath an’ his two-timin’ trades.”

“Lee! Ye get killed down there, or what? By the Gods, ye take forever!” the woman called.

Lee rolled his eyes. “Zandra, gettin’ all uptight,” he explained to the surprised Sorcerer. “But I guess she be right. Come on, then.” He gestured for Kallizar to follow him.

“No.” Kallizar was mildly entertained by Lee’s nonchalant behavior, but she was not going to simply leave Aeva and Riat and follow him up into the middle of a bunch of pirates who were, doubtless, less casual than this one.

Lee frowned. “Come on, lass. I know ye be smart or ye wouldn’ be still standin’, talkin’ to me. Ye would have screamed or fainted or some other somesuch nonsense. I know yer not afraid, an’ I know why, too.” He pointed at Kallizar’s lightning. “Ye have the magic in yer blood. But I got a secret for ye.” He winked. “I’m not afraid of yer magic.”

Kallizar tried not to let her growing surprise show. “Do you have a proposition, or are you merely going to chat me to death?” Kallizar asked him. “Either fight or leave me alone.”

Lee smiled. “Those be bad choices, Sorcerer lass. I’d love to let ye stay, but I have me orders, and the Cap’n doesn’t take well to people not obeyin’ his orders.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to fight. How does your captain take to having dead crew members?” Kallizar retorted.

Lee shook his head. “Truth be told, I would take it much worse than the Cap’n if ye killed me,” he said, “but the Cap’n would still take it pretty bad.”

Kallizar shot a bolt of lightning at Lee’s knee, aiming to stop him without killing him. Gods help her, but she liked the man.

***

Victory!

It's an auspicious day, everyone! As is obvious by my lack of recent posts, I've been very busy lately. But it was all for a good cause, because the proofing of Even unto Death is finished! I am very excited to have hit such an important milestone in my life and writing career. The total count came out to 440 pages, and I also hit another personal goal: I broke 100,000 words! Best of all, I can honestly say that I'm happy with the results!

I'm going to be swamped with work (yes, I have a day job) for the next few months, so unfortunately I won't likely be able to do much with EUD right away. But it feels so great to have gone through the entire script and polished it up so that I feel good about the vast majority of it! There are still some sections that need help, but I'm hoping my volunteer proofers can help out with that. And soon it will be time to go agent-shopping!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, given me advice, and kicked my ass when I was being pokey-slow about working on EUD. Writers are hard to put up with, I know.

If you're wondering whether this means the end of my posts... Nope! There's still lots to do with EUD and Immortal Flames, not to mention all the other characters and stories that I've been bouncing around on here - and on paper. I'll be writing for a long, long time. :)

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.

Calling All Artists!

Yo! If any of you out there want to try your hand at drawing/painting/artifying one of my characters, or some prominent icon (like Kallizar's medallion), that would be sweet. All I ask is that you share what you have here and don't sell the ideas as your own. Posting on your own site is cool as long as you give a link back here so people know where the concept came from.

Thanks and happy art-ing!

S. G. Johnson , aka The Realmwalker

Alec to Meet a Human?

Don't know who Alec is? Check out this post for an intro, and this one for more!  

Trust. Reliance. To Vampyra, these were weaknesses to be exploited. Brian's trust, the aid of his friends, were only things to be used to protect myself.

It never once occurred to me that one day I might learn to trust... and that I might desperately need it.

 

I have lost count of all the nights the Wolf has accompanied me on my hunts - never killing, but never foolish enough to hold me back. Every once in a great while, he comments about the necessity of killing my prey, wishing I would just let them go when I am through, but he has (most wisely) not pressed the issue - and my patience. His comments usually falter when the moon's light glints off my blood-soaked fangs. And if they do not, I draw out the kill, watching with glee how my prey's cries torment him.

His vampire friend has been coming along as well. I am highly amused by her - she is so close to me, a cousin through the vampire blood link, and yet she is so very different. Even her view of this world does not match up with mine as I had expected. Indeed, it almost seems to match the Wolf's.

But I have proven to them my strength in a fight. I have saved the Wolf from the killing stroke of a Hunter, and pulled the vampire inside before the rising sun could burn her to ash. I have always taken up watch over my allies' battles, because without such contribution there is no alliance and no guarantee that they will remain favorable towards me. And when all else has failed, I can use those allies to slow down any Hunter on my trail.

Vampyra are cold and cruel, and we know how to survive.

Tonight, I finally meet the last member of their little band... the human. Apparently the Wolf has decided I can - in strong company - behave well enough not to kill the boy on sight.

This sounds like a challenge to me... and the Bloodlust is rising.

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?"

Excerpt from EUD - A Visit to Varaeti!

Kallizar takes her servant Cade on a trip to Varaeti. They arrive in a small city called Montega, a place known to be welcoming to outcasts, runaways, and foreigners. Mia'a, a woman in her forties, has them stay in her tavern/inn for the night. Mia'a is excited to have a Fyanish visitor and glad at the chance to chat, even though her Fyanish is a bit broken.

***

The night wore on, but Kallizar had no desire to retire. Mia’a kept her engaged in conversation, talking about everything from the town to her own life to the rest of the country to the looming threat of war with Fyan – and what Kallizar and the Fyanish thought of it – and anything else she could think of. She told Kallizar that she had learned her Fyanish from nearly six years of sailing on a merchant trader ship called the Goldensail,  of which she had been the first mate. She had decided to retire and move inland when she met the man who would later become her husband, much to the merchant House’s dismay. She and her husband settled in a small town not far from the coast. He worked as a blacksmith for several years, until one day the smithy caught fire and he was killed. After that, Mia’a moved south and eventually found Montega. She had never heard of the town before but she did not want to move anymore. She was tired and wanted to settle down again. She saw a great opportunity to open a tavern here, since the only other meeting place was a run-down inn that looked dirtier than the earth on which it sat. It was not until after she had become a success and had been living here for some time that she found out about Montega’s somewhat “outcast” reputation amongst most of the rest of the Vaerish. By then, however, she did not care. She was at home here, and she never had to worry about her safety. Those who came to Montega all were looking for the same thing, really: acceptance and protection.

“You are good for to stay here with me,” Mia’a offered. “I have one room after my room. Your Cade, he is good to stay, too.”

“Thank you, Mia’a. That is very kind of you,” Kallizar said. “But unless you accept Fyanish money, I cannot pay you.”

Mia’a flapped her hand dismissively. “I do not need money,” she said. “Be a help in the tavern, maybe, and say me one thing.” She leaned in very close to Kallizar’s ear and whispered, “You are a Sorcerer, yes?”

Kallizar stiffened.

“It is good,” Mia’a assured her. “I see your fire eyes, your hands ready, and I think of Sorcerer on the Goldensail with me.”

Very slowly, Kallizar nodded. “You are right,” she said in a barely audible voice.

Mia’a nodded. “You must keep this not said,” she told her seriously. “Montega is good but Varaeti is wanting for to send all Sorcerers to Tolenti for approve by Queen Ímona. She no approve Sorcerer from Fyan, maybe kill you.” She placed a hand over one of Kallizar’s. “Say you understand me?”

Kallizar nodded. “I will not tell anyone,” she promised. “I do not want to make trouble, and I certainly do not want to be killed.”

Mia’a smiled with relief and backed up again. “Thank you, Kallizar. You are good friend, and I do not want you to disappear.” She reached for Kallizar’s glass. “Again a drink?”

“That would be wonderful,” Kallizar said, pushing the glass into the woman’s outstretched hand.

***

Don't Piss Off the Gods

The main religion in the world of Kallizar is that of the Moon Gods: Lillith, God of Wrath and Ri'hannon, God of Mercy. They watch over the human realm from the After - the place where all souls come at the moment of mortal death. Basic facts about the Gods: They are not able to directly influence the human realm. They must instead act through their Prophets, giving them Godly powers and guiding them with whispers and answered prayers toward the Gods' goals. The Gods are not omniscient or omnipotent or omnipresent. However, they have full control over the After (which they created together) and consider their work in the human realm to be something like an eternal game of chess between the two of them.

Below is a sketch I did to bring some insight to how the Gods - in this case, Lillith - react to the actions of the humans.

“Lillith, what are you doing?” Ri’hannon approached her carefully. His caution was necessary; the God of Wrath was staring heatedly at a point some forty feet in front of her. Her hair was pure white, and her long, flowing dress matched perfectly. Her elegant fingers were balled into fists and her eyes were flashing so much Ri’hannon would not have been surprised if there had been actual flames. The God of Mercy had not seen her this upset in several millennia. “Tell me what it is,” he said. His voice was gentle but not condescending. He waited patiently while Lillith’s words returned to her. He could hear her teeth grinding together.

“Someone – several someones – need to die,” she fumed. “Horribly, slowly, and viciously. And they need to be greeted personally by me when they get here.”

Ri’hannon continued to wait.

“I want to rip their hearts out while they’re still beating. I want to split them open so that the dogs eat their entrails while they watch. I want to pluck out their eyes and lead them off a cliff and watch their bodies be shattered on the rocks. I want to poke holes in their lungs and listen to the burbling sounds of their pathetic attempts to breathe. I want to chop them up into little pieces and scatter them at my altars. I want to hear them beg for my forgiveness and then strike them down. I want to strangle them with their own windpipes twisted around their necks. I want to slit their children’s throats and make them drink their children’s blood. I want to remove every good thing from their lives and then smite them with all my power. I want to kill them, and then shred their souls for an eternity here in the After!”

“Tell me what has happened,” Ri’hannon said softly.

“Some people were unhappy with me,” Lillith spat. “They didn’t think I was doing a good job as the God of Wrath, so they decided to get my attention. By killing seven of my Prophets!” She was shrieking.

Holy wrath streamed off her in tangible waves. It was so potent and so full of pure, unhindered rage, that Ri’hannon had to physically brace himself against the onslaught. She could not hurt him, but when her power radiated that much, the feeling was uncomfortable even for him.

She continued. “They were faithful! They didn’t deserve that death! Well, those people certainly got my attention now. As soon as one of my remaining Prophets prays, I will destroy those subhuman scum who dared think themselves better than me!” She focused on Ri’hannon. “And if anyone prays to you to spare those lives, don’t. They murdered my Prophets. They are mine.”

Ri’hannon had only one thing to say. “I will help you. Lend me some of your wrath, my love, and let me help you.”

She held out her hand. Ri’hannon accepted. Power blazed from the God of Wrath to the God of Mercy. Ri’hannon did not flinch. His own anger at seeing Lillith this way anchored him. “Now, show me where they are. And believe me, my Lillith --- they will die.”

Tell me who you'd like to get to know better!

[polldaddy poll=5595841]

Excerpt from EUD, Chapter 1!

This is a small excerpt from the rough draft of book 1: Even Unto Death, chapter 1. Let me know what you think! I'm excited to be sharing this with you all! The story so far: Kallizar has arrived at the Palace to celebrate birthdays (Prince Hirom's and her own) with the royal family and the Court Sorcerer Mahliz. During the dinner, Hirom asks Kallizar to tell him more about herself. She dodges the question by exchanging birthday presents instead.

Hirom had fallen asleep about an hour after the dinner had finished. Kallizar carried the boy back to his rooms, the little green dragon gliding along beside them.

Gently, she laid him on the bed and pulled the blanket up over his sleeping form. The dragon fluttered down beside him and flapped its wings once before curling up beside the boy.

Kallizar sat on the edge of the bed, thinking. Her eyes watched the boy’s chest rise and fall in the calm motions of sleep, but her mind was far from Xuun. She closed her eyes and heard the quiet sounds of the Prince’s breathing instead as the waves of the tide, made distant by time and memories.

“I was born in a little town called D’arrynt,” she said softly. “My father was a carpenter and my mother was a weaver. I spent most of my time in my father’s shop… although I’m pretty sure the sawdust had it out for me.”

Bright sun in a hot workshop. The scritch-scratch sound of Father’s tools on wood. Dust dancing in the breezes, tickling my nose. A sneeze violent enough to throw me off my chair. My head hits the floor and the tears come. A shadow passes over me and my father’s hands lift me up. Soothing murmurs as he brushes me clean and wipes my face dry.

 

The sound of screams wakes me in the night. Shuddering ground makes me pull my legs up and wrap my arms around them, hugging them to my chest. Loud crashes and bright flashes, fire and smoke and terror. Laughing growls from coarse sailors as they move through the town. More screams, this time from voices I know. Mother! Father! Gone… Creaking wood above me and I dodge before the ignited beam hits my bed. A tumbling mess of arms and legs rushing out the door into the night. Tears streaming – I’m alone now.

No, not alone. One hand across my mouth, another over my eyes. Rough voices that don’t belong to the pirates. A second pair of hands grabs my wrists and binds them tightly. Cloth across my mouth as the hand is removed. Vision returns and I can see eyes above me even in the darkness. Red. The red-eyed demon.

 ***

Kallizar was sweating. Mentally, she berated herself for unlocking such old memories. They had no business in the present. But if the old fears were still hiding behind those doors, then there was no way she could explain to the young Prince what had happened. Too many secrets, she thought. I’m sorry, Hirom.

Leaning over, she kissed the sleeping Prince on the forehead before softly exiting the room.

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.