Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for Pride



Fu Ran hefted his huge two-handed sword again and swung wide.  More guards flew, most of them landing harmlessly in the open space provided by the cautiously distant crowd.  The blade wasn’t actually hitting any of them, else they’d all be dead by now.  An enchantment he’d grown pleasantly accustomed to provided his weapon with a bit of extra reach, an unseen force that broke the air like the wake of a ship on the water and very efficiently spread an unwelcome crowd. 
It was amusing when persistent men like Ti Lao’s guards kept coming back.  It made Fu Ran laugh out loud and probably had a lot to do with the stubbornness of his opponents.  However, he was having too much fun to care.  “To the infernal regions with all of you!  You’re a pathetic lot!  Do you think I’d allow myself to be defeated by such as you!  Are there no men among you?”
The guards were finally getting weary.  It probably wouldn’t be long before someone decided to draw a bow. 
A giant among men, Fu Ran made for an easy target.  He’d grown naturally taller and stronger than most and trained to be stronger still.  His sleeveless jerkin boasted the thickness of his arms.  The size of his body along with the size of his sword, his wild grin, and bold laughter put fear into enemy and ally alike.  He’d shaven his head and tattooed dragons down the length of each arm to worsen his appearance.  In some places he was known as the Laughing Devil.  He would hate to have his reputation besmirched by a well-aimed arrow and so decided to put an end to the afternoon’s play.  “I’ll take one more before taking my leave!  Who dares?” 
He expected a handful of guards again, in which case he would toss them a bit farther this time and be on his way.  He was shocked when someone said softly, “I will dare it...if you will.”
Fu Ran was prepared to laugh at the effete creature standing before him, until he took a second look, and recalled that only fools judged Xu Liang by his appearance.  He smiled anyway and readied his sword.  “This is going to hurt,” he warned.
Xu Liang inclined his head almost imperceptibly.  “One of us, perhaps.”


From Six Celestial Swords
Available from Raventide Books

Friday, April 17, 2015

O is for Openness



Shirisae smiled irresistibly as she crouched in the space between Tristus and the dwarves, and Xu Liang, who sat cross-legged near the wall.  All around them most of the inn’s patrons, who were also forced to spend the night in the common room, were asleep, many of them snoring.  A few others sat awake, sipping ale or finishing off a loaf of bread that was no longer warm.  Xu Liang, a perfect portrait of scholarship and serenity was utterly out of place here, but—Shirisae had to remind herself—she had yet to see him in his proper place.
“How long have you been away?” she asked him, drawing his dark eyes from the slumbering masses heaped around them.  His gaze seemed to question, so she added, “From your homeland.  How long?”
“Too long, perhaps,” the mystic replied as cryptically as she should have expected.  “Not long enough.  Why do you ask?”
Shirisae looked down at the floor for a moment, then returned her gaze to him, wondering at the way her words strayed so easily from those she had prepared before approaching him.  “I think...I know that I would like to understand you.  I understand the Swords and the reasons all of us were drawn together.  I don’t need to hear that again right now, but I would very much like to hear something about you...personally.”
The mystic’s expression changed very little, which surprised Shirisae.  She’d been expecting some manner of guard to go up, a mask to hide his inner self.  Perhaps, she considered, he was already wearing that mask and had been from the moment they’d met.
“I am not certain what you are asking,” Xu Liang admitted.
Shirisae wasn’t sure herself.  She thought a moment and came up with a more specific question.  “Tell me about your empress.”  As the mystic seemed to consider what to say, Shirisae added delicately, “Do you love her?”
“Yes,” Xu Liang answered, and Shirisae couldn’t decide if the answer came readily or more automatically, like a reflex.  That he didn’t say anything more confused her.
Carefully, Shirisae tried again.  “Are you in love with her, Xu Liang?”
The mystic stared at her a moment, his fine eyebrows drawing together as if he might be offended.  And then, his features relaxed again, and he said, “I had barely begun my career in Imperial Office when Song Da-Xiao was born.  Our acquaintance came first through her father, the late Emperor Song Bao, and deepened through my friendship with her brother, Prince Song Lu.  I have considered her in many aspects: as the daughter of my revered ruler, the sister of my beloved friend and superior, as my student, and even as my teacher...but most of all as the leader of our people and the life essence of our land.  The guiding, comforting, and even punishing hand to the Empire.  Whomever sits upon the throne of Sheng Fan, whomever has been deemed worthy by the Mandate set forth in the most ancient times our civilization has known, is as a parent to many children, who would stray and become lost without his or her divine aegis.  Even so there are still some who defy the Mandate.”
Shirisae listened attentively, feeling Xu Liang’s devotion to this ‘Mandate’, his supreme belief in the rules of his society and the role he played in a drama written by gods.  She understood, as she was the same way.  She did not simply practice her faith in the Phoenix.  She believed in the Flame.  She believed with all that formed her heart, her body, and her soul that her people had been resurrected by it, given a second chance to fulfill their purpose in this world.  If someone brought tangible evidence before her that it was not true, that something like that could not happen and had never happened, she would call them a liar.  Yes, she definitely understood what it was to believe in something on a scale that encompassed an entire society.  She was still learning what it was to believe in something closer to an individual.  She had a feeling that in this, she and Xu Liang were also much alike.
“In answer to your question,” the mystic finally said.  “No.  I have never thought of my Empress in that way.”
Shirisae nodded, absorbing the information and building up to her next question.  “Though it is not the way of my people, I know that in many societies individuals of important standing are betrothed to be assured of a proper and beneficial marriage.  You are of an age to have been so promised and perhaps even to have fathered children, yet you do not seem a husband to me, or a father.”
“I am neither,” Xu Liang answered quietly, revealing nothing of what Shirisae was hoping to uncover.  He added, “I was betrothed once, but the arrangement came to be annulled.”
“Why?” Shirisae asked helplessly, then lowered her gaze and apologized.  “It is none of my concern.”
“It is not,” Xu Liang confirmed.  “However, I am not opposed to speaking of it.  It does not shame me.  I will explain simply by saying that all affected parties found the arrangement to be impractical.  I was relieved as I was certain myself that I would not bring honor to my intended bride or her family, or my own, for that matter.”
“You were in love with someone else,” Shirisae guessed, heedless of how carelessly the words escaped as she became suddenly convinced of how correct she was in that assumption.
Xu Liang’s dark eyes narrowed and then he closed them, hiding all emotion.  He said quietly, “I no longer wish to discuss this.  Forgive me.  I must rest.”
Shirisae withdrew, feeling that she had the answers she had been seeking, for now.


From Five Kingdoms
Coming Soon from Raventide Books

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Neurosis



“It’s cold, inspector.”
            “Yes it is.  Quite cold.”  Harris LaRoque spoke while taking long, but brisk steps through the remnant snow of the storm several days ago; precursor to another one in all likeliness.  The snow in this region worked in series, first one, then another, each longer and harder as they went.  Harris brought them to a small rise above a range of lower ground, where the trees spread out just a little, allowing someone to see across it.  It spanned for several kilometers, leading to another hill and thicker woods, Harris presumed.  “Imagine if you were to be left out here in this weather, under these conditions.  How long do you suppose you would be able to last?”
            Constable Ellet took a moment to answer.  “Not long, I suspect.”
            “How long?” Harris pressed.
            Again, the other paused, then shrugged.  “Don’t know.  A day or two, maybe.”
            “Maybe,” Harris allowed, though at these temperatures, he doubted it.  “If the animals didn’t get you first.”
            “Animals?” Ellet inquired, as if it were out of the question, which was absurd; he obviously knew otherwise.  More than likely, he suspected Harris had some other information that inspired his comment.
            “It’s the wilderness,” Harris explained, letting him know how very simple his logic happened to be.  “It’s full up with animals.  Vicious, brutal beasts, in search of victims.”
            Ellet seemed to be falling further behind.  “To eat?”
            Harris shook his head, surveying the misted, icy landscape below.  There wasn‘t anything out right now, not even a squirrel or blackbirds.  Possibly they had a clue as to what had been going on in this region.  “That would fall into the realm of natural, wouldn’t it?  What’s happened out here is not natural.”
            “What do you think we have here?”
            Harris let the question hang for a moment or two before answering.  “A beast.  I’ve already told you.  Possibly more than one.” He turned around and began retracing their path back to the vehicle, storing the visual details he’d gathered in their proper places at the back of his mind.  “Now let’s go.  It’s freezing and I despise the cold.”

From Reverie
An Immarcescible Novel
Coming Soon from Raventide Books

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Madness



Looking up at the open entryway at the top of the stairs, Dacia placed her hand upon the scrolled railing and began walking up.  I’m coming, she thought and felt a tiny smile come to her lips.
At the top of the stairs, Ersana’s simple bedroom was laid out in two adjoined squares.  In one compartment was the bed and Ersana’s personal affects.  In the other—the larger—there was virtually nothing.  A plain floor surrounded by plain walls.  But there was an engraving on the ceiling, one in the same shape as the crystals when they were bound together to mark entryways, and to protect them.  Dacia stepped across the floor feeling as though she were stalking an animal.  Her eyes never left the engraving.  When she began to mutter under her breath, she also felt a strange excitement move through her blood.  It grew the nearer she came to the markings.  When she was standing beneath them, they began to light along the edges and she almost became giddy with anticipation.
“I’m coming,” she sang and held her arms close to her body, spinning around once and giggling.  She sucked in a breath afterward and held very still, her gaze lowering from the ceiling.  “So is he,” she said with sudden realization.
The ancient boy.  The one with the golden hair...the one who had come with the others...
She dropped to her knees, feeling panicked.  She wanted to scream and cry in her sudden, overwhelming sense of frustration.  The room around her seemed to darken while the engravings overhead continued to glow like stubborn embers refusing to catch fire.  She stared at the floor below her as it lit, like water pooling beneath her.  Several shapes formed beneath its shining surface.  She locked her vision onto them, watching them form limbs and hands that reached up.  Unconsciously, her hand lowered onto the floor, overlapping one ruddy and misshapen.  Tears had gathered in her eyes, but she smiled.
“I’ll get you out,” she said to the figure hovering below her.  Amber eyes opened and blinked, and she whispered excitedly.  “I’ll get you out.”

From Blood Song
Available from Raventide Books

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for Love



He was home, looking into eyes the color of deep, clean water beneath a clear blue sky...listening to a voice with a smooth, regal bearing that put warmth into the air with each syllable uttered.  The words were placed gently and confidently, as if guided into place over the balanced distance from one to the next.  There was no rush, but there was no idleness either.  There was patience always, and wisdom.
“The very last thing we want is even more attention drawn to me and to us than we’ve earned already.  On the other hand, publicity isn’t what they’re after either.....they don’t want glory...they just want to end it and know they’ve won.  So, because they’re willing to step themselves outside of the law in order to do whatever it takes to meet this goal, the eyes of those who may not understand are not what they want taking a second look in their direction.  They’ve embedded themselves, as we have…hidden themselves from surface viewing.  It’s astounding, really, and I feel as if I should have seen it coming.”
“Terry,” Luka said, and it seemed like a misplaced whisper somehow.  He considered that for a moment, closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again and said, “You can’t see everything before it comes.”
The words formed easily as the memory served itself to him and he in turn lent himself to it.  His eyes resettled on the man, who was of notable height, leaning against a long table amid closely arranged shelves of books, arms folded across a chest that was broader than it tended to look in suit coats.  The evening’s suit coat was currently folded over the back of a chair nearby, Luka recalled, noticing that Terry's sleeves were rolled back somewhat, which showed a simple cloth band around each wrist.  Luka gave them no special attention, but he was always aware of them and what they were meant to conceal whenever Terry wore them.
Terry looked at him directly, honey-blond eyebrows sitting relaxed across his brow.  He raised them slightly, in the same moment the corners of his mouth were lifting.  Both actions revealed the faint etchings of age on a face that was not assailed by time, but tempered.  The classical sculpture of youth had given way to an enduring portrait of maturity.  It felt like morning sunlight filtering into a study filled with ancient texts; established knowledge illuminated by constant renewal.  Timelessness in motion.
“We’re not finished,” Terry said to Luka, out of context with the memory, as was a frequent occurrence in his dreams.  “We’ve scarcely begun, and there’s a good deal more ahead of us.”
The new words put the past ones out of Luka’s mind, filling him with a  sensation of the present, letting him know that it was more than a memory, or a dream.  A language, he reminded himself.  A mode of communication.  Deciphering his dreams had become a way of life, a necessary process to his daily existence.  However, he had not experienced one precisely like this for a while now.
As their gazes held in somber silence, Luka began to feel a loneliness he was ashamed of, because it was selfish.  Eventually, he said, “I know.”
Terry’s light smile remained. And then a trickle of blood slipped from beneath his short blond curls, making a thin path across his brow and over his temple.
“Terry,” Luka said, a small push of breath over his lips that demonstrated nothing of the urgency he felt inside.  The urgency of knowing that it was a dream, and that he had very little control over it beyond himself.
“Tempus fugit,” Terry told him and as a stack of books appeared on the table beside him, he turned to face them, lifting the cover of the volume on top.
The light in the library shifted, the glow of low lamps swelling into bands of daylight cast at elongated angles across a more open space.  Images of angels and saints on glass became a backdrop in a lagging stillness.  He heard footsteps in low, resounding echoes of each sound after the fact.  The figure of a dark-haired man whose features were out of focus moved across his plane of vision and through the light.  Luka felt as if his view was from a vantage just behind and above himself.  As he turned his head to follow the man’s gradual course to the pews, Luka realized he hadn’t moved his head at all in reality, and his eyes were still closed. 
In a rare consciously deliberate action, he returned to his body and opened his eyes. 

From Darkside
Children of Bhast Book 1

Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Kindness



He found himself unconsciously trying to recall what he knew of Adrius.  He thought back to an opening night early into Vohndesh’s Season.  An argument with Delisandra.  Nathaine’s quiet enabling Elarien to make the decision to stay behind and join the others of the company in celebrating the success of the production.  A stranger sat beside him at dinner, some cold ally in Delisandra’s unreasonable quest to shield him from everything.  He wanted to get away from the individual, to feel free for once from his grandmother’s overbearing concern.  He was rescued by a kinder stranger, who recognized him, engaged him in conversation, and wound up sharing his cab to Bisante with him. 
“I’ve long admired your work,” the green-eyed man had said.  “You always seem to be absorbed wholly in your roles, no matter how small.  That’s admirable.”
Elarien, who had then received the role of the lead character’s brother, recalled having said nothing more than, “Thank you…”
“You may call me Adrius.”
That was all he had said.  For some reason that was all that mattered to Elarien.  Even on the night not long after, when Delisandra and Nathaine both had left Vindra for a brief period of days and Elarien took advantage of their lacking presence.  Against the instructions that oddly became almost pleas from the physicians, he decided to take a walk after a gentle storm had passed through the city.  He had crossed the Amberdawn bridge, and suffered an attack.  Adrius found him and, by his request, took him to Alaireth’s office.  The two met and after a lack of formalities that didn’t faze any of the three of them at the time, they began to discuss Elarien’s condition, his family, and inevitably Delisandra and her icy army.  Adrius wanted to help.  He claimed to be a philanthropist and, although he couldn’t respectably offer financial assistance to one who was not lacking funds, he wanted to do something to make Elarien’s suffering less. 

From Raventide
Available from Raventide Books

Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Jealousy



Korsten didn’t know what to do or say.  He didn’t even know why this mattered so much to him.  When he’d recovered from her emotional assault, he tried reasoning with her again.  The words simply spilled out of him.  “Sharlotte, please listen to me.  I know you’re intent wasn’t to murder, only to protect your love.  You had every right.  I hold nothing against you.  I understand your feelings.  And you must understand that there is nothing between-”
“Shut up!  I won’t hear your lies!”  There were sudden tears in the woman’s eyes when she glared back at him again.  “Ashwin is one of the wisest men in Edrinor…in the world!  He’s not a confused, impassioned adolescent, pining after hopeless romances.  Love is a science to him, a careful administration of emotional and physical comfort.  I know by now that he gives love to whoever he thinks requires it most.  It’s pity that he gives.  It’s pity that he offers you, so don’t flatter yourself!”
“Sharlotte...”
“I know it was the same for me.  I could accept it because he delivered it so tenderly and put me above the others.  It didn’t have to be love, so long as I came first, but that’s changed since you’ve come.  Damn Merran for bringing you here!”
Korsten was surprised with how quickly he frowned at her in disapproval.  “This has nothing to do with Merran.  And you’re wrong about Ashwin.  Can’t you see how it’s hurting him, what you’re doing?  Sharlotte, he loves you.”
“All he ever does is think about you,” Sharlotte said before Korsten had finished speaking.

From Blood Lilies
Available from Raventide Books