Welcome

Hello and welcome, this blog is dedicated to my work as an Independent Author.  New posts every Friday!

I have updated my site format to have easily navigable menus that will make it much easier for new followers to catch up on old chapters.  Each of my books has a menu directly beneath the title image so that you can find all the episodes I have published so far nice and easy.  Welcome new followers, I hope you enjoy my writing!

I have finished and published Hard Times Call For Hardware and you can get your digital fingers on a copy on Smashwords and on Kindle!

I just finished The Rise of Evil and published it on Smashwords!  Kindle is coming tomorrow!  I hope you enjoy my work, feel free to leave me love/hate notes and like my page on Facebook!

Book One of Starvale Adventures ‘A Prelude to Darkness’ is now up on Kindle and Smashwords!

If you are interested in reading my first book The After-Death and seeing just who this Hex person Ren has referred to in such glowing tones as she does, it’s on Amazon and  Smashwords.

On Writing: Rejection

On Writing: Rejection

As any author will tell you, rejection is probably the biggest part of being one of these crazed idiots who thinks that even one tiny iota of the filth we squeeze onto the page from the deepest darkest dregs of our creative subconscious is anything any sane person would enjoy reading.  I trust this first sentence sets the tone.  You will get rejected.  It will happen a lot.  In fact, literally the only response I have received from any literary agent, publisher or independent purveyor of literature in any way shape or form has been rejection.

Ok, quick redaction, I did have a letter to the editor published about 8 years ago, and my first book which was written chapter by chapter for a weekly horror blog was also technically accepted.  Well, if someone taking my work and putting it on their blog counts?  I mean … eh … I guess she didn’t say no?  Anyway, back to the doom and gloom.

Where was I?  Right.  Rejection.  It is my opinion that like job applications these days, there is some secret formula that each literary agent or publisher has that your submission query must meet.  It’s different for every one of them and probably doesn’t have any basis in judging the quality of the work but in some ability of the writer to market themselves.  For me, this is a problem.  I suck at marketing.  I suck at writing synopses of my books.  I apparently also don’t write good query letters.

So where do you go from there?  Well.  You pick your shit up and go again when you feel like it.  One of my issues is that most of my novels are series, so if the first one gets rejected, I have a lot fewer options since nobody will accept resubmissions.  Also, I write multiple genres and many literary agents are very genre-specific.  This is what often makes me think about starting another series.  This is dangerous.

(I’ll probably write another one of these about rejection later.  This one’s kind of all over the place.  Meh.  I’m throwing it out there anyway.)

There’s also one other option.  Self-publishing.  We’ve all done it.  Hell, we’re doing it right now.  Of course, that also links back to what I suck at.  Self-promotion.  But I’ll get to the whole self-publishing debacle next time.  Until then, keep your heads up, your glass full, your fingers on the keyboard and may your loose plot threads tie themselves into perfect twist endings.

Waking Fever Dreams at 12:45 in the Morning

Rambling thoughts of a feverish writer at 12:45 in the morning.  Created from real live notes written on a notepad illuminated by cellphone screen, for whatever that’s worth.

~

Wearing pajamas for the first time in thirty years, huddled under every blanket I could steal from the linen closet I absently wondered why I was shivering.  Even though my immune system was flooding my veins with magma in a Scorched Earth campaign against the viral intruders, I could not get warm.

Well, that’s not quite true.  I was warm.  The digital thermometer’s frantic beeping had notified me that my temperature was 103.1 five minutes ago.  I knew I needed to exhume myself from my mountain of wool, felt, and fuzzy acrylic to get more ibuprofen but every time I poked my nose out of my little cave the chill of the seventy-degree air on my skin made me shake uncontrollably.  So I retreated and tried to come up with a better plan.  Nothing useful came to mind.

I stayed curled up, waiting for the shaking to go away from my last fruitless attempt to venture forth and spent those moments cheering on the tiny soldiers who were attempting murder me by boiling my brain in order to eradicate the enemy.  Was my brain aware that it was trying to kill us?  I’m guessing not.  I appreciated the effort anyway.  At least someone was doing something.   I was pretty useless all things considered.  I couldn’t even get out of bed.

Inspiration struck.  I remembered that I had put a pair of socks at the foot of the bed.  Socks make me too warm all the time.  Maybe if I could find those socks with my toes I could get them to my hands and put them on.  Surely that’d allow me to make the twenty-foot super marathon to the medicine cabinet.  I sent my right foot, the one with the most prehensile toes questing about and to my amazement located them easily.  This must be a sign.

After armoring my feet against the chill of the hardwood floor, I finally slithered out of bed and washed down a pair of tablets with a mouthful of cold water.  By the time I managed to get my carcass back beneath the blankets I was shaking uncontrollably, but victory had been achieved.

Within a few minutes, I went from being chilled to the bone to frantically shedding layers.  The drugs had made my brain realize its possibly deadly mistake and instead of shivering it was time to sweat.  Finally, after removing my socks and all the coverings but the flannel sheet I prepared for sleep hoping my legions of faithful defenders would rest and be ready to offer a less violent and self-destructive resistance.

Before I could sleep I reached to the side table where my faithful notepad waited.  Notes from this great battle must be recorded.  For posterity, and so I could share my near delirium with you, my faithful readers.

(Author’s note, I did go to the doctor today and got antibiotics for my fucking bronchitis.)

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 63

“I could have gutted her by accident.”  Reed said darkly, “Just walking in like that.  Don’t these people know that there’s a war on outside?  A year ago she’d have been bleeding out on the floor.”

“Somehow I think she was a lot more than she appeared to be,”  Callindra said, narrowing her eyes.  “She definitely checked us all out and I’m certain she will be telling her mistress what she observed.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rrayu giving her a considering glance.  The woman who was to be her lady’s maid turned deliberately back to the closet and withdrew a brilliant red garment.  It had wide trouser legs that gave the illusion of skirts but still had the mobility of trousers.  The top was also flowing red silk that overlapped to tie and then be covered by a matching sash. Small vines picked out in an impossibly emerald green twined about the hems with tiny white and gold flowers peeking through.  Brightstar flowers.

“I think this will be an admirable compromise, My Lady.”  She said, laying it out on the bed.  “Now you go so that our Lady may dress in private.”  Reed rolled his eyes but left without dissent.

“You’ve been keeping this in reserve haven’t you?”  Callindra accused, sliding out of the robe and allowing Rrayu to assist her in dressing.  She couldn’t help but admire the feeling of the silk as it slid over her skin.

“Of course, although I was fairly certain I would have convinced you eventually, you must make an appearance in the dining room below.”  She surveyed the effect the outfit had and gave a reluctant nod.  “This will have to do.”

Callindra looked at herself in the mirror and barely recognized herself.  The shoulder-length ragged ends of her hair were now sculpted into a quite stylish and intentional looking cut.  The clothing fit her beautifully, managing to make her whipcord thinness look dangerously feminine like a hunting cat.  She smiled, and turned to Rrayu, giving the other woman a hug.

“You’re a miracle worker!  This looks amazing!”  She stepped back and performed a few lunges and cuts, Shadowsliver’s twin tips whistling through the air.  “And I can still move in it.  Do you really think this is going to make a difference?”

“My Lady is too kind.”  Rrayu said, “The transformation from your travel-worn self to this version should be sufficient to convince most that you have some claim to a title.”

“A title?  But I do actually have a title.”  Callindra said, lowering her sword and looking at her maid.  “I am the Sol’Estin, Master of the North Wind.”

She hadn’t ever spoken those words aloud, gods and demons she’d barely even thought them, but as they left her mouth she realized that they were true.  Glarian was dead, and with his death, the mantle of Sol’Estin was now hers and hers alone.  Even inside a building underground and far from the raging power of the Great Winds, a gust of air rattled the shutters briefly and a tiny zephyr tugged at Shadowsliver’s chain.

Rrayu was looking at her with a shocked expression on her face and jumped when the wind blew.  “Oh!”  She looked around, as though fearing something might step from a corner of the room and whisk her away to gods all knew where.

“My Master had many enemies however, so I think it might not be the most productive thing to spread around.”  She paused and looked at Rrayu.  “Are you alright?  You look like someone just walked over your grave.”

“I just didn’t know you were a …” She trailed off, staring at her feet and swallowing hard.  “That’s a Mage’s Title.”

“It’s much more than just a Mage’s title, but that is part of what it means.”  Callindra said, “Is that a problem?”

“Not with me,”  Rrayu said, still looking down.  “However, it may complicate things with Ellen Eth.”

On Writing. Being an Author.

On Writing.  Being an author.

I’ve struggled with this for some time and haven’t come up with a real answer that feels legitimate.  What do you have to do to consider yourself “an author” anyway?  Is it as simple as putting pen to page (or fingers to keyboard, whatever) or is there something more?

I rule out being published as a requirement; after all, anyone can technically publish a book these days.  In some cases, folks are publishing books they didn’t even write (thanks lax Amazon Copywrite requirements haha), but regardless making money at it really shouldn’t matter.

I don’t necessarily even think you have to be passionate about it to be an author, although it certainly helps when you’re trying to complete a project.  Hell, I don’t even LIKE being an author at times, but I always come back to it.

Another thought is do you have to complete a project to be an author?  Is that where the crossover between ‘writer’ and ‘author’ is?  This also doesn’t quite fit for me, although I know having the staying power to finish a project is an important part of the equation if you want to be successful.

So I’ve been puzzling over this topic for a while and now that I’ve set it as the topic of my next post I’ve had to think back on my writing and wondering when did I start thinking of myself as an author.  After a couple of shots of Bourbon and some reminiscing about what got me started in the first place, I came up with a rather disturbing realization.

For me, the decision to call myself an author didn’t come from me but came from other people who appreciated my work.  I like to think that I do what I want without letting others influence me too heavily, however after doing some real thinking and a little more drinking about it I really can’t avoid it.

The times when I have most felt like an author were times where I read a review of one of my books or was responding to a comment on a blog post.  Times when people retweeted links to my writing or shared my Facebook posts.  Times when people asked me when the next chapter or book was coming out.  That’s when I most think of myself as an author.

So, for me at any rate, what makes me an author is … well, it’s you.  So, thank you.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 62

After the bath and half a candlemark of fussing with a pair of scissors, carefully snipping at her hair, Rrayu had shown Callindra a wide variety of different dresses, but she turned them all down.  “I don’t want skirts.  How do you expect me to move in these things?”

“But a Lady does not wear trousers.”  Rrayu insisted, nervously twisting the dark blue silk in her hands.  “If you’re seen wearing trousers it would be most unseemly.”

Callindra crossed her arms, standing in her smallclothes it was surprisingly difficult to face down someone who was fully clothed.  “I hardly think a sword would be seen as ‘seemly’ for a lady either and it’s not like I can put Shadowsliver down.  Nor would I if I could.”  She shook her right wrist for emphasis and his chain jingled merrily.

“Of course that is an impediment to your overall appearance; however a Lady is not excluded from carrying accessories.” Rrayu said, “I can work with accessories.”

“If you can work with a four-foot-long double edge sword chained to my wrist then you can find something that doesn’t have skirts for me to wear.”  Callindra leaned against the bedpost with the air of someone willing to wait for a long time.

Rrayu sighed and turned to the closet.  As she did, the door opened and a washed and dressed Reed walked in carrying a bottle of wine and a tray with assorted bread and cheeses.  Callindra grinned at him and stepped forward to take the bottle.  She took a swig from it and turned to see the maid’s shocked face.

“A man must NOT see you in this state of undress!”  She said, clearly horrified.

“It’s just Reed,”  Callindra said with a shrug.  “We’ve been traveling and fighting together for months; he’s seen me naked and patched up wounds that would have killed me.  Besides, it’s not like I’m worried about my body.  Taken are killing every living thing they can find where the hell are your priorities?”

“I don’t know about the outside, but I know how nobility works.  I know how rumors spread.  I know what people will think already about a single woman traveling with a group of men.”  She gave Callindra a pleading look.  “If you want to maintain your credibility you must not continue to behave this way.”

Callindra took another swallow of wine from the bottle.  “Nobody is in here but us.  Are you going to spread these rumors?”

“My Lady!  Of course not!”  Rrayu clutched the dress she was holding hard enough for her knuckles to turn white.  “But the walls have ears and eyes, servants come and go to clean linens and sweep floors.  If your desire is for Lady Ellen Eth to take you seriously, you must maintain some air of decency.”

With a sigh, Callindra slid a thick robe over her shoulders, almost slicing the sleeve off when she threaded Shadowsliver through it.  She was just tying the belt around the waist when a liveried messenger strode into the room after only two sharp raps on the door.  She stopped and gave a greeting that was half-bow and half salute, fist to heart, completely ignoring the knives that appeared in Reed’s hands.

“Lady Callindra?”  She asked; a skeptical tone in her voice that suggested the ‘lady’ was extremely unlikely.

Rrayu stepped forward with a sharp rebuke.  “Even another woman should not so enter a Lady’s bedchamber without proper introduction or inquiry.”

“There wasn’t a servant outside the door or in the antechamber, and My Liege Ellen Eth wished me to deliver this message posthaste.”  She sounded mildly annoyed, perhaps at not having a scandalous or tawdry scene to report on.

“Reed, this woman is clearly not a threat,” Callindra said briskly.  “Rrayu if you would retrieve the missive, please?  Does your liege require an immediate response?”

The woman gave Reed a subtle but clearly calculated sizing up when he made the blades vanish up his sleeves with a deft motion.  She paid nearly no attention to Rrayu, but was not hiding she was also giving Callindra a thorough once over; her eyes lingering slightly on her bracelets, chain, and sword.

“Send a runner with your response.”  She said, turning abruptly and striding through the antechamber and out the door.

On Writing. Process? Or Something?

On writing.  My process?  I guess?  This kind of blogging is new to me, so please bear with me.  Hopefully, this ‘On Writing’ series will help a couple of you who might be authors yourselves.  Or at least make you laugh helplessly at how backward my supposed life as an aspiring writer is.

My first book was based on a recurring nightmare.  The nightmare wouldn’t go away until I finished the book.  The further along the book was, the less sleep I got and the more I started to feel like I was likely going insane.  I wrote the last chapter in a crazed frenzy in the wee hours of the morning after not having been able to sleep for over twenty-four hours.  I call this the Lovecraft process.

My second book series started as a backstory for a beloved Dungeons and Dragons character.  The more she got into my head, the more I had to continue chronicling her adventures.  The darker the story became the more necessary it was to make sure her tale would be told.  I’m still writing that series nine years later.  When things get especially difficult, I resort to whisky.  I believe this is generally referred to as the Hemmingway method.

I don’t really know what made me start writing my third series.  I just had this weird idea and it kept bugging me, so I kept picking at the scab until the story started to bleed out of my brain.  After seven years I’m also still writing this series.  The books are short little bits of cotton candy fluff, kind of like literary junk food.  Totally not serious, absolutely not based in any kind of factual reality, but every time I start reading them to refresh myself with the narrative I end up reading the entire series over again.  This series has been written entirely without inspiration and totally stream of consciousness; I just put the characters in situations and then imagine how they’d react.  I guess there are some happy monsters that live in my brain and damn if I don’t enjoy torturing them.

I truly can’t count the number of stories I’ve begun and quit.  Sometimes after a sentence or a paragraph, but sometimes after ten or twenty pages.  When the idea just refuses to take root, I know better than to try and make it grow.

I have no idea why I decided to write this, but I am going to try and post more content more often and hopefully to give something to the writing community in the process.  If this is at all useful let me know what you want to read about next.

Peace, love and may your characters write themselves.

-Benraven

 

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 61

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

A gentle clearing of the throat made her turn from the view.  The young woman standing next to the door was wearing a perfectly starched and pressed uniform and appeared far more comfortable than the boy who had brought them here.

“My name is Rrayu, and I am here to serve you, My Lady.”  The emphasis was obvious, and Callindra gave her a closer look.  She stood primly with her hands folded before her and kept her eyes down.

“I don’t really need a servant,”  Callindra said, feeling awkward.

“Oh please My Lady, do not send me away,”  Rrayu said, her voice quivering just slightly with fear.  “If I have displeased you in some way I beg that you allow me to make amends.”

Callindra blinked, “I just met you, how could you have done anything wrong?”

Rrayu opened the door and gestured inside to a grandly appointed sitting room.  “If you will allow me to show you the suite?” With an inward sigh, Callindra entered.  

 “The gentlemen may avail themselves of the chambers there,” Rrayu said, indicating a set of doors to one side of the room. “I will show you to your wing My Lady, it’s just through here.”

Giving her companions a somewhat annoyed look and getting even more so when they grinned at her discomfort, Callindra allowed herself to be herded into a luxurious bedchamber.  The bed was big enough for the entire group to fit in if they slept close and was hung with silks that made it look like an exotic forest of flowering trees. The carpet on the floor was so thick her feet left a trail of impressions in it and the walls were hung with embroidered tapestries.

“We must get you out of those filthy clothes My Lady,”  Rrayu said, tugging on one of the buckles of Callindra’s leather greaves.  “The bath has been drawn, would you like rose scent or lavender?”

Almost before she knew what was happening, Rrayu had divested her of her boots and armor, tisking over not being able to remove Shadowsliver’s chain and fussing about the state of her clothes, skin, and hair.  The constant banter of her voice was distracting, a steady stream of polite requests and delicate comments that were all phrased in such a manner that refusing them would seem very rude. Rrayu ushered her into a tiled room with a steaming tub set into the floor.

“Lavender I think would suit you better.”  Rrayu was saying as she unnecessarily helped Callindra out of her clothes.  “This breastband really needs to be thrown away I’m afraid, are you certain this sword can’t be removed, it’s really too dangerous.”

Callindra sat on a stool and Rrayu poured hot water over her, sluicing the dried salt and dirt from her body before lathering a thick cloth with soap that smelled like flowers and scrubbing her gently.  After another rinse, she slid into the tub and lay back with a sigh of comfort.

“I will see what can be done about this mess My Lady,”  Rrayu said and began massaging oil into her hair. “Your hair looks like it was cut with your sword, who did this to you?”

“I was mistaken Rrayu.”  Callindra murmured, “I don’t know how I got along without you until now.”

“Yes My Lady, and if you are going to continue with this idea of being a Lady then you will need much more help,”  Rrayu said, her voice low. “The Lady Ellen Eth will have heard of your unorthodox display of power and will have certain expectations.”

Callindra blinked and focused.  “What?”

“She rules the Undercity with absolute authority.  News of your arrival will have reached her by now and I would expect her to be sending you an invitation soon, and you must be prepared if you wish to continue portraying yourself as a Lady.”

“This wasn’t my idea.”  Callindra said defensively, “I told those idiots to keep a low profile but they never listen.”

“It would be better, now that your sorcerer has shown himself in such a flamboyant manner, for you to be seen as powerful as well.”  She said, “Ellen Eth does not respect brute force, your swordplay may be impressive, but she can kill someone with a flick of her little finger.”

“Any idiot can kill someone.”  Callindra said, “It takes skill and power to keep people alive.”

Rrayu’s fingers stilled on her scalp for a moment, “Well said My Lady.”  She said, sounding like she meant the title for the first time.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 60

Callindra’s heart sank as she realized that none of them really had anything to trade.  There were a few useful odds and ends that they’d acquired over their travels, but the reality was much of it was important for their continued survival.  While they all dug through packs and pouches hunting for anything that she might take on trade, Connor was staring at the building and fingering something up his sleeve.  

“This place used to be beautiful.”  He said quietly. When he withdrew his right hand from the sleeve, he had taken his glove and a strangely delicate tattoo made of overlapping geometric shapes spilled out over his wrist.  He touched a portion of the railing carved with intricate flowers that had almost been worn completely away.

“I bet you used to look better before all yer hair got burnt too,”  Hagar said, obviously upset at the critique of the inn. “Me da built it after he quit bein a shipwright.  He did have a hand with a chisel, but times an war ain’t been kind.”

“Maybe I could… fix this for you?  In exchange for room and board for myself and my friends?”  He was lost staring at the building with a strange look on his face.  Callindra tried to catch his attention; she’d seen him ‘fix’ things before and this did not sound like a good way to stay inconspicuous.

“You fix the Fisherman and you cn stay as long as ya want boy!”  She laughed, “Drinks onna house and all!”

Connor closed his eyes and to their collective surprise his tattoo writhed off his arm, rivers of ink unfolding and winding about the building.  Wood warped and nails shrieked as the ancient boards folded and twisted like a massive blacksmith’s puzzle. After mere minutes, an immaculate four-story structure with bright green painted walls, polished brass trim.  Carvings covered almost every exposed surface showing a variety of aquatic scenes.

“How’s that then?”  Connor asked, shaking and sweating but with a triumphant smile on his face.  “I was fair certain this was old Dimgar’s work; never knew anyone else who would name their daughter Hagar.”

“You knew my father?”  She stood, staring at the inn with a stunned expression on her face.  “Boyo you and yours cn stay as long as ya want.”

“Nah, but I heard of him from my dad,”  Connor said, leaning on the railing and sliding his glove back on.  

“So much for keeping a low profile,”  Callindra said, giving Connor a look that mixed respect and annoyance.  “But at least we gained something from it.”

Connor grinned, “I’ll need the penthouse for my lady.”  He declared in a loud voice, “She’s been leading us in battle and on the road for weeks and is a bit worse for wear.  Our Callindra always gets a bit testy when she has to sleep in her armor.”

Reed took up the banter, “She’ll want a bath drawn with lavender soap and a silk robe to lounge in.”

“A pipe and tobacco should also be procured,”  Holt said, joining in without a hint he was having fun with her.  “She prefers Karalan Imperialis if you have it.”

Hagar opened the door with a flourish, “Only th best fer such a fine lass!”  She said grandly and then stared in shock.  

Inside, the Pickled Fisherman was set up as a hollow box with rooms on all sides that surrounded an open center.  A bar stocked with barrels and bottles stood on one side of the bottom floor and was offset by a large stage on the other.  The centerpiece of the room was a large dance floor made from mosaic wood tiles.  

“It’s all here.”  She whispered in amazement.  “Down to th food n beer.”

“I’ll bring them to their suite.”  A confused looking boy whose dirty face looked very out of place compared with his perfectly pressed and starched uniform. 

“Right.  Th top floor suite for th Lady.”  Hagar said, her voice faint. “Nothin but th best for Connor’s mistress.”

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 59

Callindra paused, feeling the tension of her friends behind her.  The creak of Holt’s bow. The random sparks arcing from Connor’s wands.  Vilhylm’s steady spear. Kain’s calm intensity. Reed’s barely contained violence.  Knowing they were with her, she lowered her sword.

“Very well, we would like to meet her.”  She said carefully.

“Excellent!”  He smiled disarmingly and turned to saunter back down the alleyway.  “Follow me, I will show you the wonders of the Undercity.  You look a tad road weary; you should rest, wash and change before meeting Ellen Eth.”

Glancing at her friends, Callindra tried to shrug nonchalantly.  “Well, we wanted to find survivors.  Let’s see who this Lady is.”

“I don’t like this.”  Holt said, arrow still on the string.  “This alley is surrounded by places that could easily be sniper nests.”

“It’s probably a trap.”  Reed said, checking the knives up his sleeves nervously.

“Maybe, but that soldier looked well equipped and well fed.”  Callindra said.  “I can’t argue with his assessment either. I’m tired of being hungry, tired and dirty.”

She squared her shoulders and followed him.  Halfway down the alley, Callindra could tell they were right, there were at least a half dozen pairs of eyes watching them from behind the glint of arrowheads.  It took all her willpower not to stare at them.

At the end of the alley Renfeld opened a door and then unlocked a reinforced iron door behind it with a key that hung around his neck.  The hallway beyond bristled with spear points in front and crossbows behind.

“Renfeld, you stain what’re you thinking?”  One of the soldiers holding a spear growled.  She had a scar that bisected her nose and left a thin white line underneath her right eye.  “You know better than to bring them straight in without the test.”

“We just saw them take on the giant squid and win.”  Renfeld laughed, “Angalus, you can’t be serious, not even the Tidoh maniacs fought their way in.”

“The test.”  Angalus hissed, pushing the spear forward.  “Now.”

“Sorry friends, she’s serious I’m afraid.”  Renfeld said, a pair of knives seeming to appear in his hands.  “You’re going to have to look into her eyes and not blink.”

Angalus held a small round mirror in her hand and muttered something under her breath.  A brilliant light shone from it directly into Callindra’s face.  Her eyes watered, but she knew what the test entailed and what failing it would mean. The light passed over the faces of all her companions, pausing for a few moments on each before finally being muttered to darkness again.

“I told you they were fine.”  Renfeld said with a grin that didn’t touch his eyes.  He didn’t sheath his daggers until Angalus grounded the butt of her spear and waved them inside with a curt gesture.

“Do this again and I’ll gut you.”  She said, giving him a flinty glare.  He ignored her, making the daggers vanish up his sleeves with a skill that rivaled Reed’s clever fingers.

Once they passed another door made of iron that only opened after another inspection and an exchange of passcodes they were assaulted with a riot of scents, sounds and sights that screamed of the everyday reality of a vibrant mortal city.  Hawkers cried wares, brightly painted buildings sprouted from the walls like giant mushrooms.  

It was like a sewer, but so much larger, and made of multiple tiers.  The walls were hundreds of times wider and taller than they should have been and had been altered to allow for the buildings foundations to gain purchase.  Some of the structures were obviously built after the city had been taken, but many of them seemed as though they had been transported from above. Some seemed to have fallen, walls cracked and patched as though from an impact, but others looked as though some agency of magic or industry of labor had moved them here brick by brick.

The structures were packed tight and a winding ramp wide enough for an ox drawn cart had been carved out of the wall.  Arcane lights shone on every street corner, high above the rooftops and smaller ones above the heads of many of the citizens.  Everywhere there were people talking, trading, eating, laughing and generally going about their daily lives. It was almost too much.

Renfeld stopped before a building that appeared to once have been grand, but was now long past its prime.  Peeling paint and broken boards adorned its porch and all but one of the windows was cracked. A sign hung from a rusted chain proclaiming it ‘The Pickled Fisherman’ in carefully stenciled letters.

“We should keep a low profile if we can to try and gather as much information as we can before we meet the Lady.”  Callindra said to her friends, trying to keep her voice low enough that their guide wouldn’t notice. He strode up the creaking steps and addressed the middle aged matron leaning on a stout oak staff and sipping from a tankard.

“Hagar, I’ve got some new faces for you.”  He said with a sweep of his arm that took in their bedraggled appearance.

“You always bring me the best surprises.”  She said, eyes roving over them with a mercenary gaze.  “Well new faces, whaddya have to trade me fer the privilege of staying under these venerable rafters?”

Halloween Promotion!

Good day my wonderful readers, I’m writing a quick blurb to let you know that today and today only, my horror novel The After-Death is free to download from smashwords!  It’s Halloween after all, my favorite holiday and what better way to celebrate than by giving my loyal fans a treat?  To claim your prize, download the book here  and enter coupon code BR73V on checkout.  Hey, if you want, you can buy my other books while you’re there too; your patronage is most appreciated.

Here is my annual Halloween blessing.

Once more I do indeed wish thee and thine a most blessed Samhain eve. May the dead dance for you once again. May their songs sing you into another year. Burn the sage and drink the wormwood over the aquamarine. The veil is at its thinnest. Revel in the merriment of the deceased as they send to you their joy, wisdom and strength.