The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 64

“One more thing,”  Rrayu said, opening a drawer and removing a small case.  “Sit please My Lady.”

Callindra sat, giving the box a dubious look.  Rrayu opened it and pulled a few small pots and brushes from it.  With careful strokes, she applied subtle shading to Callindra’s face, just a hint of charcoal to her lashes and gentle pigments to highlight her cheekbones.  Although the changes were only minor ones, the effect was striking.

“I don’t know if I like it.  I look so different, like a beautiful, fragile delicate thing.  She smiled ruefully, “I suppose that’s the point.”

“You look presentable.”  Rrayu said, “Barely presentable, but yes, you begin to understand that there’s power in being feminine.  Yes, the clothing and the face paint has changed the way others will see you, but you are like an unpolished gemstone.  You can be beautiful and command the attention of a room while dressed in rags, and I can show you these skills.”

Three polite knocks on the door heralded the arrival of Holt.  He was looking quite dapper in a forest green velvet trousers and jacket with a white doublet underneath.  His hair was braided into twin tails tied off with silk cords. With his beard trimmed neatly, clean and dressed he looked decades younger.  Vilhylm cleared his throat and Callindra realized she’d been just standing there. Holt’s eyes widened slightly in surprise and she realized he’d been staring too.  

“I look ridiculous.”  She said, feeling a slight blush threatening to rise up her cheeks.  “But at least I’m close to meeting the expectations your little performances gave the locals.”

“I think you look wonderful.” Holt said, “But I generally do.”

To her frustration, Rrayu touched her shoulders and her chin, forcing her to a more regal posture.  “A Lady does not stare at her feet when presenting herself. She must be confident and poised.”

“Rrayu says I need to make an appearance for dinner.”  She said, looking over Vilhylm’s typical black attire. It was obviously new but looked very similar to what he had been wearing before albeit clean and not ragged.  Reed was wearing grey tunic and trousers with gold embroidery and Kain looked surprisingly urbane in dark blue, even his Mohawk looking like it fit. “Keep it civil and by the gods and demons don’t do anything to inflate their expectations any more than you already have.”

Reed gave her an innocent look that she didn’t trust for a second.  “Before we go shouldn’t we try and ascertain how to present ourselves?”  He asked.

“Well, we shouldn’t be too obvious about why we’re really here.”  Vilhylm said, “I’m not certain if there are any other groups of survivors here or not, but something tells me if there are they won’t be looked upon with friendly eyes.”

“There are some rumors of other enclaves.”  Rrayu said softly, “I’ve even heard that there have been some attempts to penetrate the floating sanctuaries, but I’m not sure what the results of those were if they actually happened.”

“What methods did they use?”  Connor asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.

“I apologize, Mage Connor, I do not know what methods they employed or indeed if the attempt is more than a rumor.” Rrayu didn’t meet his eyes but kept nervously glancing around the room instead.  “If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask who you really are? I am likely to be associated with you simply because of proximity.”

Callindra crossed her arms and gave her maid a level look.  “I offered to send you away and you begged me not to. Now you’re worried about being associated with us.  Something doesn’t smell right about this.”

Reed moved on silent feet to stand behind Rrayu, also placing himself between her and the door.  Her other companions moved slightly, ready to draw a weapon or line up a spell. If Rrayu tried to run or was something more than she had pretended to be she would be dead in seconds.

“Being sent away would be worse than being your maid.”  She said, talking quickly. “I will not lie, it is my intention to pass at least some of the information I gather from you along to whoever tries to get it from me.  I won’t tell them anything you have specifically asked me not to, but if I tell them nothing they will be certain we are working together toward some nefarious end.

“Please understand, I do not wish to betray you but I must find a balance between keeping your secrets and keeping them satisfied.  This city is not kind to those who displease her.” Rrayu met her eyes, giving her a pleading look.

To her surprise, Callindra saw all her companions turn to look at her.  It was just hours ago that her instructions had been completely ignored, but now they were all waiting for her leadership.  She thought about what Rrayu had done for her thus far and how honest the other woman had been just now. Weighing everything in her mind, she made her decision.

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.)

Prelude to Destruction

The door to the Tower of the Mistress of Darkness was flung open and Zenrakk Velana staggered forth, gasping at what the portents had revealed.  An ancient power was stirring and she did not know if it was going to save her people or utterly destroy them.

“Get me the high priests.”  She rasped to the attendant standing outside the door.  Her voice was rough from the hours of screaming in pain when she was in the Embrace.  It was so difficult to leave the rapture of that agony, but she had her duty and that duty required her to live.

The attendant fled at the sound of her voice and she allowed her Maidens to wrap her body in her silken robes, careful to make sure the white silk clung to her properly so as to show the blood flowing from the wounds the Embrace had left.  She waved them away and sat on the Obsidian Throne, accepting a goblet of dark red wine from a servant.

The black robed acolytes entered first, their censers of incense making a low fog that spread over the floor.  They were closely followed by her high priests in their blood red garb.  They entered and saw the blood that had seeped through her clothing to drip onto the black throne where she sat, running in sluggish streams to pool on the floor.

“You are dismissed.”  She said to the acolytes, and drank a second goblet of wine as they filed out.

“For what have you summoned us?”  The most senior of her priests asked, stepping forward to touch the blood at her feet and touch it to his mouth.

“Ancient power once again runs through the veins of my city.”  Zenrakk said, holding her glass to be refilled again.  “I can feel it flowing.”

“The Embrace has revealed the return of our strength!” One of the others exclaimed, taking a half step forward.

She flicked her eyes toward him and lashed out with her will.  His mouth opened in a silent scream as blood began to flow from his eyes.  “You were not recognized.”

She drank the rest of her wine and tossed the goblet aside to shatter on the floor.  “It moves through my city.  I can feel tainted power from other filthy sources that seek to dilute our perfection.”

“What does this mean Mistress?”  The senior priest asked, ignoring the other who was thrashing on the floor.

“The portents suggest this is a prelude to something greater.”  She said, “But they do not indicate that it is beneficial to us.  I have reason to believe it intends to consume us and leave us an empty husk, why else would they seek to dilute our purity?”

“Is there nothing to be done?”  He whispered.

“I shall grind myself to bloody meat before I allow interlopers to harvest my city for its power.”  She hissed, “Your task is to prepare for war.”

The roots of the Great Tree began to drip thick sap onto the floor the cavern.  “Ah.  So autumn has come at last.”  Jorda said, a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Above, the children began to watch in stunned silence as the leaves of the trees around them began to turn brown and fall to the ground.  Slowly, the adults began to rouse from their various states of intoxicated stupor.

“All that has been stored will soon be required once again my dears.”  Jorda’s voice rippled through the glade.

“Is this what we have been studying for all this time?”  Demanded one of the older children, fists on her hips as she glared around for the source of the voice.  “Or have I just finally gotten old enough that whatever is in the air around here is making me crazy?”

“Nah, I feel it too sis.” A boy with tangled hair said.

“Who you think it is?”  She asked, still looking about suspiciously.

“I dunno, but the leaves are falling off.”  He replied, “That can’t be good.”

“Prepare for changes, for after autumn comes winter and this one has been centuries in the making.”  Jorda said, “You are the future, take the seeds of knowledge and plant it.”

“Just who the hell are you?”  The girl demanded.

“Elenna, it is all right.  I am Jorda, the power that has kept you and those before you safe for years.”  She said, “You and your siblings are the product of generations leading up to this moment.  You will rise to the challenge my dears.  I have faith in you.”

“I thought gods were supposed to be the ones people had faith in.”  Elenna said, frowning.

“Yes.  That is what we all thought.”

The volcano that used to be the Machine City of Megin Dugr continued to burn, spewing a cloud of thick black ash into the sky.  Nothing moved within a hundred miles of it.

“Warleader!” Ralven Thraine, the Third Watch Battle Warden saluted crisply as he entered the room.

Elre Veleren turned from the tower windows where she was keeping an eye on the fighting below.  As General of the Nightwatch she was Operational Commander and needed to carefully mind the ebb and flow of the battle below.

“Ralven.  What is it?”  She asked, returning his salute before stretching to get a kink out of her back.

“The Battlemaster needs to see you.” He said, licking his lips nervously.

“Now?  There is a full on assault that needs my full attention Ralven.”  She looked back down at the battle and touched one of the gems on the railing, “Archer teams, focus on the fourth quadrant, they’re in danger of being pushed.”

“Right now.” Ralven said, “Battlemaster Torm Rektros needs to see you immediately.”

She blinked, “Oh.” A feeling of trepidation bordering on panic hit her.  “Can you keep an eye on things here please?”

“Of course Warleader.” He said, saluting again.  “I would consider it an honor.  Please hurry back.”

Elre moved to the center of the chamber and exerted an effort of will.  The floor collapsed into a spiral staircase leading down.  She walked swiftly down the stairs into the chamber where Torm resided.  His massive metal form creaked as he turned toward her.  As he did, she could see the entire wall behind him was pulsing with glowing azure light.

“Welcome Warleader.”  Torm said, “As you can see there is a slight anomaly.”

“What is that?”

“Da Ultor Ithrun.” He said, “The Final Sword is active.  The power the Gods gave our ancestors is ready to be unleashed.”

“Does this mean our mission is finally at an end?”  Elre asked, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, “That we’re finally going to be free?”

“Your responsibility to defend Malm Hrid will be reduced, although I do not believe it will be gone entirely.”  He said, “However you will need to continue without me.  The power that keeps me active will likely be depleted.  The purpose I was created for will be fulfilled.”

“Why are you telling me this?”  She asked, the feeling of trepidation returning.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

“You will take my place as Battlemaster.”  He said.  “You have the best qualifications.  Your instruction will begin now.”

Elre sighed, her hopes of a simple life crushed.  “As you say Battlemaster.”

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 1

Hi all, I’m practicing writing short stories… I already failed since my goal was to tell a story in less than 1000 words, but hopefully I can keep it under 3000.  Knowing the way I write, it’ll probably end up being a novel. Hope you enjoy!

~~

Sergei wiped the bar top with a clean white rag, polishing the last bit of wax to a perfect shine.  He looked over the bar and smiled in satisfaction; everything was ready to go and he still had a half hour before it was time to open.  After all the things he’d been through and done, this pub was the only thing he was truly proud of.  The small silver bell over the door chimed and he frowned.  He didn’t think he’d forgotten to lock it.

“Serg.  Just checking in.”  A familiar voice preceded a familiar set of footsteps and Sergei grinned and pulled a pint of his own home brewed root beer for the early visitor.

“Officer Ordean, to what do I owe the pleasure?”  He asked placing a coaster on the counter and the root beer in the center.  Chelsea Ordean was a powerfully built woman who had earned her way in the force by equal parts skill, luck and brains.

“No time for drinks today Serg.  Just looking for some girl who supposedly got stabbed at the eighth street subway station.”  Her face was grim and despite her words, she slugged down half the root beer in one long gulp.  “You haven’t seen anyone in here have you?”

“Just me so far.”  He frowned, “I thought I’d locked the door though.  Maybe check the restrooms?”  The Rambler was his pub, but the layout wasn’t his design and the toilets were on either side of the entry door.

“The door was not locked.”  Chelsea said, unsnapping her pistol but not drawing it.  “Let’s go have a look.”

“If someone was stabbed wouldn’t there be blood?”  Sergei asked, following her up to the entry.  The bar itself was three wide steps below the entrance.  “Knife wounds bleed Chels.”

“She was apparently wearing a thick woolen jacket.  I’m just checking places that folks know they can get help.”  She said, giving him a sidelong glance.  They both knew he wouldn’t turn someone in need away; even though it was almost time to open.

They swiftly checked the bathrooms and found nothing.  “You need to check the rest of the place Chels?  I don’t think anyone came in while I was bringing up kegs but I thought I’d locked the door too.  You got the run of the place if you need it; you know where everything is.”

She nodded her thanks and moved through the pub, checking in the back office, the storage room and even the cold storage although that was the only place he’d have been able to miss someone coming in.  satisfied, she clapped him on the back and walked out.

Sergei dumped her root beer, cleaned the glass and straightened his apron before making his final pre-opening checks.  He hoped Chels would find the girl before she bled out.  Knife wounds were no laughing matter.

The usual ‘last call’ crowd were finally stumbling out to their taxi’s and fumbling for their subway passes.  Sergei smiled in satisfaction.  It had been a good night, his regulars had been joined by a decent crowd of businessmen attending some conference who apparently had gotten the green light to drink on the company tab.

He closed and firmly locked the door behind the last of his patrons and turned back to the bar.  There was just a bit of cleaning he needed to do before the he headed out himself.  The voice nearly startled him out of his skin.

“I heard some of them talking Sergei.  They all said that you used to do things before you came here.”  It was a girl’s voice.  Not a young woman, but a girl, likely only barely into her teens.  But he couldn’t see anyone.  “Is it true?”

“Show yourself please.”  He said calmly, walking back to the bar and taking down his bottle of Laphroig.  He always had a double shot of the smoky Islay single malt scotch after closing along with pipe of Molto Dolce tobacco.  “If I can assist you I will endeavor to do so.”

“I need you to kill someone Sergei.”  A tiny slip of a girl stepped out of the shadows.  Literally out of shadows, there was no room or place to hide.  She had the darkest skin he’d ever seen; a perfect rich dark chocolate and her hair was in twisted dreadlocks that stuck up from her head like ruffled feathers.  “I need you to kill him before he finds me and finishes the job he started.”

“I’m sorry girl, but I am not a killer for hire.”  He said, tamping the tobacco down in his pipe.  “I suggest allowing me to call my friend Chelsea Ordean.  She’s a very competent officer and can handle anything the wrong side of the law can throw at her.”

“I’m not a girl, I’m older than you are.”  She said with a glare, “As for your officer friend, I’ve taken her measure and she can’t handle this.”

Sergei barked out a laugh and snorted pipe smoke out his nose.  “You can’t be older than fourteen.”  He said, looking at her critically.  “If Chels can’t handle it I don’t want any part of it.”

“My age and appearance are irrelevant.”  She snapped, “She would follow procedure, and right now I’m going to bleed to death before procedure can be of any use to me.”

“You really have been stabbed?”  Sergei asked, setting his pipe and his glass down and moving to her side.  His years patching up wounds since he seemed to be the only one who had the knack tried to come to the surface, but he ruthlessly shoved them back down into the darkness.  That was the past.

“It’s nothing you can help with.”  She said, “He used hawthorn.”

“Is that a poison?”  He asked, pulling back her coat and finding another coat underneath it.  She had layer upon layer of clothing on.  “What is your name?  I can’t just keep calling you girl.”

“Stop that, you don’t need to look at the wound.”  She said, “You can call me Corva.”

“What good is killing this man going to be if you won’t let me stop the bleeding Corva?”  Sergei asked, “You said yourself that you don’t have time to wait.”

“If he is stopped I will be able to get proper help.  If he lives no place will be safe for me no matter what.”  She looked at him with eyes so dark gray they were almost black.  “I need your help and you’re the only one who can help me.”

March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 31

Gabriel shook his head, “Maybe if we’d listened to her and fought it together you wouldn’t have been hurt so badly.  I guess we’ll never know.  Important thing is before I could tell her anything about this person who was looking for those simple clay artifacts she mentioned.”

Tryst sat up with a gasp of pain and swung his feet over the side of the bed.  “What?  Who is this person?”

“Adbar.  The Count Adbar said he was gathering them for a reconstruction project.”  Gabriel said, “He claimed they were part of an ancient statue that it was his lifetime obsession to put back together.  Called it the idle interest of a wealthy old man, but I heard a rumor it was supposed to bring the dead back to life or something.

“We figured it was just a story, but maybe not?”  Gabriel sheathed his knife.  “I thought you would want to know; he found a piece of it here and it wasn’t the first one he had acquired.”

“Adbar.”  Tryst said, running his fingers through his hair.  “Things do have a way of coming full circle.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Gabriel asked.

“Nothing that concerns you really.”  Tryst said with a sigh, “But as long as I’m confessing my sins as it were; we attempted to save his wife from the Abyssal infection.  We failed.  She tore out her own throat, summoned a demon and set the High Forest ablaze.  We managed to defeat that horrible golem, but the cost was great.”

“We saw the fire from here.”  Said Gabriel, his voice awed.  “You were there, fighting alongside a goddess?”

“Yes.  We fought alongside Jorda and between us we stopped the monster.”  Tryst said, his voice reverent. “It is a miracle we survived.  A real miracle from a real Goddess.”

A commotion outside brought a smile to Tryst’s face.  “-god rotting turnip eating slime!  I’m going to go see my brother and if you stand in my way I’ll cut off your hand and shove it so far up your ass you’ll never get it out in time for a priest to re-attach it!”

“They’ve returned.”  Tryst said, his smile growing wider.  “I’d better get out there before she does someone harm.”

The door slammed open and a figure splattered in road muck and dust stalked into the room.  Her hair was in a braid as thick as his wrist and hung all the way to the floor and tiny Brightstar flowers shone in it.  A sword hilt protruded from above her right shoulder and a thin brilliant silver chain ran from the pommel to a bracelet on her right wrist.  Incongruously, a mass of butterflies was flitting around her head, landing on her hair and her shoulders.  She didn’t seem to notice them.

“Tryst!  They didn’t want to let me in but they’re stupid.”  She yelled, seeing him sitting up she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck.  “You’re all right!  Tryst you jackass we were so worried.”

“Easy Callindra, I’m not really in a position for this level of manhandling.”  He croaked, “I just managed to regain consciousness, I’m practically an invalid!”

She let go immediately and stepped back, concern plain on her face. “Oh gods Tryst, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I must look like hell if you’re giving me that kind of consideration.”  He said giving her a wry look.  “But really you’re in no shape to be in a medical ward.  Go and bathe sister, I’m not going to die any time soon.  Once we’ve all had the chance to get clean we can discuss our next steps over a hot meal.”

To his surprise, she looked at him with tears making muddy tracks down her cheeks.  “Yes, of course Tryst.  I just had to see you.  We were so worried… I was so worried.  I don’t know how we would continue without you.”

Before he could respond, she turned and all but ran from the room.

“You could have handled that a little better.”   Mili said, “But I’m sure she will forgive you.  After all, you just woke up from a week’s long coma.”

“Yeah.  I’m sure she’ll forgive me.”  Tryst sighed, “I’ll probably survive the bruises too.”

“She loves you very much?”  Asked Mili.

“We have been through much together.”  Tryst said, making an effort to get out of bed.  He paused, blushing slightly.  “Do you suppose I might be able to get my clothes?”

Mili laughed, “Of course Sir Tryst.”  She handed him his clothing and left him in peace to get dressed.

“I’m not a knight or a Lord.”  He said after her retreating back, “Just Tryst please.”  If she heard, she didn’t respond.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 10

“The wounds seem to be healing properly but I do not like the condition she is in.”  Tryst’s voice came to Callindra’s ears as though from down a hallway.  “This much healing without any food is taking a serious toll on her body; magic only accelerates the body’s natural processes, it doesn’t do anything the body can’t do already.”

“She will wake up, eat like a horse for a few days and be right as rain just like she has a dozen or more times.”  Cronos said, a curious edge to his voice.  “The Goddess wouldn’t give her something that healed her just to kill her slowly with it.”

“Malachi believes we’ll have smooth sailing for a few days at any rate.”  Vilhylm said, “That’ll give her some time to recover.”

Callindra cracked an eye and looked at her friends.  All of them sported bandages of one type or another, Cronos had one that wrapped around his head quite thoroughly and nearly obscured his face.  Vilhylm walked with a pronounced limp as he paced the floor and had strips of cloth wound around his chest, probably broken ribs.  Tryst’s left arm was purple with bruising from shoulder to wrist while his right forearm was tightly bound to his side.

“You three look like hell.”  She said, her voice coming out in a thick croak.  “Who do I have to stab to get some food around here?”

She was laying on her stomach due to the wounds on her back, her right hand was a mass of vines that sprouted tiny Brightstar flowers and her knee itched like there were a thousand mosquitos biting it just beneath the skin.  Her hair was loose and spilled over the side of the bed, the sunlight coming through the porthole bringing out the red notes in the otherwise unremarkable brown.  Someone had brushed it out recently.

Cronos approached with a steaming bowl of something that smelled like ambrosia as Vilhylm helped her sit up.  Her knee wouldn’t bend and her back was so stiff that it took her several minutes for it to relax enough that she could sit.  Awkwardly balancing the bowl on her lap with her leg stretched out she took the wide wooden spoon from the bowl of stew and began to devour it.

“Well, nothing is wrong with your appetite I see.”  Tryst said wryly, “Try to slow down so you don’t make yourself sick.”

“Thank the Winds I’m left handed.”  She said around a mouthful and as if in response a breeze promptly began teasing the ends of her hair, threatening to deposit them into her meal.  Before that could happen, she had finished the bowl drinking down the last of the broth and wiping it clean with a hunk thick black bread Cronos handed her.

“So this Malachi is the captain?”  She asked, accepting a mug of ale from Vilhylm.  It was a dark brew with an earthy flavor she associated with hazelnuts.

“Yes.  He is also the one who pulled you back onboard when you nearly fell over going after that sword of yours.”  Said Cronos, “What kind of fool’s errand was that?”

Callindra’s face colored slightly and she took another drink to hide it.  “He is my life.  I would be lost without him… my magic would devour me and likely take anyone standing around me with it.  If I didn’t have the control he offers I would be a danger to everyone.”  She reached out and touched Brightfang’s pommel stone with the tips of the fingers that extended from the mass of vines on her right hand.

“Aye, he is the captain.”  A gruff voice came from the door, “An he is wondering what exactly he picked up there in the forest.”

“I was going to wait to mention this captain Malachi, but you seem to have something onboard your ship that we have been tasked by the Goddess Jorda to acquire.”  Tryst said, giving the Dwarf a careful look.  “I am not certain which part it is, however I know there is certainly a portion of our quest here.”

Malachi gave them a level look, and then grunted.  “This cabin’s too small.  Come to mine.”

“I don’t think-“ Tryst began, but the Dwarf cut him off, glancing toward the walls significantly.

“I said come to my cabin.”  He said, pulling out a pipe with a wide, deep bowl and tamping it full of tac.  Without waiting, he turned and stumped out of the room reaching into his belt pouch for flint and steel.

“Can you help me to my feet?”  Callindra asked, “I need to get dressed in at least a shift if I’m going to walk out of here.  Just bandages is hardly proper attire for a meeting with the captain.”

Cronos chuckled, “Yeah, I’m sure most of the crew would appreciate watching you walk across the deck.”  He took one of his shirts out of his pack and helped her put it on.  “You don’t have any dresses, so this will have to do.

“Fits me like a tent.”  She grunted, awkwardly buckling Brightfang on around her waist since she couldn’t put the baldric on over her shoulder as normally did.  “Thanks Cronos.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.” He said with a smile, “Come on sister, let’s go and see what the captain wants.”

They walked the short distance to the admittedly larger cabin where Malachi waited for them at the slow shamble, the best they could do with their combined injuries.  When they reached the door, the scent of Karalan Imperialis wafted from the room.

“Get in here, I ain’t got all day.”  Malachi’s voice followed a large smoke ring that drifted out of the door.

Callindra was the first through the door, wishing she had taken the time to bring her own pipe.  “I’ve heard that few people smoke the Imperialis blend.”  She said, giving him an appraising look.

“Ah, a connoisseur.”  He said, “Well sit your skinny arse down and pack a bowl if ya will.”

The room was small but well appointed, a desk bolted to one wall and a bed folded up against the other.  A small bookshelf held a few tomes, each one strapped down with a leather thong to keep it in place.  A scattering of cushions lay on the floor for them to sit on.  The Dwarf was gesturing toward the desk as he spoke, and Callindra saw a pipe rack with a few long stemmed pipes resting next to a small wooden box of tac.

“I will take you up on that captain.”  She said, hobbling to the desk and picking up a pipe.  Brightfang kept banging into her knee as she walked making her wonder how anyone could wear a sword on their hip.  It was difficult to tamp the pipe full with only one hand, but after a few moments she had it burning and was settled comfortably on a cushion, her injured leg stretched out in front of her.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us Captain.”  Tryst said, “Our mission is of the utmost importance and I think you can help us achieve it.  I think you might even have been told to help us.”

Malachi leaned back on his cushions and sucked on his pipe, giving them a level, suspicious look through half closed eyes.  “Maybe.”

“I think perhaps you know more than you’re letting on.”  Vilhylm said, leaning on the wall just inside the door.  “But it seems you’re helping us anyway.  Jorda asked you to save us from the fire and you did so.”

“Aye, a perceptive one.”  He muttered, smoke coming out of his mouth with the words.  “I was indeed asked by a certain individual to give aid to a certain group.  She never said you were dangerous imbeciles who would all but destroy the Grungie did she?”

“Is your ship more important than the will of the gods?”  Tryst demanded, steel entering his voice.

Callindra chuckled and the men all glanced at her with frowns on their faces.  “Sorry, it’s just that all this dancing around the truth seems so trite when you consider what we are attempting to do.”  She blew a series of tiny smoke rings.  “Don’t you understand?  I guess I shouldn’t judge because I certainly didn’t.  Not until a month or so ago.

“The Gods are real!  Demons and devils and all that are real too… it’s not just the good things that we’ve been told about, but the bad too.  Something used to keep them at bay but now they’re fighting free of whatever that was.  I think that something was Onde.”  She looked at them, fear in her eyes.  “He’s gone.  Nobody knows where he is and the only way we can find him is by doing as Jorda asked.”

Alexander Brigit Macedon: Intro

Author’s note: This is just an introductory piece for a collaborative writing project I’m participating in… there may be more to follow if things pan out.  Hope you enjoy.

The door opened, to Lex’s and he knew it was a regular since they didn’t open it far enough to allow the steel edge to come in contact with the five-foot length of pipe he had near the wall.  The clang was enough to make everyone think twice about mistreating his door.

He liked his door.  He’d found it in a surplus depot and paid nearly two thousand dollars for it.  The inlaid oak, ash and walnut made interesting contrast and the carving of a huge tree that grew up it matched the custom brass hinges he’d had made to look like tree leaves, branches and roots.  Most people didn’t notice his favorite part though.  Just above the polished brass kick plate, the roots of the tree grew not into soil but into a field of bones.  Subtle, but macabre.  Just his style.

Recognizing the man’s silhouette even as he began to walk down the three stairs that would bring him into the bar, Alexander took down a bottle of Belvedere vodka and mixed a gimlet.  He was just garnishing the drink with a twist of lime when Investigator Jon Lee slid into his usual seat at the bar.

“How do you know it’s me?  I’m not even wearing my normal uniform today.”  Jon was one of NYC’s finest.  He also only came to Lex’s when he was off duty and had a rough day.  His usual ankle length cashmere coat was indeed missing; an oddity considering the sleet rattling against the half windows that faced the street.

“I got an eye for people.”  Alex said with a shrug.  “Where’s your coat, this weather is shite.”

Jon grimaced.  “Dry cleaner’s.”  He took a drink and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Alex grunted, but didn’t say anything else.  When Jon’s drink was empty another one appeared in front of him like magic.  He closed his hands around it and glanced around the mostly empty bar.  The usual two old men in the corner were playing chess, each with a pint of Alexander’s bitter ale close at hand.  A bored looking woman sat next to a young man who was ignoring her in favor of his phone.  Nobody was within earshot.

“It was bad.  That fire on 87th?  Well, I’ve heard of spontaneous human combustion but I thought it was a myth or something.”  He shuddered and placed the cold glass against his forehead.  “Nothing else it could have been though.  Burned all the way through her middle right where she was laying in bed.  Didn’t so much as set the sheets on fire.”

“Huh.  Well.  At least the building didn’t burn.”  Alex looked over and saw the girl catch his eye.  “Excuse me Jon.”

He glided down the bar, moving smoothly and silently especially for a man his size.  Looming up behind the man he rumbled, “What can I get you Miss?”  Carefully keeping his expression blank, Alexander chuckled inwardly as the young man started and almost dropped his phone.

“Can I have an appletini?”  She asked.

“No miss, I don’t carry that apple garbage.  I’d gladly make you a regular martini or perhaps a Cosmopolitan?”  Alex said, crossing his thick arms over his chest.  With the black tshirt and white apron, it made him look much less threatening than his words might have initially suggested.  Like a favorite uncle.

“What’s in a Cosmopolitan?”  She asked.

“Vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice.”  Her date said with an annoyed look first at Alex and then at her.

“My Cosmopolitan has Vodka, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice and real cranberry juice.”  Alex said smoothly, “Combined and shaken before being poured into a martini glass and garnished with a twisted rind of lime and lemon.”

“That sounds pretty good actually.”  She said, smiling.

“And for you sir?” Alex asked, looking at the man.

“Bud light.”  He said.

Alex sighed, shook his head and pointed a finger the size of a bratwurst at the chalk board behind the bar.  It listed the available beers with the alcohol content, serving size and price.  At the bottom was written ‘Bud Light.  3.2% ABV 12 oz can. $50.00’

“Fifty Dollars?”  The guy exploded, but Alex pointed to the sign hanging below it which read.

‘This is a brewpub.  I make these beers.  If you want that piss water you’d better be willing to pay me for the insult.’

“I have a very nice British Blonde Ale.” Alex said patiently in a voice that suggested he’d said the same thing hundreds of times.  He pointed to the top beer on the list named ‘Blondes Have More Fun’. “It’s as close as you’re gonna get here.”

“Yeah.  Sure.”  He said shortly.

With an inward chuckle, Alexander went back to the bar and pulled a pint of Blonde and then mixed the perfect Cosmo.  After serving the drinks, he brought a fresh pair of pints to the chess players and returned to where Jon was finishing his second gimlet.  He placed a glass of water in front of the cop and smiled inwardly again at the surprised look his face.

“How’d you know I didn’t want another?”  Jon asked, “You always seem to know exactly what to do or say.”

“Bartender’s instinct.  We know you better than your lover does.  You tell us stuff you wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else.  We get ta know ya.”  He let the smile travel from his mind to his lips, “These are on the house.  You’ve had a rough one lad, take all the time ya need.”

“Thanks Alexander.  You’re a good man.”

“Ain’t nothing.”  He said, turning to take a bottle of scotch from the top shelf.  Just as he was finishing pouring a double shot of Laphroig over ice.  He had a feeling an old friend was about to walk through the door, and all Duff Bowman ever ordered was Laphroig on the rocks.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 24

Victoria’s descent was less destructive but no more graceful.  Her right leg was now also nothing but torn strands of carbon fiber, shreds of Neuro-Muscle and titanium cable.  She hit hard, even though she tried to roll with the impact.  Pain lanced through her hip and shoulder as she landed, crying out in agony.  Forcing herself to remain conscious, Victoria crawled over to where Dace lay in broken defeat, dragging herself with her hands.

“Why?”  She asked, “Dace why did you do this?”

“Sorry.”  Dace said, her voice a slurring whisper. “Bad Remix.  Lost my shit, ya know?”

“What?  No!  I don’t fucking know, what are you talking about?”  Victoria said, a welter of emotions making her voice quaver.

“I ain’t normal Victoria, but ya knew that yeah?”  Dace hacked and coughed, “Ya busted me up pretty fuckin good damn it.”

“I had my doubts.”  Victoria said, gasping as the adrenaline wore off and the pain began to set in.  “You aren’t making sense.”

“Don’t trust Hallbeck.”  Dace said, “That old fucker.”  She broke off in a wheezing hack and spat blood.  “He only cares for his pet projects.  We used to be, but then the fucking doctor came along and then you were his shining star.”

“Who is ‘we’ Dace?  What happened to you?”

“Project Chimera.”  Said Dace, her voice slurring even worse. “Gene splicing.  Dunno much about it.  Just wanted to be faster and better.  Wanted one more just so I could show ‘em.  Went wrong.  Lost control.”

“You have to stay awake Dace.  You’re going into shock, I’ll get help.”  Victoria was shutting off her emotions, forcing herself to be logical.  “Yuen-Ja has her cell.  I’ll get her to call an ambulance.”

“Don’t bother.  Bad remix always fatal.”  Dace whispered.  A gunshot exploded in Victoria’s ears and the top of the other woman’s head exploded into shards of brain and bone.

“Did it hurt you?”  Dmitri’s urbane voice asked.  “Your legs are destroyed Victoria, we must gather what we can and leave before the authorities arrive.”

“You shot her in the fucking head!”  Victoria’s tenuous hold on her calm vanished, “What the hell Dmitri?  She was confused, I don’t think she even knew what was happening.”

“She broke Ivanov’s arm, gave him a concussion and possibly fractured several of his ribs.”  Dmitri said calmly, “Nobody does that to one of my people without paying the price.”

Victoria stared at him in confusion.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Besides, the most expedient way of exiting this situation without attracting undo attention from the authorities is to eliminate the person who would raise the most questions.”  Dmitri continued without acknowledging her question.  “I was certainly not going to bring her with and leaving her here alive would likely have put us all in danger of protracted unpleasantness with the authorities.”

“Victoria!  Are you alright?”  David was running up but skidded to a halt noticing the gun in Dmitri’s hand.  “Holy shit!  Holy shit!”

“No.  I’m not.”  Victoria said, pushing herself away from Dmitri.  He looked at her with apparent surprise.

“Perhaps I misjudged you Miss Scott.”  He said, lighting a cigarette as though they weren’t standing over the corpse of a woman she had trusted, fought, mortally wounded and watched him execute.  “This was the most logical course of action.”

He turned and walked calmly back to his Bentley, climbed in the driver’s seat and drove away.  Eugene was climbing out of David’s Beetle and leaning heavily on the car.  There was blood on his forehead; he must not have been wearing his seat belt.

“Oh God.  Did he fucking shoot her?  Oh God your legs.”  David was babbling, “Shit we can’t leave this here I mean they’ll be able to trace the remains to Eugene’s lab won’t they?  Oh shit.”

“David.”  She said, her voice perfectly calm.  “Do you still have the MKI legs you made me in your car?”

“What?  Uh, yeah.”  He said, and then seemed to remember that her current legs were destroyed.  “Oh, right.  I’ll get them.”

Victoria heard the sound of sirens in the distance.  Could she really escape from this?  Was there any chance she wouldn’t be arrested?  Surely there would be DNA evidence on the scene.

“David.”  Eugene said, his voice grim, “Siphon some gas out of your tank.  I’ll bring Victoria the spare legs.  We can’t leave a shred of evidence behind.”

Something clicked inside of Victoria.  She shut off the horror at seeing someone she knew and trusted killed in cold blood.  She stopped thinking about the fact that her other friends were calmly talking about burning the corpse.  Nothing mattered but survival.  Survival.

Eugene came and she swiftly and efficiently released the locks on her current appendages and attached the replacements.  Victoria stood and rapidly gathered all the pieces of her old legs that she could find, tossing them inside the trunk of David’s car.  As she cleaned up the larger pieces, Eugene and David poured the gasoline David had siphoned over Dace’s corpse.

“I appreciate what you have done for me.”  She said, her voice hollow.  “I have to go now.  If I stay with you, I will endanger your lives.  Keeping you safe will put me in danger as well.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” David said.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”  Said Eugene at the same time.

“Victoria, what is the matter?” Asked Yuen-Ja.  “This is not like you at all.”

“I am sorry.”  She replied calmly, “I must distance myself from you.  It is the most logical way to keep us all safe.  David, I expect you to create the MKIII and deliver them to me as soon as you are able to finish them.  Until then I will be forced to make do with these inferior prototypes.”

“Wait!”  David shouted.

“Victoria, come back!”  Said Eugene.

“We just want to help.”  Yuen-Ja whispered.  Hers was the hardest voice to turn away from.  Victoria did so anyway.

“Goodbye my friends.”  Victoria said, lighting a match.  They backed away and she flicked it into the gasoline.  “Don’t try to find me.  I will find you.  Yuen-Ja, please tell mother and father that… that… I’m sorry.”

“You can’t!” Yuen-Ja said, “You won’t survive on your own.”  Sirens sounded in the distance; they all knew they had only moments before the authorities would arrive.

The fire burned hot and fierce, it wouldn’t be enough to completely consume the body but that wasn’t the point.  Nothing that would identify Victoria could possibly survive.  The flames rose into a barrier between her and her friends.  Victoria turned her back and walked away from everything she knew.