magic

Books of October and November

It's two months in one! October was a light reading month for me, unfortunately, but I at least got a good mix of stuff in. November was a bit better, helped out by having some real vacation time (yay Thanksgiving!). I'm still scarily far from my overall goal, needing to read about 100 more books yet this year and only having a few weeks left. My current plan is to catch up on a lot of manga I'd been setting aside in favor of vampire books and mystery novels, and to listen to more audiobooks at work (and therefore less music).

And now for the book reviews. Enjoy. :)

The Warning by Katherine Applegate - 3 stars. I like this book well enough, and there were certain parts that definitely spiced it up. For one thing, two of the main characters get into some serious crap, and Jake (the narrator) isn't convinced they can get out in time. As readers, we know the two will be all right because 1. the series continues and 2. I don't know of a children's book that kills off two main characters. But it was funny and good. Must stop the aliens!

The Hunger Games (audiobook) by Suzanne Collins - 5 stars. I had read the book before (the whole trilogy, actually) but this was the first time listening to the audiobook, and I think that made me like the story even more. I did see the movie when it came out, so it was interesting to listen to the book and have images from the movie kind of playing along in the background of my brain. I don't plan to re-read the rest of the series because books 2 and 3 were nowhere near as good as this one, but I may end up re-listening to this sometime. Collins gave her characters good depth and didn't make any of them perfect - except maybe Rue, who is just awesome. I loved reading Katniss as the heroine because, in a lot of ways, she breaks the YA rules (don't get me wrong. I read a lot of YA, especially ones with female stars, but there are just certain traits that carry over to nearly every character. Why? Probably to cater to the stereotypes, but seriously, be creative!) ... Anyway, Katniss. She doesn't go for the insta-love that could have easily happened - actually, when she finds out about it, she gets pissed. She doesn't spend all her time in the hellish Games pining over Gale, either. She's scared, worried for her family and if they will survive without her hunting skills, brave, independent, stubborn, and sometimes annoying. She's the type of person I definitely don't want my children to be, but someone that they should be like.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk - 0 stars. Disclaimer: I did not finish this book, I hated it so much.I expected a good horror/thriller - nope.

This book is nasty in multiple ways. 1. The main plot should have been amazing - take a bunch of writers and throw them in a "vacation home" for three months, and whoever is still alive at the end gets to go home. Instead, what we get is a bunch of twisted, perverted people all trying to show that they're the best, to the point of murdering other people. 2. The little short stories written by the various characters were gross and perverted. I have never been so happy to not read a book. Ew.

Sandry's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 4 stars. I have read this book (and this whole quartet) at least a dozen times. I don't remember how old I was when I first found them, but I've kept them ever since and the same copies are sitting on my shelves right now - looking very worn and very well-read. The book stars four young people, around age 12, who are brought from the edges of life and given a home in a temple community. They learn that they are natural mages, and a lot of this book is dedicated to exploring what that means to each of the kids and how they must deal with it. Listening to it as an audiobook for the first time was an awesome experience, both because of all the memories I have attached to this book and because it was recorded with full cast audio. Going into the book knowing that there are more to come will make reading it more pleasant (especially the slow chunk at the beginning), but the end still feels satisfying and stands on its own. The book is written in third person, which is nice because even though there's more of a focus on Sandry than the other three, we still get to see the others shine. Briar is my favorite. :)

Tris's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 4 stars. I never used to like this book as much as the others in the series, but it's grown on me over time. Shriek still annoyed me, but it was a cool way to see the softer side of Tris. The four are still recovering - and helping their home of Winding Circle recover - from the earthquakes in the previous book when pirates attack the port. This book doesn't have the slowness of the first one and doesn't spend a lot of time recapping what happened - just enough to let you know the setting, and then we're off into a darker plot of attack, betrayal, and murder. Tris learns that sometimes, good intentions aren't enough to make up for bad actions.

Daja's Book (audiobook) by Tamora Pierce - 5 stars. Lots to dive into with this book! Daja is/was a Trader, but her bad luck (being the sole survivor of a shipwreck) left her thrown out of her Trader heritage and marked as outcast, scum, non-existent. Living at Winding Circle, learning magic and smithing, she almost didn't care, but now that she and her friends are traveling and a Trader caravan stops by, Daja must deal with the stigma all over again. Seeing the other side of Trader life was really cool. There were two other things that earned this book the extra star: Sandry's mapping, and the end of the book.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - 5 stars. What a strange book. It stars Seraphina, a half-human, half-dragon who must keep her identity a secret or else face total banishment and possibly execution. Only her father and her long-time mentor know the truth, and it's getting harder and harder to hide.

Honestly, I don't know exactly what made me like the book so much. The pacing was slow but not boring. There was a ton of world-building going on, and the writing was descriptive, interesting, and calm. It felt like a very long read but I thoroughly enjoyed it; the pacing actually felt like it was matching the mindset of the dragons in general. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but it was neat anyway. I hope the next book comes out soon; this one left some loose ends and I'm curious to see what happens.

Vampire Knight, vol. 12-18 by Matsuri Hino - 4 stars. Oops. Having borrowed all of these from the library, I can't remember what happens in each specific volume. :( But I do know that volume 12 starts the story 1 year after volume 11. For the most part, I still enjoyed the series, but there were times when I wanted to strangle Yuki a little bit (grow a backbone, girl!) and punch Zero and Kaname (boys...). The art is amazing, but since it's all printed in black and white, I had a tough time figuring out exactly what was going on in the last volume, which made deciphering the ending a bit difficult. I was going to watch the anime to figure it out, as it follows the story of the manga pretty faithfully, but then I discovered that the anime only goes through volume 11 - so that wouldn't work. (I might still watch it anyway because I am addicted to anime.) All in all, it was a fun series with an interesting plot and a few twists I didn't see coming (along with a bunch that I did), and since I had to make an educated guess at the ending, I liked it. If I'm wrong, then I'm not happy. But if I never read the wikipedia article about it, then I guess I'll always be right in my own little world. :)

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison - 4 stars. I took too much time between this one and the first one, so I was pretty lost at first. I remembered the one super-important thing that had happened, but there were lots of other references that I totally missed and had to go back to later. That said, I liked this book. Rachel (the star) tries to get back to normal life after the events of the first book, but that isn't exactly easy when you're a witch with a slightly out-of-control vampire for a roommate and a demon hunting your blood. Jenks, her pixie partner, is as awesome as ever, and I laughed out loud when Rachel tries to turn a fish into her familiar. The writing felt more coherent in this book than in the first, and certain characters (Nick and Ivy, obviously, but also some of the secondary characters) get a good fleshing-out.

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett - 3 stars. I don't know what happened here. I wanted to love this book. Everything I've ever heard about the Discworld series has been amazing and proclaims it to be the funniest, most creative writing of all time. But I just couldn't stay in the story. It was amusing and had its powerful moments, but it was just so easy to put down. I think I will still read the second book in the series - maybe it will get better over time. But I don't even remember the main character's name, and barely remember what he was supposed to be doing. I don't even remember the end of the book. I do remember the sentient luggage, though. It reminded me of a creepier Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter and was probably my favorite character.

Second Shift: Order by Hugh Howey - 4 stars. The Wool saga continues, and it is spectacular. Seeing the first silos go down, and watching the struggle from a different perspective, was intense. Like everything, there's never just one side. No one is 100% right or wrong. Mission was a great character to follow and Donald's pieces were powerful and sad (which was good, because I didn't really like him much as a character).

Third Shift: Pact by Hugh Howey - 5 stars. Wrap-up to the Shift omnibus, and probably my favorite of the three. Solo's history we knew from Wool, but experiencing it made it all so much more intense - I love Shadow. The Big Reveal about the silos was mean (in a good way) - could no one figure out a better solution? I'm excited for Dust (the final book in the series) to see what happens to this massively effed-up world.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde - 4 stars. This is a sci-fi book about people who can only see certain parts of the color spectrum, and how their entire society is based off of how powerful your eyes are. It's the first book in the series, and I desperately wish the second one were written because the ending of this one was cruel. What will Eddie do now that he knows what he knows? What will happen to Jane? There's not a good way for me to even summarize the story without spoilers, so you just need to go read it yourself. Just please, Please, don't confuse it with 50 Shades of Gray. Totally different book.

Bagels, Dirty Limericks, and Martinis: The Badass Guide to Writing Your First Book by Lisa Bledsoe and Sonja Foust - 3.5 stars. Fun little book about writing books. Very conversational style (thank goodness it's not textbook or soapbox style or I probably would have chucked it out the window). Very humorous. And even though it focused more on non-fiction, there were some really good tips for fiction writers, too. Also, the dirty limericks are great. The best part is that the authors tell you that no matter how many books about writing you read, the only thing that will make you a better writer is to write.

Wizard's First Rule (audiobook) by Terry Goodkind - 4 stars. I've read this book a few times, but the audiobook was fun. I think I might be slowly getting addicted to audiobooks in general. This is the first book in Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, and it is absolutely a high/epic fantasy story. I'm not going to write paragraphs here to summarize the story - the book is way too long for that. But I will say that Richard (the star, known as the Seeker) is a lot of fun. I like that he's not a perfect hero. He has a temper (actually, he earns the nickname Richard-with-the-temper from one village he visits) and he often jumps to conclusions (not always the right ones) before he stops himself and sorts it out rationally. There is a bit of insta-love when he meets Kahlan (which is pronounced KAY-lin but which I did not know for years until my dad laughed at me and then corrected me when I said Kah-LAHN), but honestly, that didn't bother me. With stories like this, when you already know the hero, the female love interest is going to be pretty obvious pretty quickly, so I'm glad I didn't have to spend time reading about Richard's internal debate over whether he liked Kahlan or not.

There is a Lot going on in this book, and not all of it is nice. Some of it is gruesome, and some of it is gross. Don't read this to your kids, and be prepared for a seriously twisted Bad Dude. Evil is nasty.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - 5 stars. I forgot how much I loved Gaiman's writing until I picked this up. Set in London, it's the story of how one kind act from star Richard Mayhew throws him into a world he never knew existed, and puts him on a quest to help the strange girl named Door and get back to his home in real London. Solve the mystery, evade the bad guys, save the day, and mind the gap.

Rest in Pieces by Rita Mae Brown - 3 stars. The second of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries, where the pets are the stars and try to push their humans into solving the murder mystery that's happening in their little town. It's fun, it's funny, and I didn't know who was the murderer 90 pages before any of the characters. Yay! It's also pushing a bit of a feminist agenda, which annoyed me, but at least it was toned down from the first one. There's a place for that, but I don't think the middle of a "cozy mystery" novel is it.

Secret Vampire by L. J. Smith - 4 stars. "Don't judge a book by its cover" is definitely true here. Luckily, I was reading the first trilogy omnibus, so I didn't see the frighteningly bad cover art for this particular book until I went to add it to my Read list on Goodreads. Yikes. Other than that, this book was exactly as promised: YA paranormal romance. Not my favorite stuff, but it was fun and I liked Poppy (the heroine). She felt real and reacted normally (meaning, the way you would expect a person to react) to the intensity and insanity of things in her life: she freaks out and doesn't know how to deal with the news that she has terminal cancer (not a spoiler; you know about it in the first chapter); she clings to her brother and her family when she realizes that she's really going to die; she looks to her long-time friend for support and gets pissed when he pulls the "I'm a vampire" line on her in the middle of her trying to deal with cancer. Actually, remembering that, it was pretty funny. The plot was lackluster and there was no real sense of build-up toward the end - it just sort of happened. But it was fun to read once.

Daughters of Darkness by L. J. Smith - 4 stars. Book two of the Night World series, and it has almost nothing to do with book one. The main characters are completely different, but there is one (Ash) who creates the link between the books. The overall theme of this series seems to be Nightworlders (the supernatural) finding their soulmates and dealing with the humans that keep getting tangled up in their lives (a big no-no for Nightworlders since the humans aren't supposed to know about them). Daughters of Darkness was cool in that we see a totally different side of Ash than Secret Vampire portrayed - even he didn't know it existed. :)

Spellbinder by L. J. Smith - 3.5 stars. Book three: now starring witches! Again we see Nightworlders finding soulmates and figuring out how to reconcile that against the "don't tell the humans" law. Thea, the heroine, was fun and spunky, although she was constantly pushed around by her cousin Blaise. Otherwise, more of the same from Smith. And still with the horrible cover art.

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes - 5 stars. This book was tons of fun. So many funny parts I had to read out loud. Plus, the plot was quite dark for a YA book. The ending was very satisfying from a literary standpoint, but made me mad as a reader. I want there to be more of these books.

Trivia Corner:

“MS. THOMPSON, PLEASE KEEP YOUR FELINE OFF MY PROPERTY. IF I SEE IT AGAIN, I WILL EAT IT.” - This is from the first Mercy Thompson novel, Moon Called. This book, and this series, are amazing. I cannot recommend these highly enough for anyone who loves fantasy fiction/urban fantasy, werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, witches, fey, and general awesomeness. Mercy kicks ass.

Up next: "I like having my guts inside me, as opposed to having them smeared all over." "Yeah, guts should not see daylight."

Books I've Devoured Recently

I'm still going for my goal of having read 365 books by the end of this year. According to my calculator, I'm slipping, at only 80 finished out of the 118 I should have read by now. But that's only 11% - I can make that. Interested in what I've been reading this month? A fun variety, and all brand new to me:

B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton - 2.5 stars. Easy to pick up, easy to put down. Not bad, but sadly forgettable.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson - 5 stars. No, I don't actively follow her blog, but I have read it occasionally and this book reads like one giant blog post. I found it hilarious. Not for those opposed to *ahem* colorful language.

Crossed by Ally Condie - 3 stars. Book 2 of a trilogy. Pretty much what I expected: boy and girl are in love but are cruelly separated at the end of book 1. Girl goes to find boy. Finds boy, but along the way becomes unsure if she's not still also in love with Previous Boy, because she gets jealous when girl friend expresses interest in Previous Boy. Also gets upset to discover boy doesn't want to go somewhere with her. Massive drama and angst against a dystopian backdrop. I'm hoping book 3 closes things nicely. Worth the read once, but nothing I'm going to buy.

Hug a Teddy by Jim Erskine - 4 stars. I found this at a book sale and recognized it because of its sister book, Throw a Tomato (which I own and love to death). Super-quick, fun read about things to do when life is being mean.

Soulless by Christopher Golden - 4 stars. Really cool zombie novel. The end was a bit lacking, I think, because there was no reason why the main characters had to be the main characters. The dude who was going nuts in the studio the entire time would eventually have done the same exact thing and the same outcome would have happened, but hey, whatever. The lore of the zombie in this novel was very interesting. I would read a sequel.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare - 4 stars. Second book in a trilogy. It managed to break the perpetual "the second book always sucks the most" by holding up to the first book. I love Simon and I hope his story comes to a satisfying conclusion. I'm reading the third and final book right now.

Naruto, volumes 1-5 - 4.5 stars. I have seen the anime, but there's just something so incredible about reading manga. I think it might be my appreciation for the art, because I can't draw worth crap. Going back to the very beginning of Naruto's story is pretty cool, knowing how he grows much later in the series. I will be reading this entire series, probably as fast as the library can get copies for me. They also went on my to-buy list on Amazon.

The Andalite's Gift by Katherine Applegate - 4 stars. The first in the Megamorphs side series (they go with the Animorph series). Narrated by all the main characters, one each chapter. I liked it about as much as the rest of them. Again, going to keep reading the series. It's too bad I never read these when I was little, but I can keep them on a list of books to make sure my kids know about!

How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!! by Neil Zawacki - 4 stars. Completely fun. Beware, I now know everything I need in order to act upon my evil schemes! Note: I would highly recommend anyone interested in becoming a super villain take to heart the Evil Overlord checklist.

Wool by Hugh Howey - 5 stars. Incredible. I read the omnibus, books 1-5, which is available in paper and on Kindle. Each story gets longer than the previous, as they introduce the post-apocalyptic world and the characters living therein. By the time I was in book 4, I had a really hard time putting it down. And partway through book 5 I was sure Jules was braver than I ever would be, trusting that tube after just having gotten through the door the way she did just a few days or so ago. I'm looking forward to reading Shift, the next chunk of stories.

The Alien by Katherine Applegate - 3.5 stars. Animorphs again, this one from Ax's perspective. Very funny - especially his reaction to chocolate. But I just didn't get into the meat of this story as much as the others. Still, looking forward to more.

Soulless by Gail Carriger - 4 stars. Victorian London, with the supernatural not only out in society but actually so firmly engrained that there are specific societal rules regarding behavior at dinner parties and other such events. The concept for these supernaturals, and their opposite, the preternaturals, is very cool. Alexia, the main character, is a preternatural, which means she renders all supernatural powers useless (in fact, it's as though they never existed) so long as she keeps physical contact. The plot was a bit straightforward but very enjoyable, and the writing made the setting very, very real. If you're looking for a quick read, this is not it, just because of the writing style. But it's very funny and I'm looking forward to more of the Parasol Protectorate series.

 

If you want to see more in-depth reviews of any of these (or any previous book I've mentioned), head over to GoodReads and check out my Read shelf.

 

 

2.5 Stars: Incandescent by M. V. Freeman

I really wanted to give this book a higher rating, but in the end it earned 2.5 stars.The plot was good - three races fighting for control, each with their own brand of magic and their own justified hatred of one another. The characters were compelling and I cared about them. But I couldn't stay immersed in the story because the writing was so rough. At first I just did a small double-take and attributed it to a sneaky typo missed during editing (I've been through enough rounds to know that there's always that one little weasel that gets through)... but by the end of the book, I was having to translate the book rather than read it. Pluses for Incandescent: - Intriguing premise of Elementals, Mages, and Darks. - Strong heroine who (except for once) was believable and real - Attractive anti-hero with the "dark and dangerous and sexy" completely owned - Mina. She is a great character and I would gladly read an entire book about her - Laurie's friends Rachel and Nicki. Though not heavily featured, they were believable too, and likeable

Minuses for Incandescent: - Really rough writing. It felt like I was back to tutoring freshmen for their papers for English 101. - New terms used with little to no introduction. I don't mind new terms in a fantasy book; I do mind when I'm two-thirds through the book and have to check the glossary in the back because I'm tired of being the only person in this world who doesn't know what a Cogent is. - The one scene that broke Laurie as believable for me for a bit. (Check out my Goodreads review if you want the spoiler version.) - Flow of time. I have honestly no idea the timespan covered in this book. I think it was a few months but it felt more like a few weeks at most.

If there are more books coming in this series (which I sincerely hope, given the rather abrupt ending), I am looking forward to reading them. Just please get another few rounds of heavy editing in beforehand to clean up the comma-splicing mess.

Ill Omen

A look back to the coronation of King Fawlen and the beginning of the end of Kallizar's old life.  

 

“And now, we must complete the ceremony for which so many have gathered to see,” Prophet Zahn continued. “You have passed your third and final test; you have shown yourself to be a humble and compassionate man, gentle and wise beyond the boundaries of the royal line.”

Mikael approached both Fawlen and Seriah. “Kneel, my brother,” Mikael said, “that you may be given what is yours.” He drew his sword, the glinting blade catching the sunlight and throwing it across the waiting crowd in green flickers.

Trembling very slightly, Fawlen lowered himself to his knees before his brother.

The edge of Mikael’s sword came down on Fawlen’s left shoulder. “The nation of Fyan cries out for a new king!” His voice was steady but his eyes were bright with emotion. “You have proven yourself, before this country and this court, that you are ready and worthy to answer this call!”

The entire courtyard watched with unblinking eyes, tense with excitement. This was the moment – the new king was about to be crowned!

The members of the court watched wide-eyed as well, but their tension was borne of sudden panic. Instead of lifting his sword and finishing the ceremony, Mikael had pressed down on the blade. It had bitten into Fawlen’s shoulder and a small patch of dark red was blossoming onto Fawlen’s clothes.

Kallizar looked around rapidly, checking the extent of the situation. Hirom had not yet noticed anything amiss, thank the gods. Seriah had – her knuckles were white where she gripped the arms of her chair. But she seemed torn between stopping Mikael by force and staying still so as not to alert the crowd.

For a split second, Kallizar met Mahlíz’ eyes. He looked stunned.

Fawlen looked much the same. Shock was all over his face, and pain beneath that… but whether from his wounded shoulder or from his brother’s actions, Kallizar couldn’t tell.

Kallizar looked to Mikael, her heart trying to beat itself free of her ribcage. What was he doing? Why in Lillith’s name would he attack Fawlen? A sudden, terrible thought entered her mind. Mikael… have you lied all this time?

A sharp, almost electric sensation hit her a second later, and Kallizar realized what must be going on. A quick glance at Mahlíz told her he had figured it out as well. Someone had thrown a spell on Mikael’s sword, and from the look of things, the prince couldn’t do anything to stop it. The muscles in his arm bulged as he strained to lift the blade, and sweat was starting to trickle down his worried face.

Mahlíz’ magic swirled onto the scene, soft blue hues to Kallizar’s vision. It wrapped around the prince’s sword and smothered the offending spell, choking it out until nothing remained.

Mikael must have felt the pressure fading because his face relaxed and he adjusted his grip so the blade would not go flying over his head.

Kallizar scoured the crowd for the guilty Sorcerer, but she could not sense anyone with that magic. Nor did she see anyone who looked particularly guilty, or surprised, or disappointed. The magical signature dissipated as Mahlíz’ magic destroyed the last of the spell, but Kallizar wouldn’t soon forget that feeling. It was all she had to figure out who – and how. Something was off about that signature… it was too scrambled, too confused, to have been natural magic. Someone had been meddling.

That thought made Kallizar extremely uncomfortable. Tainted magic came as the result of dark experiments, indeed.

Don't Interrupt a Sorcerer

Concentration is key for Sorcerers - if they are interrupted, pray to the gods you weren't the one to do so, or you may well have blood on your hands. Here we see Kallizar attending to the severely wounded villagers in the far north of Fyan, victims of a cruel pirate raid. Kallizar wished yet again that she could use her magic to heal another, but she was limited by the same thing that allowed people’s bodies to heal themselves. Her magic was foreign to them, and they fought it off. Only the Prophets could truly heal, using the gods’ powers directly. Even with all her strength, it was not enough to keep the spell up for very long. After only a few minutes, she was forced to stop. She was beginning to sweat, and her hands shook when she removed them. So did her legs when she attempted to stand.

“Water, please,” she said, kneeling quickly. When she had downed what was brought, she moved on to the next victim, this one the woman with the missing eye.

She had barely begun when she felt heat rising against her chest. Confused, she hesitated. In that moment, the spell faltered, snapping back on her with a vengeance. Kallizar jerked her hands away as pain shot up her neck, searing hot. She reeled backwards and landed heavily on her back.

Mai rushed to her side. “What happened?” she asked urgently.

Kallizar reached for the emerald necklace, belatedly realizing what had happened. As she had suspected, it was still warm to the touch – the king had called. However, when she attempted to call the wind to respond, she found herself too weak even for that. As she held the gem, it flared again.

“Oh, gods, what happened to you?”

The shock and concern in Mai’s voice cut through the pain Kallizar was feeling in her neck. “I was interrupted,” she explained. Her voice sounded oddly distant to her ears. “I got surprised and I lost my balance.”

Mai was shaking her head. “No, not that,” she said. “Your neck.” The confusion was evident in her eyes.

Kallizar was having trouble concentrating – the pain in her neck was terrible, a much different kind of fire than the feel of magic in her blood. “I… what?”

“Mai, look!” One of the other relief workers, a man, was staring at the woman in the bed. When Mai saw her, she stared, as well.

Kallizar’s heart sped up with worry. “I… what done?” she asked. Somehow, the words didn’t seem to be making as much sense as they should have been. The pain was growing, across her shoulder, down her back, and up her jaw and cheek.

Mai looked back at Kallizar. Panic blossomed across her features. “Naloi, help me,” she ordered the man. “She’s getting worse.”

Kallizar’s vision wavered; one of her eyes seemed unwilling to open. “Died?” she asked despairingly, gesturing with weak arms toward the bedridden woman.

Mai smiled carefully. “No, Sorcerer,” she assured her. “She will be more than fine.” Her smile died as worry consumed it. “Sorcerer?”

Kallizar vaguely felt herself lifted from the ground. Her skin throbbed and burned, making her recoil from the touch. Someone laid a cool cloth across her face; Kallizar realized she was lying down again. She heard Mai’s voice, low and frightened. “Naloi, go. She’s got a horse at the edge of the city. The prince is with his men at No’om. Tell him to hurry…”

Kallizar: Fire in the Blood

I've spent a lot of time with Kallizar's story. Submitting it was the scariest and most exciting thing  I have ever done, and I'm happy for the experience. I'm also happy that I was able to take a good long look at my work and decide what would be the best for it. In the end, I decided to cut it down from a trilogy to a stand-alone novel. The vast majority of the book was the script from Book 2, but is now entitled Fire in the Blood. (I'm not going to go back and edit previous posts that refer to the old trilogy setup, but I have changed the categories and tags around a bit to make things easier to find and to reflect the new changes.)

For a while, I thought this would just be a novella-length story about a Sorcerer named Kallizar who worked as the Court Sorcerer for a kingdom and uncovered a plot about one of the nobles trying to take over the throne. As I kept working on it, more and more craziness started popping up with Kallizar's history and suddenly she informed me she had major history with a guy named Tavius - apparently he used to be her student, but when he started messing around with twisted magic Kallizar kicked him out. The entire "noble taking over the throne" arc pretty much disappeared as I let the other characters just kind of take over the story.

I can't remember how it all ended, but I know there were far too many characters and not nearly enough continuity to hold it together as a novel. But I'd written the entire thing, beginning to end, and I'd even had to get out a second notebook. Exciting! I was about to be a sophomore, and I'd actually finished a story I had started.

During the rest of high school I didn't work on Kallizar's story much, but I did bring her to life when I went to the Michigan Renaissance Festival. That was a blast. :)

Fast forward a bit to college. I had clips and bits from dozens of characters and stories, but Kallizar was nagging at me. Finally I sat down and re-worked a bunch of her story to get her to shut up, and decided most of what I had written in high school was crap, but there were some really neat ideas that I could branch out with. I grabbed a brand new notebook and started scribbling, and by the time I was ready to graduate, I had the rough manuscripts for two books in a planned trilogy ready to be typed out and edited, and the basic outline for the final book.

Go forward another year or so and I have a day job and almost no time to work on refining my scripts. But eventually I get the first one done and have a friend (another writing geek) read it over. Terrifying. More terrifying because in going through it before I hand it over to her, I keep thinking how unhappy I am with the script. Some things just don't seem to want to fit right. But I suck it up and let her read it anyway. When I get it back, she tells me basically what I already know, which hurts like hell but drops a realization at my feet: I already have a story I'm happy with. The script from Book 2 is rough, sure, but I don't think of it and want to bury it in the sand. It's got strong characters and a much better flow than the first script. And good news - Harper Collins just announced that they are taking unsolicited manuscripts from new authors for the first time in over ten years! It must be time to sit down and make a decision: what do I want from my writing career? Am I going to hang on to old ideas I had just because I put a lot of work into building them, even if I'm not happy with the result? Or am I willing to value that work for what it is (mostly good practice), use it as a reminder that I'm still - and always will be - growing as a writer, and to take the initiative to put my best foot forward?

Clicking that Submit button was terrifying. But I'm glad I had the chance. Having that opportunity, and that deadline, forced me to look at the work I was doing and really turn it into the best story it can be... and if that means cutting it down from a planned three books to one, then great. Maybe I will come back to Kallizar and company with some short stories to fill in the non-essential but fun pieces that are now gone with the death of Book 1. Who knows?

In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking forward and take these moments as opportunities for self-evaluation. I'm excited for all the stories I've yet to tell.

Kallizar: Glimpse of the Future

No spoilers here, other than Kallizar is the main character for all three books (which you likely already knew). Since this piece is actually significantly longer and more in depth, when I decided to post it I edited out all the spoiler-y parts from Book 2 for you. :)  

Kallizar has grown drastically throughout her nearly two centuries of life. She has  reached the point where it takes a lot to make her frightened, and she has a will that is not easily broken. Instead, she is willing to do whatever it takes to survive, and to protect those who have put their trust and their lives in her hands. More than ever, Kallizar lives for the moment, since the past is filled with bitter memories and the future is frightening because she will outlive her friends. However, the past still leaves scars that Kallizar cannot ignore, and she has had to face the consequences of them on more than one occasion.

Overall, Kallizar is an aggressive person. She takes things into her own hands whenever possible and doesn’t back down from a fight. She is hot-tempered and rash but can quickly calculate the best plan of attack based on her long life’s experiences. She has no talent for swords whatsoever but is quite capable with her staff… not to mention the vast array of spells at her command. She is extremely smart and witty, and loves to tease people. She is also very opinionated but will sometimes admit when she is wrong.

In its natural state, Kallizar’s magic presents as red lightning and she has used it for a huge variety of spells, ranging from simple summoning to complex warping of space and time to travel great distances in seconds. Some things she cannot do, however, include teleportation and healing (her magic is a foreign thing to other bodies and thus they fight against it). Any spell she casts uses up some of her strength, so she cannot use many powerful spells at one time or she will become unconscious (or die, if the spell’s pressure is great enough).

Kallizar’s favorite color is red, and she loves storms and dark forests and the sea. She is very empathetic towards slaves and the mistreated because of her own past. She hates commands and manipulation, and is irritated by foolishness and weakness (especially her own).

Kallizar does not hold to religion. Although she will readily acknowledge the existence of the Moon Gods, she does not attend service, nor does she hold any kind of faith in the gods themselves – although she does admit the power of the Prophets, especially when it comes to healing.

Kallizar speaks Fyanish and Vaerish, and her motto would be, “Knowledge is not power but rather fuels power, and those with both knowledge and power will rule their world.”

Why Are the Flames Immortal?

Once, in a time before, there lived a man with fire in the blood. And when his time had come, that fire turned to stardust and fell throughout the earth. These flames buried themselves deep within the humans, sinking down and blending into their very souls. So well-hidden were they that the humans barely knew of their existence... until they felt the heat in their children's children's blood. A rare thing, for one to be born who could feel the strength of these flames burning in their own blood. But once, twice, in a family strong with these flames, would come one who could go beyond simply feeling the heat. Every once in a great many times, one would be born who could harness that power. And thus magic, the immortal flames, live on in the blood of the Sorcerers.

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.

ABCs from EUD

No plot spoilers, just a few names that might not have been mentioned yet. Enjoy! A is for the After - the place all souls must go at the moment of death.

B is for Blood - it's important in more ways than one.

C is for Cade - Kallizar's loyal servant and friend.

D is for D'arrynt - Kallizar's home town.

E is for Enladi - the ocean that separates Fyan and Varaeti from the next closest countries of Fyan and Patal. And E is for Even unto Death, the first book in the trilogy.

F is for Fyan - Kallizar's home country and the setting for most of EUD.

G is for Gharot - the Patalian emissary.

H is for Hirom - son of King Fawlen and Queen Seriah, and the Crown Prince of Fyan.

I is for Itamn - a village in the northernmost region of Fyan.

J is for Jarrin - younger brother of Li'ra and the youngest of Kallizar's servants.

K is for Kallizar - the Honored Sorcerer of Fyan, an eccentric and honorable woman and the star of the Immortal Flames.

L is for Lubek - the huge country to the northeast that is trying to acquire a Sorcerer from Fyan for themselves.

M is for Mahliz - the Court Sorcerer of Fyan and a powerfully loyal man. And M is for Mikael, Commander General of the Fyanish military and Prince of Fyan.

N is for No'om - another of the tiny villages up north in Fyan.

O is for Olimon - a small town about a day's ride from Xuun, with very good house wine.

P is for Pirate - Pirates are common in the Fisian Sea, living in the island cities known collectively as the Free Ports.

Q is for Queen - The rules of Fyan dictate that there must always be a ruler from the royal bloodline, but whether that is the king or queen is irrelevant. Daughters, nieces, and sometimes sisters have been named Crown Princess and have inherited the rights of Queendom upon the old monarch's death.

R is for Rosa - the wife of Mikael and one-time friend of Kallizar. She is the only person to live on the South Wing of the Palace (with the royalty) without being a member of the High Court.

S is for Seriah - current queen of Fyan runs much of the less-glamorous aspects of maintaining a country because she has a good head for the complex paperwork.

T is for Tan'jeht - a poison deadly to Sorcerers because of its magic-destroying attributes.

U is for Uther - a friend of Kallizar's in Varaeti.

V is for Varaeti - the country across the Fisian Sea from Fyan. Once connected as a single island, the now two separate island nations have gone from friends and allies to enemies barely holding on to a dying cease fire.

W is for Worship - Worship is an essential part of life. The Prophets of Ri'hannon and Lillith are well-respected and protected in Fyan, and they can hear the voices of the gods and use boons from the gods to do miraculous things that even magic cannot replicate.

X is for Xuun - the capital of Fyan and the location of the Palace, as well as the national trading headquarters.

Y is for Year - at the beginning of EUD, the year is 1078 A.R. Kallizar is 90 years old.

Z is for Zahn - High Prophet Zahn is the head of a temple in Xuun that is dedicated to both gods. He is a quiet and devout man who will not hesitate to help someone - regardless of that person's worldly affiliations.

Opening the Weapons Locker

Finally found something my characters and I agree on: Weapons are cool. Different personalities prefer different weapons, different settings make different weapons available, but overall, it's a fact in my world - weapons are just plain cool. Ohhh... wait... that means I have to write scenes with weapons. I have to have fight scenes, with weapons, written in a way that makes sense and shows a great action sequence. But I've never actually used most weapons before.

Oops.

Guess it's time to learn!

Academically, at least. Here's a good example: Kallizar (when not using her magic) often carries a staff. It's tall and thick, like a good walking stick, and made from solid wood. On paper, it's sweet - she can whip it out and kick some ass... but then what? She carries it a fair amount even when not in combat. No big deal - until I made a staff for myself and walked around with it all day. Guess what? Big, solid walking sticks are heavy. And they make your hands hurt after a while, especially if you have to grip them tightly - say, for instance, if you were fighting? So I learned some valuable information by having the real thing in front of me, physically, and by being able to interact with it and use it the way I was trying to write it. Short answer to the problem? Kallizar doesn't carry the staff nearly as often now. It gets in the way a lot, it's heavy, and it's not terribly useful for most situations.

Example the second: Akitis fights with a slew of knives, usually by throwing them but she's good in close combat, too. She's got a whole belt full of them, and they range in size and weight from finger-long slim shivs to dirks longer than my forearm. Now, Akitis is on the thin side, but she's no weakling. She's grown up using knives and defending herself in hand-to-hand combat, so she's way more skilled than I am. But it was still a learning experience for me when I went to Scotland one spring and visited several shops that boasted blacksmith crafts. I got a chance to handle about a dozen different knives in various sizes and it was incredible how unique they all felt in my hands. I even ended up buying a dagger for myself. It's much heavier than anything Akitis would ever use, and it's meant to be more decorative than functional, but it still gives me something solid to return to when I'm looking for some good knife descriptors.

Third thing - swords. They're a lot like big daggers, right? I know the basics - I've watched plenty of TV and movies with sword fights. Oh, except that's all staged and choreographed, too... hmm... Well that's a bit of a conundrum. I can't buy a sword (those things are really expensive!) and I seriously doubt a class on proper fencing etiquette is going to be helpful when I am working on a pirate attack sequence. Parry! Thrust! Fail. But what I do have is still pretty good - my husband is a black belt in Tang Soo Do and has studied some kendo (traditional sword-fighting, usually Japanese). He's got some sturdy wooden kendo swords and I've been able to see a few of the basic forms. Granted, my pirates aren't going to be using kendo art when they're ransacking another ship, but I can at least understand and better write how the captain might hold his sword and bring it down or across when attacking an enemy. And again, in Scotland, I had a friend who was lucky enough to purchase a sword (actually, the sword that matches my dagger :) ) and I got to hold it. Holy whoa, was that heavy. Yes, I am a weakling, especially compared to a long-time pirate sailor or a military man, but it still was a sharp reminder that swordsmen are strong. They aren't always huge and perfectly chiseled, but they're strong. Even disarmed, they'd likely be a fearsome opponent because of their sheer strength.

Next up, and not something you'll find featured in The Immortal Flames (although they do make quite a few appearances in my other stories): guns. I've had characters fire guns, get shot at, get wounded by, and get killed by guns (or bullets, I'm not going to argue over that). And here's where I have the least personal experience. I've shot a BB gun, once or twice, about twelve years ago, and that's pretty much been the extent of it. No hunters in the family, no family heirloom I can steal away for ten minutes of intense study. So in this case, I do research. Yes, a chunk of that research is watching various TV shows and movies to see relative sizes of handguns vs. rifles, etc. Some of it is also internet, learning names for different guns and what types of bullets/ammunition they take. And some of it is even playing FPS (first-person shooters) games on my computer to see what types of guns get reloaded in what ways, how hefty the recoil might be, whether it's likely to take two hands to fire, and so on.

Plus, I get to play video games for research. Awesome!

The final weapon I wanted to touch on is what I always refer to as a natural weapon. That could mean a vampire's fangs, animals' teeth and claws, or, for Sorcerers in The Immortal Flames, the magic in their blood. Kallizar doesn't need a physical weapon to focus her magic. She crafts spells through careful pattern design and logic and creativity, but all she needs to do to activate it is bring it forth. She's not bound by the limitations of what's physically accessible - which is good, because when she needs to cast a spell on-the-fly, even a gesture might be too slow. It becomes a reflex, a habit, a part of her every day. Sure, she spends lots of time practicing, crafting new and better spells, but they take time. Ones she uses constantly, like summoning and dismissing her staff, or grabbing the wind to carry her voice over long distances, are so commonplace she doesn't even do it consciously. As the saying goes (at least in my family), practice makes permanent. It may not be the perfect spell, but do it enough, and it'll be at the ready in your mind forever.

There's more in my weapons locker, but I think that's enough for one peek. Expect an update in a day or two with pictures of some of these things, and maybe a surprise or two!

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.

Judgment

An ancient text depicts judgment passed down from the gods to a group of people who convinced themselves that magic, a rare and precious gift, made them into gods. Lillith and Ri'hannon responded with this:

Stand and be judged!

You mortals are a wretched race. How often have you pleaded for the blood of another? How often have you struck down your neighbor, your friend? How often have you turned the blame for your own misdeeds upon others?

How rarely you asked for peace! How rarely for forgiveness! How rare to hear you plead for another's life to be spared, for you to take the punishment in another's place!

You consider yourselves loving, intelligent, gifted. I challenge you now: prove it! How are you loving when you strike down your fellow man? How are you intelligent when you constantly are so foolish? How are you gifted when you are so many times in error?

You claimed knowledge, but there were no wise among you. Those who truly possessed wisdom you hunted down and murdered. Those who could have saved you, you put to death.

You should have heeded their words, mortals! You should never have been so quick to dismiss the hand of the gods in everything. You should never have stolen that glory for yourselves.

Because of your arrogance, your foolishness, your stubbornness, your pride, you will suffer. You thought yourselves to be gifted, to be gods. Now, not only will we take that gift from you, but we will leave you to wallow in the remnants of your own destruction. All those with those immortal flames will perish, and never again shall one with that gift be born in your lands. We curse you, here and now, for all time, to be barren of the flames and poisoned with defiance and foolishness.

Your judgment has been passed.

Bow before the gods, you wretched mortal race!

The gods of Wrath and Mercy are in accord, and never shall this judgment be overturned! Tremble in fear like the cowards you are and pray that we, Ri'hannon and Lillith, might forgive you upon your death!

To Read: The Looking Glass Wars

I was on a plane trip recently - not very long, and I'd be busy once I got where I was headed - so I only packed one book: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. It was great! But I was sad when I was finished with the book and I still had another leg of the flight to go... If you don't know anything about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, you will enjoy this book. (Series, actually, but I've only read the first one so far. Have to borrow the second from a friend tomorrow!)

If you don't particularly enjoy Alice in Wonderland, you'll probably enjoy this story even more. The tag on the front of the book reads, "Fantasy just declared war on reality." I mean, what more do you need?

Beware the card soldiers!

Well, here's a few more tidbits in case you remain unconvinced:

The Mad Hatter is actually a great warrior and staunch protector of the Queen of Wonderland. His name is Hatter Madigan (and he is fantastic).

Alyss is not insane or dreaming. Nor is she named Alice. But she does have a powerful imagination (and I've yet to meet a writer who isn't a sucker for that).

There is art in the book (center section). Very well done art.

There is a timeline that charts the events of Wonderland in correlation with the events in our world. Also fantastic.

The Cat.

Beg, borrow, or steal buy a copy and enjoy a light but engaging read in the real Wonderland.

And then come tell us what you thought. I'm excited to hear!

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.

***

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.