Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Category: Snippets (Page 1 of 8)

One more day

No, no, no. I will not have the song from Les Miz as an earworm today. Nope. I really, really hope the title of this post doesn’t turn into me hearing that particular song (especially if it is the movie version) for the rest of the day. Maybe if I get on with the post, it will go away. Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow is the day. Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) goes live. My stomach is doing flipflops as I wait for the first reviews to start coming in. Yes, I feel this way with each new book but this one, well, it’s special. I really enjoy these characters and learning not only more about Cait’s backstory but also where she’s headed has been a lot of fun. The next book is already coming clear in my mind and notes are being taken.

Some of you guys asked after reading Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) if Fallon would be making more of an appearance in this second book. He does and he becomes an even more important player in the third book. That much I know for sure. But, to give you a taste of what he finds when he returns to the Citadel, here’s a quick snippet. No context is given because, well, I’m evil.

***

He smiled and continued walking in the direction of the administration building. As he did, the sounds of a yeomen’s class drilling nearby reached him. Their practice was punctuated with exclamations of relief as well as frustration as someone put them through their paces. Then, much to his surprise, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hold!” a woman ordered. “If you lot don’t start paying attention to what you are doing, we will be here all day. I know it’s cold but that is no excuse. Ask any knight or cleric. You will spend many a night in cold camps. I assure you, it would serve you well to remember the enemy will not attack only when the weather is fair. So stop worrying about the fact there is a little snow falling from the sky and focus on making sure your partner doesn’t score a killing blow.”

Fallon would have bet his life that the woman speaking had been Cait. But that made no sense. She had been at the Citadel less than two years. He had seen first-hand her ability with a blade but that did not explain why she would be teaching a weapons class, even one for yeomen. Good as she might be, there was no way the weaponsmaster would put a journeywoman in as an instructor.

Turning, Fallon looked at Stefan in open question. The young man simply smiled. There could be no doubting he was enjoying himself. His eyes danced with mischief and Fallon ground his teeth in frustration before giving the young man a look that promised they would soon discuss how Stefan had held back this information. Then Fallon hurried off in the direction of Cait’s voice. If no one would explain what was going on, he would find out for himself.

His report to the Knight-Commandant and the Adept would just have to wait.

A few moments later, Fallon slid to a halt outside the training ring. He stared in surprise at the sight that greeted him. Cait stood in the center of the packed dirt ring, a look of frustration on her face. In her left hand, she held a training sword. She wore black leather trousers and a matching leather jerkin that left her arms bare. Intricately woven wide leather bands were in place on each wrist. Her heavy boots moved silently across the ground. Despite the falling snow and the way her breath fogged before her, she seemed oblivious to the cold.

That much registered even as Fallon’s eyes were drawn to her forearms. Never before had he seen anything like the markings she bore and the implications rocked him. Then he felt the power surrounding her and he blew out a breath in surprise. He had known she was special from the moment he first saw her in that thrice-damned tavern but he had never expected this.

Before he could recover his wits, Cait turned and saw him. The frustration left her expression and she smiled gaily. She called for one of the senior journeymen working out in the next ring to take over for a moment. Before the young man could respond, she sprinted toward Fallon and Stefan. Fallon recovered enough to smile in approval as Cait agilely vaulted the three-bar fence surrounding the training ring before she all but leapt at him in greeting.

“Fallon!” She grinned gaily before throwing her arms around him. “It is so good to see you. When did you get back?”

***

Also, I’m blogging at Mad Genius Club today. For those of you looking for a program to use to help put together a story or series bible, I talk about my first impressions of Zim Desktop Wiki. Check it out.

Dagger of Elanna — snippet 2

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is now available for pre-order. Here’s another snippet.

***

The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait Hawkener as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried of mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside. The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket of white that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and, despite the warmth of the cottage, she shivered slightly.

A moment later, someone hurried down the narrow lane in front of the cottage. The figure lurched against the wind, as if walking upright might be impossible. Woolen cloak and scarf hid the person’s face. Whoever it was, they wasted little time getting down the lane. By early hour and the fact few who were not Confirmed members of the Order lived in this part of the Citadel, Cait guessed it was one of the clerics, hurrying to prepare for morning prayers.

The wind howled again and snow danced in the early morning light. She had seen worst mornings in her year and a half at the Citadel but not this early into the season. Remembering the tacticsmaster relaying the weather witch’s warning that this would be the worst winter in years, Cait wished she did not have to leave the warmth of the cottage. Unfortunately, just like the person stumbling by her window a few moments earlier, she had duties to see to and they would not wait simply because she preferred to stay warm and dry.

“At last you no longer have to compete for hot water and a place near the fire,” she reminded herself.

Once, she would not have awakened in this cottage. Then she had been a journeywoman, hoping to one day stand for Confirmation into the Order. Like so many others over the years, she spent her nights in one of the dormitories near the center of the Citadel. For much of that, she’d had her own room but had shared bathing facilities with the other journeymen. Meals had been taken in the common dining hall. The one advantage of living in the dormitory was that it was a quick jog across the courtyard to her classes.

She sipped her tea, her mind returning to the day when Kirris and Berral told her she would stand for Confirmation. At first, she could not believe it. She had not finished her studies. Others who had been preparing much longer than she would not be joining her in the Trials. Despite that, and despite her protests, the Knight-Commandant and the Adept assured her it was time.

Much as she wanted to serve the Lord and Lady, nothing had prepared her for that day. Or for what happened after she proved herself worthy to become a member of the Order. Even now, looking at her forearms and the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with, she sometimes wondered when she would wake and find herself returned to the nightmare that had been her life before coming to the Citadel.

Turning away from the window, Cait counted her blessings. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave, to be used and abused by Dante Giaros. The patrons of the Black Duck Tavern had turned a blind eye to everything happening. Then Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, had arrived and her life had been forever changed. He rescued her from her enslavement and brought her to the Citadel where she worked hard to prove herself worthy, not only of all Fallon had done for her but of joining the Order. She might not remember life before waking in the slaver’s tent the day Giaros took possession of her but one thing she did know. She wanted to join the Order. She was meant to do so.

What she had not expected was for the Lord and Lady to prove They had a perverse sense of humor. With her Confirmation, Cait became not a knight or a cleric. As with her time as a journeywoman, she showed no specific Calling. Indeed, she had excelled in all her Trials and the Lord and Lady rewarded her not only with Their markings but with her ranking. She now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough to worry about with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.

In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.

The wind howled again, rattling the windows and finding every crack, no matter how small, to seep inside. Shivering Cait considered moving at least her first class of the day inside. No one would blame her if she did. No one but herself. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before and the weather then had been almost as bad as now. The yeomen had not only lasted the entire class without asking to go inside but they had thrived. They seemed to immediately grasp one lesson not always taught in a classroom – wars and battles are rarely fought in good weather and under comfortable conditions. Surely if the yeomen could understand that, so could the journeymen.

She finished her tea and returned the mug to her small kitchen. A few minutes later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur-lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who it could be, she crossed to the door and opened it.

“Your pardon, Lady Cait.”

As he spoke, the journeyman lifted his gloved hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had reached the Citadel before her Confirmation. They were still dealing with the repercussions from all that had happened.

Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked like he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your immediate presence in the council chamber.”

Cait studied the young man, hoping for an explanation. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knight’s Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been necessary. That Knight-Commandant Kirris saw fit to call one that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.

“Thank you, Jaysen.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Journeywoman Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I can. If she is unable to, let me know at once.”

“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.

Cait closed the door and fought the urge to beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she had come to feel at ease with yet.

Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the session. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough for a few adjustments to her wardrobe.

Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in its braid, had been released from the tight bun she wore when teaching weapons. Now it hung down the middle of her back. She now wore a white silken blouse under a black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick-release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and scabbard where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. She would go into this session reminding the other members they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.

Nothing else mattered in the grand scheme of things.

***

To see the beginning of Cait’s story, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails. Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission. Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

A pre-order and something new

Like Punxsutawny Phil, the writer slowly sticks her head out of her burrow and looks around. Unlike the thrice-damned ground hog who foretold of more winter to come before hiding back inside his hole, I welcome the sun. The last two months have been interesting, in the not-so-fun sort of way. But I have seen the light at the end of a tunnel — note, I don’t say “the tunnel” because I learned long ago that life consists of a lot of tunnels and then clear areas. And that means I have pulled the lever and have a new title up for pre-order on Amazon.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is available for pre-order — finally. I’m very proud of this book and, in my opinion, it is even better than the first book of the series,Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

Not only is Dagger available for pre-order but I got hit with the opening of Nocturnal Rebellion yesterday as well. When I say “hit”, I mean in the sledgehammer sort of way. My muse has once again proved she is not only evil but that she revels in it. This is very rough it was one of those moments where I had to drop everything to get the general idea down.

***

The bullpen fell silent as the chief of detectives moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger but mostly anger. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they stepped out the door. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.

“This squad has faced a number of challenges the last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes with thumb and forefinger. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as detectives for DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.

“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You lost one of your own the other day. Tomorrow, we will lay your fellow detective to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.

“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves or the rest of the force down to those bastards level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and we will be in the viewing chamber on the day they are brought in for their execution.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”

As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence once more fell over the squad room.

Snip, clip and pic

Apologies for the silence this past week but I’ve been up to my eyes in remodeling chores around the house. There has been patching of walls — especially the one place in the hallway that BratCat decided was his place to try to dig through the drywall. The only thing was, this spot was about 3 1/2 feet off the ground. So, he would jump, claw and rip. At least he has left the patch alone. — painting, cleaning and final touch up. There has been furniture shopping and carpet cleaning. The result is a new office for me (still in the final fix-up phase but at least workable) and a remodeled bedroom for my son when he comes home as well as other guests. Oh, and a very sore and tired body.

The downside of all this has been little writing, relatively speaking, has been happening. I can still make my NaNo goals but it means picking up the pace some. Unfortunately, today is going to be a lost cause between workmen coming to the house, a lunch date and then a meeting tonight. So, while I have a few minutes today, I’m going to try to blog and get some writing done.

But, to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, here is a picture of part of the study. The bookcase runs from the floor to almost the ceiling, with books and a few other things on top, basically making floor-to-ceiling. I spent the better part of two days going through the books in it, clearing out those that could be donated, setting aside those to be checked before determining what to do with and moving some of my books from various nooks and crannies around the house.

20161116_120701

The chair in the bottom left hand corner will be going away eventually, when my old lady cat lets me take it out. That’s why there’s a towel in it. She likes to sleep there — after doing a lot of kneading. The ancient TV, kept for older gaming systems and the built-in DVD player, is sitting atop a circa 1940 RCA Victor radio. The radio was rescued from a closet in my grandmother’s house more years ago than I want to admit. A guy I dated for awhile restored the radio to working order and it is something I treasure. Here is a shot of it. Sorry for the glare. I have window film on order to cut that out.

20161116_120646

Here is a quick snippet from the rough draft of Dagger of Elanna. No, I’m not posting this in order. Nor am I going to give context. Why? Because I’m evil. VBEG

***

Cait stood before the fireplace and stared into the flames of the fire someone had built up before she arrived. If asked, she would have been hard pressed to name another time when she had felt so cold. She never should have taught all her classes without the proper outerwear, especially when rain and sleet mixed with the snow. But after doing so with the yeomen the day before and then taking the journeymen on a run that morning, she had little choice. She refused to be the instructor the students believed had favorites. Besides, she had taught them an important lesson. At least she hoped she had. The sooner they understood conditions would rarely be optimal when they were forced to take up their blade to defend themselves or someone else, the more prepared they would be for trouble should it find her.

For the most part, her students had quickly accepted the lesson. A few, like Isabella, had actually taken to the lesson. Then there was Ciaran. She sighed and hugged the quilt she had thrown across her shoulders close. The day’s classes had left her with a great deal to consider, where Ciaran was concerned. After the day’s lesson, and especially after the way he had taken that cheap shot at Yasmin, Cait wondered if he would ever accept the fact his father’s position in the Imperium had nothing to do with his role in the Order.

Had she and Jerrod added to the problem where Ciaran was concerned by having her teach that particular journeymen’s class? Yes, she was newly Confirmed into the Order but she was something very different from those who had been Confirmed with her. That was something she still had a hard time accepting. Why had the Lord and Lady chosen her the way They had? She looked at her markings and shook her head. She could not deny she had been blessed by the gods but that blessing set her apart, no matter what her friends and mentors said.

Perhaps it would be best to ask Jerrod to assign Kala or one of the other knights to teach that particular journeymen’s class. Let Ciaran finally see his father’s position meant nothing to them and it most certainly did not accord Ciaran a senior member of the Order as his instructor.

A knock interrupted her thoughts. Before she could call out, the door opened and Berral stepped inside. Cait grinned ruefully as the Adept moved quickly to place a tray on the low table in front of the fireplace. The enticing aromas of hot soup, fresh bread and roasted vegetables filled the room. Cait took a step toward the table and then stopped as Berral shook her head.

“You are going to catch your death if you keep teaching without wearing your winter gear, child.” The Adept reached out and lightly touched Cait’s forehead. “And you are still chilled. Go bathe. Your food will stay warm while you do.”

Not giving her a chance to protest, Berral escorted her through the sleeping room to the bathing room. Like a mother with a recalcitrant child, the Adept simply motioned for Cait to begin undressing. As she did, Berral drew her bath, carefully adjusting the knobs and water from the hot springs under the Citadel soon filled the room with steam. When she slid into the hot water, Cait signed in relief.

“So, why did you feel it necessary to do without your winter gear today, child? You promised you would not do so again unless absolutely necessary.” Concern filled the Adept’s voice.

Cait slid further into the tub until only her face was above the water. “I hadn’t planned on it, Berral. Unfortunately, it became necessary.” She lay there, letting the heat from the water seep into her, warming her, and explained. “Ciaran continues to be a problem. His attitude is bad enough but today, after Kala called an end to an exercise – one in which Yasmin proved his greater size is not all he needs to win a fight – he struck Yasmin. He knew the exercise had ended and Yasmin had moved away, dropping her guard. He took advantage of her trust in us to try to harm her.” Anger laced her voice as memories of how Avrim had done even worse to her pushed against her.

“Is she all right?”

“She is and Ciaran is lucky their classmates did not get hold of him. It won’t surprise me to learn they have figured out a way to teach him how foolish he was.” She doubted they would harm him, but they would get the message across. Whether he heeded it was something entirely different. “Berral, he has been here long enough to understand his father’s status in the Imperium does not entitle him to special privileges or treatment. Yet he continues to try to use that status to his benefit.”

The older woman nodded, her expression serious. “Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with him?”

“I thought to speak with Jerrod about assigning someone else to teach the class. The others understand that, though I am the Knight-Cleric, I am also one of the newest Confirmed members of the Order. All Ciaran sees is that the third highest ranking of the Order is teaching the class. He sees it as reinforcement of his status.”

For a moment, Berral said nothing. Then she shook her head and smiled ruefully. “None of us thought about that possibility when we determined your teaching schedule. But it does explain why you taught your classes outside and without wearing your winter gear.”

“In a way it does.” She sat up and reached for the washcloth hanging over the edge of the tub. “I had the yeomen’s class work without winter gear yesterday. After Ciaran’s missteps today, I felt it necessary to make a point with his class. Once I had, I thought it best not to appear to have a favorite class by having them all work outside and that meant I had to make the same points with them I had with the morning’s journeymen’s class.”

“I wish I could say I did not understand and certainly did not approve, but I do both. However, you must promise not to do this again, not for a while at least. We cannot afford to have you make yourself ill.”

“I have no intention of doing so, Berral. I promise.”

“I’ll leave you to finish bathing. Your dinner will be ready when you are done.” The Adept walked gracefully to the door and then turned and smiled. “I will send word to both Jarrod and Alicia that we need to meet over breakfast come morning. They may have an idea or two the best way to deal with Ciaran.” With that, she left the bathing room, closing the door behind her.

Cait smiled slightly and once more lowered herself into the warm water. For the first time in hours, she did not feel so cold she would have sworn her bones might shatter if someone bumped into her.

***

Dagger of Elanna is the second book in the Sword of the Gods series. It will be available for pre-order in the next week to ten days. Release date will be shortly after that. The first book of the series, Sword of Arelion is currently available as e-book and in print.

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

A Tease

I’m not exactly sure where this scene will occur in Dagger of Elanna. Well, that’s not quite right. I know but I’m not telling. VBEG.

A cold wind, as cold as his master’s heart, whipped through the trees. The moisture in the air, not quite frozen but near enough not to matter, felt like knives cutting through his exposed skin. Snow covered the ground for as far as he could see. What he would not give to be warm.

Shivering, he pulled his hood tighter around his face, swearing as he stumbled over something hidden by the snow. Plodding along at his side, the dappled gelding whickered in ill-temper. Neither of them liked being out. Unfortunately, he had no choice. If he wished to continue living, he had to do as he had been told.

Twelve hours earlier, he had been warm, well-sated and safe inside his small cottage. Then a knock sounded at his door. Little had he known that simple action would change his life and not for the better.

Not that it had been unexpected. He had known the summons would one day come. That was the price he had to pay for practicing the black arts. Blood magic was only part of his repertoire and that would earn him death should he ever be brought before the Imperial courts. But should the Imperium discover his other talents, death would not come fast enough. So, when his master sent for him, he knew he had no choice. He either did as instructed or he died. The choice had been an easy one, at least at first. Now, knowing what he did about his master, he wished he had refused.

Slogging through the snow, he knew the chances of successfully completing his mission were slim. Had it been otherwise, he never would have been sent for. His master preferred keeping him and his pets close to hand. What he had not known when he left his cottage was how bad the situation would turn out to be. Now he feared he would not be the only one to suffer his master’s wrath.

Death would be welcome compared to what his master would do to him and all those he cared about should he fail in this mission. A mission he never would have been forced to accept but for the failure of that bastard son Wolf. If his master had asked sooner, he would have told him not to trust anything so important to a skin walker. They were well-suited for violence but not for stealth or patience. Their bloodlust all too often led to them making mistakes. The fact Wolf and his pack were now dead, Gareth knew his prediction had been right.

Wolf and his pack would not be the only ones to die. Their failure to complete their mission would soon result in the deaths of all they cared for. Their master would see to it. When failure happened, those responsible, should they still live, tended to die painfully as did their families. Those who successfully did as instructed were, on the other hand, well-rewarded.

Not that it helped him any just then.

As he neared the edge of the tree line, he glanced across the wide open area of fields and training rings. Beyond them lay the Citadel. The home of the thrice-damned Order of Arelion had been built to be easily defended. Resting atop a tall hill, almost a mesa, three sides formed cliffs leading down to the river. The fourth side, the side he currently surveyed, was nothing but open land, easily watched and guarded. Anyone approaching, either across the fields or by the trade road, would be seen long before they reached the main gates.

His master knew that but cared not. He had given Gareth one order: watch the Citadel. Report who came and went and, should the opportunity arise, kill the girl.

All of which would be easier said than done, as Wolf and his pack discovered. At least he had one tool Wolf had not. He had his pet.

At the thought of his only companion other than his horse, he turned to the gelding. A slight smile touched his lips at the sight of the black raven perched on the pommel of the saddle. Except, when one looked closely, they would see it was not a raven. In fact, it was not alive, not in the strict sense of the word. The bird was a construct, something created from blood and magic. His blood and his magic, as well as the blood of others. Bound to him, the construct was as much a part of him as was his heart or brain.

That alone was enough to turn his blood cold as he looked once again toward the Citadel. Whatever his master might do to him should he fail paled when he considered what the Order might do should they discover him spying on them. To begin, the would destroy the construct and that would be like destroying a part of himself. It would very much be like stripping him of his soul.

The Order did not understand the glory, the power, of blood magic. They were too bound to the Lord and Lady, too blinded to the power they could wield if they would just allow themselves to stray even a little from the Codes. Because of that, they would strip him of his magic, of all that made him. He had no doubt if he failed to answer their questions, they would imprison him or worse. They might allow him to live, a pale shadow of himself, but his family would not be so lucky. If such an existence could be called lucky. No, his master would make sure those he cared about suffered as he should have.

He couldn’t even run. Damn his luck. He should have trusted his instincts the day before when the knock sounded at his door and the messenger said their master wanted to see him. It had been years since the man, if he could still be called such, had issued such a summons. In that moment, every instinct had screamed for him to run and hide. It had warned him not to answer the door. But, unfortunately, his had become over-confident. Ego had overridden common sense and now he found himself in a situation with only two possible outcomes — death or worse.

Standing in the shadows of the trees, he closed his eyes. For a moment, the world seemed to shift under his feet. A moment later, he looked out of this construct’s eyes. He heard the sounds of the forest around them through the construct’s ears. It was time to set the raven to watch. Then he could locate a safe place to set up camp.

A few moments later, he opened his eyes and extended his arm. He watched as the construct hopped onto his gloved fist, much as a living bird would have. The raven cocked its head to one side as he held it close. The feathered head rubbed against his cheek and he smiled slightly. The bond between them was strong and growing stronger. That meant the raven could keep watch on the Citadel while he remained out of sight. That was the best plan, the only plan, he had been able to come up with on such short notice. His master might not approve but his master was not the one risking life and limb watching the Order.

“You know what to do, my pet.” His fingers caressed the construct’s head. “Watch them. Let me see any who come and go. Look for the girl. She is our target. Find her. Our lives depend on it.”
The construct nodded, almost human-like, and unfurled its wings. A moment later, Gareth lifted his arm and watched as the bird took flight. It would keep watch and let him know if trouble neared.

As the construct wined ever closer to the Citadel, he turned and moved further into the trees, the gelding pacing after him. If he wanted to be warm that night, he had best find some place to set up camp. The last thing he wanted was to be forced to cold camp, especially with more snow moving in.

Hopefully, there would be a cave nearby he could ensorcel, one where no one could see his fire or sense his magic. Then he would be safe to practice his craft and find a way to complete his mission without it costing him his life.

***

Dagger of Elanna is the second book in the Sword of the Gods trilogy. Here’s some information about the first book in the series.

Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1)

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Publication notes and a snippet

As I noted in earlier posts, I got waylaid by my muse last month and wound up having to write an unscheduled book. It happens sometimes. I don’t like it when it does but I have learned not to fight the muse when she gets into that mood. Anyway, Witchfire Burning is finished, has been edited and proofed and is ready for publication. It will go live on Amazon Friday, assuming everything goes right, and the print version will be available in a couple of weeks.

Because of the Halloween season, and because Witchfire Burning is coming out this week, I’ll be releasing the novella Skeletons in the Closet on the 25th of this month. Skeletons shares a setting and some characters with Witchfire Burning. Skeletons is the first of what will probably be three novellas centering on Lexie Smithson and her rather unusual family, even by Mossy Creek standards.

Dagger of Elanna will be released on November 22nd, fingers crossed. The book is finished but needs some more work on the editing front before I send it off to beta readers and then my editor. I also need to talk with my cover designer to see if we are on the same page regarding the cover image and typography or if we need to do some reworking of it.

After that will come Victory from Ashes. I’d like to have it out before the end of the year but I’m not making any promises. At the same time, I need to be working on the next Nocturnal Lives book. I’ve been putting it off because it will probably be the last book in the series. No, I’m not leaving Mac and company behind but that particular story arc is coming to an end. There will be some short stories and novellas here and there until I figure out how to handle the next “chapter” in their lives.

Series and series ends have been in my mind of late. I think we have all read series that kept going long after the author should have ended them. The characters either quit growing or they turn into something that bears little resemblance to the character we first knew and loved. The author writes in a way that you wonder if they no longer like the series. I am seeing this happen now with several series I have enjoyed reading. One I have quit buying altogether. One is no longer on my buy it as soon as it comes out — of course, part of that is my refusal to pay $13.99 or more for an e-book. The third has just dropped from my buy the hardcover to wait for the e-book to go on sale. So I want to be able to wind up this current story arc in a satisfactory way for the readers and the characters and then start a new arc that will keep my attention as well as my readers.

So, that’s my schedule for the next six months or so. Well, almost my schedule. There will also be at least one more short story in the Honor and Ashes universe, probably coming out shortly before Victory from Ashes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll figure out my schedule for next year and post it. Of course, I’m afraid of doing that because Myrtle the evil muse seems to take that as a challenge to see how many times she can pull me out-of-schedule and force me to write something I hadn’t planned on.

And now for the snippet. This is the opening chapter from Witchfire Burning. A version of the first part appeared on this blog about a month and a half ago. Those of you who read Mad Genius Club will recognize most, if not all, of the snippet. However, since I hadn’t posted it all here, I thought I would today. As with everything here, all rights reside with me. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

Read More

Witchfire Burning

I’ve discussed before the novel that demanded it be written. Okay, I’ve had several like this but this particular one was very loud and would not sit on the back burner after I made enough notes that it should have been quiet. What made this particular novel interesting in that infuriating kind of way is that it didn’t have a title. Usually, I know the title of a book by the end of the first chapter. This one, nope. Myrtle the Muse used this particular book to torment me in a number of ways. The title, the fact she didn’t reveal who the bad guy was until I was more than halfway through, etc. What I hadn’t expected was that I would come to love the characters as much as I did or that it would wind up tying into a book I’d already written as a stand alone.

wf3withtagI guess this is all a roundabout way of saying the book has a title now, as well as a series title, and a cover. Witchfire Burning, as I said over on Mad Genius Club, is something of a mash-up of Slay Bells Ring (a romantic suspense) and Skeletons in the Closet (UF/modern fantasy and still unpublished). That’s mainly because it demanded it take place in the same setting as Slay Bells but it has elements of modern fantasy/UF. Oh, and it has a semi-sentient house. There are also character overlaps between the books. Below is an excerpt. There may be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

It’s my day at MGC

If it’s Tuesday, it means I’m blogging at Mad Genius Club. I’m going to mirror that post here.

Here a book, there a book, oh my evil muse

Reading Dave’s post yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dr. Monkey and I had been sharing a brain. Mind you, Sarah and I often do — and I think she keeps it more often than she sends it back. What else, other than having an evil muse, would result in me trying to write three series, all very different, at the same time? Worse, since we have already established that Myrtle the Muse is an evil muse who takes extreme joy in tormenting me, why do I have friends like Pat Patterson who suggest that he’d like to see a standalone book turn into a series? That is all the encouragement Myrtle the Muse needs to go rogue yet again.

But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Don’t be surprised to see howls of outrage from the Amazon haters later today. In another shot across the bow of traditional publishing, Amazon has declared October to be “Powered by Indie” month. What I love is the sub-titled is “Celebrating great writing”. It even has the hashtag #poweredbyindie, so everyone can get in on the fun. Then there is the new “portal” leading to indie books.

As an indie author, I’m more than a little thrilled by this. At a time when traditional publishing continues to try to discount the impact indie authors and e-books have on the market, to see Amazon celebrating our work gives me the warm fuzzies. They can try to manipulate the data all they want, they can try to convince us that their numbers are the only numbers that matter, but I know what my monthly royalty checks look like and I hear what other indie authors are saying. The indie movement and e-books are here to stay and we are filling a need the trads aren’t, on the whole. As long as we continue to do so, we will continue to make a bigger and bigger impact on the industry.

With it being a month when Amazon celebrates indie authors, it is also a month when my muse is killing me. Last week, I posted a snippet of the book that had hijacked me. The book is finished. I’m trying to figure out a cover and, sigh, a title. For the first time ever, I have finished a book using only a placeholder title and have yet to figure out the final title. Or, bigger sigh, the series title. The working title has been “Coming home is hard to do”. Not bad but it most definitely doesn’t fit the book. It doesn’t signal the genre — or genres because this book is a mix and match of genres.

Worse, there is now a series title. And, yes, you read that right. A. Series. Title. Pardon me while I take a moment to glare at the aforementioned Pat Patterson as well as Uncle Lar, both of whom have condemned me to writing this particularly weird and warped and funny (and fun, at least for me) series. The series title — Trouble Knocks, Danger Follows — still isn’t what I’d like but it beats the working book title.

Now, it would be easy to simply title the series “Mossy Creek” since that is where the books take place. The problem is there is already a series, or two, with that name or a variation on it. So, nope. Not going to go that simple. The current series title works. It clues the reader to the fact there will be a mystery of some sort. It also reads as cozy, which most of the series is. However, it doesn’t clue to the sometimes paranormal/urban fantasy aspect the stories can take on. So it is really important that the actual book titles cue the readers to what sort of book they are getting. Skeletons in the Closet, the next in line, does that. Slay Bells Ring, coupled with the cover, did as well. The title indicated mystery and the cover the romance element. So why in the world can’t I figure out an appropriate title for the now finished novel?

Pardon me while I whine for a moment.

So today has to be spent figuring out the question of what to title the book and figuring out a cover. Oh, and writing. And editing. And doing the business stuff that goes along with being a writer. Yes, it is a never ending circle. But it is the profession I chose and one I love. And don’t tell Myrtle the Muse, but I love it even when she is being particularly evil. Or maybe I should say I love it despite her attempts to torture me. VBEG

This will be a busy month. I have to bring out the untitled work next week. If all goes as planned, Skeletons will come out the day before Halloween. Dagger of Elanna will be out middle of November to the beginning of December. After that, I have Victory from Ashes, the next Mac Santos book, and a return to the Huntedseries planned.

You would think that would be enough to keep Myrtle off my back for a bit. But noooooo. She ambushed me yesterday with another story set in Mossy Creek. This time, it’s not bad enough to have normals and Others. It’s not enough to have magic and the dead rising, but not as vampires or zombies. No, now I have a smart-mouthed reporter sent to town to do what she thinks is a poof piece — something she resents, especially since she really doesn’t believe all the stories. Sure, the Others have been “out” for years. But they are still like your Uncle Billy. You only admit their existence when you have to. Just because she decided to do a none too flattering piece on her boss’ cousin (or someone he cared for. Not sure who yet), she has been banished to Mossy Creek to do this piece. I have a feeling this one will be as much of a tongue planted firmly in cheek story as the first installment of Skeletons is. The only problem is it is almost as loud as the last book was and it is making it very difficult for me to work on anything else right now.

So if I seem more scattered than usual, that’s why. Myrtle the Muse is attacking with full force, cackling in my ear because she is distracting me and proving who really controls my writing. She’s evil, I tell you. Truly and completely evil. But then, I guess a writer’s muse needs to be, else we’d never get anything done.

Now, just to do a bit more push before the book comes out, here’s another snippet. You can find the first one here. This is the rough draft. There will be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

***

Of course, the drawback to moving about as far away from home as possible without leaving the Continental United States was that even by air it took hours to return to Mossy Creek. It had seemed such a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. Between worry for my mother and a very cranky five-year-old, I wanted a drink, some answers, food and sleep and not necessarily in that order.

Having to wait for my bag at luggage claim – and then making sure neither the gun nor anything else had gone missing – had not helped my mood any either. Following that had been the wait for the bus that would take us to the car rental hub and another line as we waited for the rental. After everything else, it didn’t surprise me one bit to discover that the mid-sized car I had reserved was not available. Oh, they were so very sorry and they would do their best for me. In the end, Ali and I drove off in a mid-sized SUV after making sure her booster seat had been properly installed.

Despite all that, we still managed to beat most of rush hour, which appears to start around three in Dallas, and I guided the SUV down Main Street in Mossy Creek a little before five. Ali had fallen asleep almost as soon as we left the airport, leaving me too much time to think and worry. Even though I knew there was probably a perfectly good reason for why my mother was nowhere to be found, I also knew there were a number of other very bad reasons.

“We at Grandma’s?” Ali asked sleepily as I parked the SUV. She stretched and looked around, a frown darkening her little face as she did.

“Not yet, sweetie. Momma needs to talk to someone first.”

I switched off the engine and climbed out of the SUV, grabbing the leather messenger bag I used instead of a purse as I did. I hurried around to the passenger side and helped Ali out. She reached for my hand and followed, almost dragging her feet as she looked around. A car slowed and the driver honked in greeting as we waited to cross the street. Habit born when I still lived here had me waving back even though I had no idea who the driver had been. That was just Mossy Creek. Everyone knew everyone else or at least acted as if they did.

A few moments later, I pushed open the door to the law offices of Metzger and Grissom. A slight smile touched my lips as I did. Julianna “Annie” Grissom and I met the first day of kindergarten and had become fast friends. Her grandfather, a great old man who had passed away a few years ago, was the Metzger on the sign. Annie and I had both fled Mossy Creek right after high school even if for different reasons. When she called almost a year ago and told me she had returned, I couldn’t believe it. But this was proof. She had hung out her shingle and, judging from the number of people still in the waiting room even though it was almost five, her practice was thriving.

“May I help you?” a blonde in her early twenties asked. Her desk sat next to the door leading to the rear of the office.

“Please. Moira Quinn O’Donnell to see Ms. Grissom.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth, I heard the whispering begin. That was the Mossy Creek grapevine at work. I had no doubt were I to turn to face those sitting and waiting to see Annie or Sanderson, I’d discover at least half of them with their phones out and fingers rapidly moving as they texted the news that yet another wayward daughter had returned to the fold.

Except I hadn’t returned, at least not permanently.

Nor did I plan to.

“Quinn?”

I closed my eyes and braced myself. I knew the moment I turned around, I’d be enveloped in a hug and then given a lecture for being gone so long. Standing there, looking not that different from when I’d left home was Peggy Russell, owner of Peggy’s Café. Located next door to the courthouse, the café had been the center of town gossip for longer than I’d been alive. Miss Peggy was also the town’s conscience and a key link in the grapevine. What she happened to be doing at the law office just then I didn’t know but I wouldn’t put it past her to be there simply because I was.

I plastered on a smile and turned. As I did, the color drained from my face as I recognized even more of those sitting nearby.  “Miss Peggy, it’s good to see you.”

She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. As she did, Ali tugged at my hand, reminding me she was there. “Momma, who’s she?”

I bent and lifted Ali, settling her on my hip. “Ali, this is Miss Peggy. If you’re real good, I’ll take you to her café for an ice cream tomorrow.” Miss Peggy’s brown eyes narrowed even more and I had no doubt what she was about to say. “Miss Peggy, this is my daughter, Ali.”

For a moment, she said nothing. Then she smiled and extended her hand to Ali. Gone was the intimidating woman and, in her place, was the short, grey haired grandmotherly figure I I remembered from my childhood. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Ali. You make sure your Momma brings you to the café for ice cream.”

“I will,” my daughter said just as seriously.

“Ms. O’Donnell, Ms. Grissom will see you now,” the receptionist said.

I nodded and chewed my lower lip. Before I could say anything, Miss Peggy reached out and gently touched my arm. When I looked at her, worry and something else filled her eyes. She suddenly looked older and more worn than I’d ever seen her. “Quinn, why don’t you leave her with me? I’ll take her to the café and you can join us there when you’re done.”

For a moment, I hesitated. Then I nodded. The last thing I wanted was for Ali to listen as Annie and I talked about what might have happened to my mother. “Thank you, Miss Peggy.” I shifted Ali slightly on my hip so I could look her in the eye. “Sweetie, Miss Peggy is a really good friend of mine. You go with her and I’ll come just as soon as I can.” Then I looked back to Miss Peggy. “If you don’t mind getting her some dinner, I’d appreciate it.”

“And ice cream?” Ali asked hopefully.

“Only if you eat everything else Miss Peggy serves you first.” I tried to look stern but failed. Unless Miss Peggy had changed a great deal in the time I’d been gone from Mossy Creek, she would make sure my daughter had all her favorites for dinner, including ice cream. Then I swung Ali to the floor and knelt in front of her. “Ali, you mind Miss Peggy and no–” I held my hands in front of me and wiggled my fingers. I would not, could not say it out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. Ali nodded seriously and then crossed her heart. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Miss Peggy,” I added and handed her Ali’s backpack.

“You do what you need to and don’t worry about this little one. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we, Ali?” She grinned down at my little girl and, seeing Ali smile back up at her, I relaxed a little. Ali normally did not respond well to strangers but Miss Peggy had always been good with kids, often to the chagrin of their parents.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ali said.

I gave Ali a quick kiss on the cheek and watched as she and Miss Peggy walked across the reception area hand-in-hand and out the door. Then I turned and hurried to where the receptionist waited for me.

“Quinn, it’s so good to see you!”

The moment the door closed behind me, Annie pulled me close in a rib-cracking hug. Then she held me away from her, her blue eyes looking me up and down. As she did, I felt every hour of travel and every mile we had covered. My jeans and tee shirt were rumpled. I had a feeling my short black hair was mussed and not in that sexy, just had sex sort of way. Compared to her black silk blouse and grey slacks, not to mention her red hair in its French twist, I had no doubts who looked like she belonged on the cover of a fashion magazine and who did not.

“Sit.”

I did as she said and watched as she moved to the antique hutch across the office. A moment later she turned, holding a glass of what was unmistakably whiskey She handed it to me and then moved to sit behind her desk. I waited, watching as she pulled a thick file from a drawer and placed it on the desktop.

“Quinn, I know you must have a million questions about why I had Carli call this morning.”

All I could do was nod. As I did, my stomach did a slow roll. I already didn’t like how this was starting.

“I’ll tell you what I can but, before I do, I need to ask a few questions.”

Another nod and I leaned back, breathing deeply. Then I took a sip of the whiskey, waiting for her to continue.

“To say I know little to nothing is putting it mildly.” I frowned. Of all the things she could have said or asked, that was the last thing I had expected. “Why?”

“After we left for college, she had my grandfather draw up a number of legal documents. When I checked her file this morning after learning she was missing, I was surprised by what I found.” She paused and opened the file, pulling out several documents. “Not only was there a will as well as living will and DNR, all things I’d have expected, but there was also a series of documents giving you complete control of all her assets, including the house, at any time when she is unable to deal with her own affairs or when she is unreachable. I think this situation more than satisfies the last requirement.”

She slid the first document across the desk to me. “This is her power of attorney. It gives you full access and control of her finances. You are to do whatever you think necessary for the upkeep of the house and her other holdings. It also gives you the power to liquidate any assets you feel necessary. It includes her bank accounts, credit cards, creditors. Well, you get the gist.”

I nodded. What else could I do?

Over the next half hour, and two whiskeys, Annie explained how Mom had made sure I had complete control of her assets should she be unable to handle her affairs for herself. The documents had been very carefully drawn up so that only Mom appearing and taking control back would void them. As I looked at them, noting several had been executed the day after I left for college, I was surprised and touched and more than a little suspicious. Mom had certain gifts, or talents as she called them, but precognition wasn’t one of them, at least not as far as I knew. Had she seen the need for such legal steps or had she simply been covering all her bases? Whatever the answer, once she was home, the two of us were going to have a very long talk.

“Because I know what it’s like to come back here and have little surprises sprung every time I turned around,” Annie continued, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I won’t do that to you. I know this is more than you can take in right now. So I want you to call or come see me when you start figuring out what questions you need to ask.”

“Thank you.” I remembered her calls to Montana last year, telling me how her grandfather had seemed to be reaching out from beyond the grave to surprise her and tie her to Mossy Creek. The fact she had not run for the hills spoke volumes about – well, I’m not sure what it spoke volumes about since she had not only stayed in Mossy Creek but had gotten married and opened her law practice here.

“The documents in the file are yours. They’re certified copies and they should be more than enough to satisfy the bank and anyone else you might need to deal with until your mother takes over again.”

I nodded, glad she still seemed to hope Mom would be found alive.

“Here are keys to the house.” Now she did grin and I blew out a breath. She knew my issues with the house. Growing up, she had seen the gate refuse to let me in or, worse in some ways, slam shut as soon as I stepped through, catching my coat or some other article of clothing in it. “I also have keys to her Cadillac as well as several other vehicles, including a new Ford F150. A copy of her safe deposit box key and several others I have no idea what they are for are on the key ring as well. I checked my grandfather’s notes from when he first met with your mother and then when they later spoke about all this and the only thing I found was that your mother said you would know what the various keys were for.” She handed me the keys and then the file folder.

“Thanks.” There was no sense telling her I had no idea what the keys were for. Hell, I hadn’t known Mom had any vehicles besides her Cadillac. She always had a Cadillac. No matter how many miles she had on it, every three years she traded the current Caddy in on a new one. But to find out she had a pickup and more, that did surprise me. “Annie.” I shook my head, smiling slightly. It felt strange calling her that. Growing up, she and her brother had done their best to be called anything but the common nicknames associated with their given names. Not that I could blame them. When you are redheads and twins named Julianna and Andrew, the temptation to call them Anne and Andy – as in Raggedy Anne and Andy – you found other names to go by. “Have you heard anything else about my mom?”

“No. I’m sorry. Until they can get inside to check the house, there isn’t much the Sheriff’s Department can do except keep an eye out for her.” She shook her head, her expression worried. Then she smiled and moved around the desk to sit in the chair next to mine. “I had hoped you’d have Ali with you.”

Now I grinned. “I did.” When I told her how Miss Peggy had offered to take Ali to the café, Annie nodded, unsurprised. “Tell you what. Let me see what I can find out about Mom – and see if that damned house will let me in – and then we’ll set something up. I’d like you to get to know Ali.”

“Sounds good.” She glanced at her watch. “If you hurry, you should be able to catch the sheriff before he leaves for the day.” She paused again and I could tell she was trying to figure how to say something. “Quinn, I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not but Sheriff Glasser didn’t run for re-election. The new sheriff is Lucas Moore.”

Lucas Moore.

I smiled slightly. I knew that name. The image of a tall, gangly teen who the kids today would term a geek or a nerd came to mind. He’d been a couple of years ahead of us in school. My brother Ciaran had adopted him and, as a result, Lucas had spent a lot of time at the house. Even though he’d never noticed me, I’d had a crush on him for the longest time. The last I heard, he had gotten a scholarship to some school back east. Surely that wasn’t who Annie meant.

I guess I would find out for sure sooner or later.

“He came in and did some housecleaning after the election. Glasser had run a pretty tight ship but after what happened with my mother, everyone knew he had been letting things slip. So, apparently, did he. He retired and Lucas won easily. The SD under Lucas is about the best in this part of the state. You can trust them to do everything possible to find out what’s going on.”

I hoped so. Otherwise, Mossy Creek was going to be reminded what happens when I refuse to let something drop.

“You’d best get on your way, Quinn. Lucas told me when he called that he would wait for you as long as he could. The sooner you get home and see what’s there, the better. Assuming the house – and I still say it is a great house even if it has a weird sense of humor – lets you in, you need to let the deputies take a look around.”

“I will – after I rescue Ali from Miss Peggy. Otherwise, I have a feeling my little girl will be so hyped on sugar I’ll never get her to bed.”

Annie’s grin did nothing to reassure me. “How about breakfast in the morning?”

“Sounds good but let me get back with you. I need to see what I find at the house first.”

Annie nodded, her expression serious. “Do you want me to come with you?”

It was tempting but this was something I needed to do on my own. Well, not quite on my own. Ali would be with me. “No. You get home to Sam and Robbie.”

For a moment, it looked like she might argue but then she nodded, a loving smile touching her lips. Seeing it, I reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. I’d been more than happy to learn she had married Sam Caldwell and adopted his son. Then, as she placed a gentle hand against her abdomen, I looked at her, arching one brow in question. Seeing the blush color her cheeks, I had my answer and leaned over to hug her.

“Don’t say anything. We haven’t told anyone yet.”

“I suggest you tell your grandmother and Sam’s folks before they figure it out.”

She blushed even more and grinned. Then she stood and pulled me to my feet. “I’m glad you’re home, Quinn, even if your mom’s pulled a disappearing act. Look at it this way, she could have copied my mother and been caught standing over the dead body of the man everyone thought was her worst enemy and who it turned out she had been having an affair with.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Annie’s mother had been the bane of her existence most of our lives. Annie returned to Mossy Creek after her mother’s arrest. Annie had almost lost her life proving her mother’s innocence. That she was now happily married and expecting her first child meant more to me than she’d ever know.

“You get yourself home, Annie. I’ll go see what the sheriff has to say.”

Instead of agreeing, she chewed her lower lip. A moment later, she pulled her cellphone from her pocket and placed a quick call. I listened, wondering what she was up to, as she asked to be connected with the sheriff. She waited, shaking her head before I could ask what she was up to. A few minutes and another phone call later, she slid the phone back into her pocket.

“Miss Peggy will have Ali and a to-go bag ready for you at the back door of the café in five minutes. That way you don’t have to run the gauntlet tonight.”

“Thanks.” I gave her another hug. It wouldn’t stop the grapevine but at least it would save what was left of my patience and probably my sanity. I had a feeling I’d need both before the evening was done. “I’ll call later to let you know what I find at the house.”

Five minutes later, I watched as Miss Peggy escorted Ali out the back door of the café. A few minutes after that, I parked in one of the half dozen spaces in front of the Sheriff’s Department. Before getting out, I looked at the building and a wave of memories washed over me. Growing up, I had paid more than one visit there, often in the back of a squad car. I hadn’t been special like my sister and brother. So, because I hated how they were always getting our mother’s attention, I had “acted out”, as they called it now. I knew better. I had been very close to being a juvenile delinquent. At least I’d managed to make very good grades at school. That got me into college with a full ride – even if my advisor and dean had warned me to keep my nose clean – and that had been when I left home.

With Ali’s hand firmly grasped in mine, I walked up the steps to the front door and stepped inside. Not much had changed in the years I’d been away. The metal detectors in front of the elevators were new but not much else. Then, as I tried to decide whether I should wait to see if the deputy manning the front desk greeted me or if I should call the sheriff, the elevator dinged and the doors slid open and the world seemed to come to a screeching stop.

Of everything I’d expected, this had to be the last thing, or close to it. It certainly was the last thing I needed just then. Of all the people in Mossy Creek, he had to be the one to step off the elevator. We’d often been at odds when we were in school. Then, in high school, we finally gave into the attraction we both felt and I lost my virginity to him. What should have been a time to remember fondly turned into a nightmare when, only a day or two later, I discovered that he’d been bragging about how he had bagged one of the O’Donnell girls. I wish I could say I wasn’t proud to admit I’d broken his nose and probably a couple of ribs when I jumped him after school and beat the hell out of him but I couldn’t. To be completely honest, he’d been lucky I wasn’t like the rest of my family. Otherwise, he’d have been turned into a toad – or worse.

Now he stood before me, big and tall and muscular, his nose slightly crooked from the damage I had done to it. At least he looked no more pleased to see me than I did him. God above, was this an indication of what this trip home was going to be like?

“Moira,” he all but growled and I had no doubt he used my first name because he knew I hated it. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Andy.”

He growled again as I returned the favor, using his hated nickname. Too bad. He ought to have better manners around my daughter.

Ali gave my hand a tug and I looked down at her.

“Mommy, why he mad at you?” She moved closer to me as Drew Grissom, Annie’s twin brother, looked down at her.

“He’s not mad at me, sweetie. Deputy Grissom is just having a bad day.” I looked at Drew, wondering if he understood what I wasn’t saying. If not, I hoped he remembered the consequences of opening his mouth when he should have kept it shut.

“That’s right.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Ally hugged my leg and looked up at him. I could tell from the way she tried to almost melt into me she was upset. That, in turn, only served to send my temper higher. But I couldn’t lose it now, not with her there. So, hoping to reassure her, I gently lifted her and settled her at my hip, smiling slightly as she wrapped her legs around my waist.

“Deputy, perhaps you can help us,” I said, doing my best not to let how I felt to see him show either in my voice or on my expression. “I’m supposed to meet the sheriff.”

Before he could answer, the elevator dinged and the doors once again slid open. Sheriff Lucas Moore stepped out. No doubt about it. It was the same Lucas Moore I remembered. He might have added a good four inches in height and a good fifty pounds, all of it muscles, but there was no mistaking him. For a big man – he had to stand at least six-four and weigh over two hundred pounds, he moved with a silent grace as he approached. Even though he said nothing, I knew he had instantly sized up the situation. To my surprise, however, instead of saying anything, he simply stepped forward and, with a jerk of his head, motioned Drew back. The look on Drew’s face spoke volumes and I had no doubt the two of us would be talking soon, whether I wanted to or not. But, for now at least, he would step back and follow the sheriff’s lead.

“It’s been a long time, ma’am. Don’t know if you remember me–”

“I do remember you, Lucas. It’s good to see you.” I smiled. I’m not ashamed to say it was more to irk Drew than anything else. “And it’s Quinn. Whenever someone says ma’am, I start looking for my mother.”

“I hear you there.”

He grinned and his face lit up. Damn, if he had looked like this in high school, every girl within twenty miles would have been after him. Drew’s growl – and what was it with him and growling? – brought our attention back to the matter at hand.

“Have you been to your mother’s house yet?” Lucas asked as he escorted Ali and me across the lobby toward the main doors.

“No,” I answered and went on to explain how I had stopped by Annie’s office first.

“Then why don’t we meet you there?” he suggested.

“Sounds good.”

We shook hands and, as Ali and I left the building, I heard him tell Drew to go get the car. Knowing this was my chance for a few minutes alone, I didn’t hesitate. With a firm grip on Ali, I jogged down the steps and to the SUV. Like it or not, it was time to go home.

Home.

Mossy Creek hadn’t been home for a long time. The only reason I’d come back was Ali. God, it had been hard enough to call my mother and tell her I needed help with her. My wonderful, perfectly mundane daughter had suddenly been anything but mundane. She had made the wind dance – fortunately, she had done some when we were alone. If that hadn’t been enough, she had then called fire. That had put the fear of God into both of us. If I hadn’t been there when she did it, or if the wrong people had seen. . . I didn’t want to think about the possibilities.

And that was only part of why I’d finally come home, the part Mom knew about. I’d waited to tell her the rest of it until we were here. Now it might be too late.

And this – Mom’s disappearance – was beyond the pale. How was I supposed to deal with whatever the hell my mother had gotten involved in this time with my little girl here? Having to deal with the Drew as well simple rubbed salt in the wound.

Ten minutes later, I pulled in front of the house I had grown up in, the house generations of my family had lived in. I parked on the street almost directly in front of the main gate. For a minute, I sat there, studying the house. The eight-foot tall stone fence with wrought iron toppers was designed for privacy and ran along three sides of the house. The front of the fence was wrought iron. Welded finials topped the fence; I knew from personal experience the finials were as effective at deterring someone from trying to climb the fence as they were decorative. Then there was the iron gate. It was closed, as it always was unless guests were expected. I didn’t need to get out of the car to know it was also firmly locked. Getting through the gate would be the first hurdle.

The house itself was one of the oldest homes in town. It also looked almost new. People for years had wanted to know how my family managed to keep in such good shape. No one saw workmen, not very often at any rate, doing any maintenance. When asked, each generation’s matriarch would simply smile and say it was an old family secret.

And man was it some secret.

Three stories, sprawling, balconies on the top floors for the bedrooms, it had been both a joy and a prison growing up. Not that any of my friends had understood. Well, a few had but their families had their own weirdness. That was the only thing that had kept me sane all those years. Mossy Creek isn’t your normal town and if you lived on this side of the tracks, weird was the norm of the day.

Wanting to get this part over before the cops arrived, I climbed out of the SUV. Part of me wished I’d dared leave Ali with Miss Peggy. She did not know about this part of my life and I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to explain to her that the house hated me and wouldn’t let me inside. But I hadn’t left her with Miss Peggy and I had to find out if the house was going to cooperate and let me in before the sheriff arrived.

“This where Grandma lives?” Ali asked as she craned her neck to look around.

Guilt washed over me at the question. In spite of my issues with the town and my family, I’d been wrong not to bring Ali here before now. At least Mom seemed to understand. Not once in the more than a dozen times she had come to Montana after Ali’s birth had she said anything about us not coming to visit. I knew she wanted us to but somewhere over the last eleven or twelve years she had come to understand that I would come back in my own time. I just hoped it wasn’t too late now.

“Yes, sweetie. This is where Grandma lives and it’s I grew up.” I drew a deep breath and said a quick prayer that the house wouldn’t do something I’d regret. “It’s a very special house. Did you know the gate only lets people your grandma wants inside?”

Please let it let me inside.

I could count on one hand the number of times the gate had not played its games with me. It let me know in a number of different ways that it did not approve of me. I was a disappointment. I wasn’t like the rest of the family. Because of that, I had little faith that it would let me in now. But maybe it would let Ali in. After all, she was special, just like my mother and my siblings.

Almost without realizing what I was doing, I started talking, partly to Ali and partly to the gate. I needed to get inside, not for myself but for my mother, for Ali and for the rest of the family. The gate knew I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important. Please, let me in. I would do only what was necessary and then leave. But I needed to find out what happened to my mother. Was Mom even inside?

The gate swung open slowly, soundlessly. Knowing better than to hesitate, I slipped inside as quickly as I could, not trusting that it wouldn’t try to slam shut on me. It didn’t surprise me when the gate swung shut behind me. That’s what it always did. Family was allowed inside – usually. But no one else, not without family approval and, until I knew Ali and I could get inside, I wasn’t going to leave the gate open.

“That was neat, Momma.” Ali grinned gaily as she looked over my shoulder at the gate. “Can you make it do it again?”

I smiled and rubbed my cheek against hers. “Maybe later. Let’s see if we can get the house to let us in now.”

I put Ali down and took her hand. Together, we approached the three steps leading up to the porch that ran the length of the front of the house. I slowed and Ali matched her pace to mine. Then I once again began talking, this time to the house, reminding it I was family. I had grown up there. Yes, I had been gone a long time but it knew the blood and, despite everything, I was of the blood. I needed to get inside. I had the key – and I held it before me in my left hand. But I knew that would not work if the house wanted to keep me out. Please, I needed to get in because I was worried about my mother.

Swallowing hard, I reached out, key in hand. Just before I slid the key into the lock, the knob turned and the door swung open. Ali giggled happily and pulled at my hand, wanting to go inside. This was it. Like it or not, I was home and the house had recognized me. Now I needed to do a quick sweep of the house before the sheriff arrived. After all, who knew what my mother might have been doing and whether it was something normals – well, as normal as anyone in Mossy Creek could ever be – needed to know about.

Dagger of Elanna — snippet 4

As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here , Snippet 2 here and Snippet 3 here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

The glass flew across the room, shattering against the far wall. He was surrounded by fools, nothing but incompetent fools. That thrice-damned Wolf had failed him time and again. His death at the hands of the Order had been the only thing that saved him from being sacrificed upon the altar to Balaar. The skinwalker had lied to him. To him! He had assured him the girl had died in the ambush. Then, when finally forced to reveal the truth, Wolf had promised on penalty of death to hunt her down and kill her. Even then Wolf had failed him. Instead of being the hunter, Wolf had become the hunted.

Wolf’s death may have denied him one victim but the man’s family would replace him. They would serve as a reminder to anyone foolish enough to consider betraying him what the penalty for such foolishness would be. It did not matter who they were or what their personal connection to Wolf. They would die, screaming Balaar’s name and begging for mercy, and all because the head of their family had failed in one simple task.

Their deaths would not enough to make up for the Order now knowing the girl – no, the young woman – was in danger. It had taken steps after Wolf’s death, steps that had driven his contacts within the walls of the Citadel out lest they be discovered. Now security within the Citadel was so tight few could come and go without first being vetted by the Knights Council. That meant the likelihood of getting any of his people in place any time soon was negligible. Something else the skinwalker’s family and friends would pay dearly for.

Damn Wolf!

And damn his successor. The magicker had assured him nothing would go wrong. If he could not be physically near the Citadel, watching and reporting, his constructs would be. At first, everything had gone as Gareth promised. For more than a month, daily reports came in. They might have reassured him the target had not managed to slip her watchers again. But the magicker had been no more successful at arranging her death than had Wolf. Still, the daily reports had at least proven the magicker had not betrayed the mission.

Until that morning. The expected report had not come. Nor had Gareth responded when his pet magicker at the keep tried to contact him. Mykel had stammered, his fear a stink that filled the room. He knew not why Gareth failed to respond. Nothing he tried brought a response from Gareth or the construct. All but pissing himself, Mykel had begged not to be killed for the failure of another.

Gods above and below, what did it take to kill one woman?

He turned to the guard standing near the door to his rooms. “Have the prisoners been secured?”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard never looked at him, his expression never wavered. But there could be no mistaking the fear in his voice.

“Bring mother and son to me. Now!” Before the guard slipped out of the room, he changed his mind. “No, bring them to the dining hall. Send word to my family and advisors to make their way there at once. Any who tarry very well may join the prisoners.”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard saluted and hurried off down the corridor.

Ten minutes later, he made his entrance into the dining hall. He nodded once to see all he had sent for gathered at the far end of the room. As one, they turned and bowed. Without breaking stride, he motioned them forward. He wanted them to see what he had planned. The lesson would be clear. Fail him and all they cared for would be destroyed. More importantly, they would see to it that word of what happened was spread. No one would dare fail him again.

Without a word, he approached the two figures in the center of the room. Long tables formed a “U” around them. At other times, this area would be filled with musicians or dancers. But now, it served a different purpose. The entertainment would be his alone.

“Your husband and father failed me. He knew the price and now you and the rest of your family will pay it.”

He stood before a woman in her middle years and a young man who had just seen his twentieth summer. They had been stripped by his guards. Filthy rags gagged them. Their arms were chained over their heads and their ankles secured to bolts in the floor. They were not the first to entertain him here and they would not be the last.

He reached out, one hand running from the young man’s chest to his abdomen and below. As he did, the woman jerked against her bonds, her cries of protest muffled by her gag. She was protective of her cub, that much was sure. But how would the young man react when the tables were turned.

“Such a pretty boy,” he purred as he continued his exploration. “But your mother has her own enchantments. Perhaps I should sample her charms before playing with you. What say you?”

The young man did not disappoint. He flung himself against his bonds, anger and fear at war with one another. Good, so very good. Breaking the mother and son might at least partially make up for Wolf’s failure. Then he would let them live long enough to see the rest of their family executed before he slid his own knife into their hearts.

“I think I will start with the boy. Move him to the table.” An almost feral smile touched his lips. “Uziel.” He turned his attention to his youngest son who stepped forward

“Yes, m’lord?”

“Get the woman ready for me. Use her as you will. Hurt her. But do not kill her. Do not let her lose consciousness. I want her aware of everything I am doing to her son even as she knows all you are doing to her. Fail me in any way on this and you will take her place.”

“As you wish, m’lord.”

Uziel studied the woman, a thoughtful expression on his face. Then he instructed the guards to move her to the same table where her son was being secured. As he did, Gavril Dalasqua nodded in approval. The baron knew his youngest son took after him in ways his eldest son, Laion, never would. This day, Uziel’s actions would be a lesson for Laion. Only those strong enough to do that which was difficult survived and flourished. If Laion failed to learn the lesson, Dalasqua would shed no tears in naming Uziel his heir.

Soon, mother and son were bound to the table, head to head. What happened to one would be felt and heard by the other. The fact they could not actually see what happened would only make it worse for them. Their imaginations would work against them. Good. Their terror would translate to the other and, in turn, to those looking on.

“This is your only warning,” Gavril said as he turned to those gathered to witness his punishment of Wolf’s family members. “Failure will not be tolerated. These two will begin paying the debt owed by the head of their family. The rest of their relations will pay the balance on the executioner’s block. Guards, remove the prisoners’ gags. I want to hear their cries and hear them beg. For the rest of you, the guards will tell me if any turns away. You will watch everything that happens here or you will join these two.” He waited, watching as one after another of those gathered slowly nodded. Their fear, almost as strong as that of the prisoners, filled the air. Good. Let them remember who held the power and who had been chosen by Balaar as his human hand. “Uziel, you may begin.”

“As you command, m’lord.”

The sound of the young man’s fist striking the woman and her cry of pain was soon echoed by that of her son as Gavril went to work. Unlike Uziel, he used a blade, leaving a shallow but painful cut across the prisoner’s chest. Perhaps this was the day to teach his youngest just what could be done with a blade without actually killing the prisoner. It wasn’t as if they did not have enough volunteers to practice on. Wolf had been prolific as a sire if nothing else.

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here and Snippet 2 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

*   *   *

The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried her mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside.  The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and she shivered slightly.

The early morning sun reflected brightly off the snow. Cait hissed in a breath as the glare triggered a new round of pounding in her head. She should never had stayed as late as she had at the tavern. The fact she had drunk more than normal did not help either. But it had been worth it to spend the time with Fallon. Hopefully, he would not have to leave the Citadel any time soon. There was so much she wanted to tell him, not to mention everything she wanted to ask him.

Days like this she wished she could stay inside. But that wasn’t to be, not today at least.

More than a month and a half had passed since she stood for Confirmation. There were still times when she had to look at her forearms and see the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with to believe everything that had happened. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave to Giaros, his to use and abuse as he saw fit. She had prayed for death during those long, dark times. Then Fallon had entered the tavern and her life had been forever changed. He had brought her to the Citadel where she had worked hard to join the Order. But never had she expected what happened when she stood for Confirmation.

No longer a student, a journeywoman in the Order, she now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough on her plate with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times when she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.

In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. Keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.

Still, hearing the wind howling outside and seeing snow swirling in the air, she shivered and wished she could stay inside, warm and dry. It would be easy enough to change the location of her morning class from one of the outdoor training rings to the salle near the stables. Temping as it might be, she would not. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before. They had managed to not only survive the lesson but some had thrived with it. If they could do so, then so could the journeymen.  Their survival, not to mention the survival of those they were sworn to protect, might one day depend on it. Hopefully, she would not have to teach the class without the protection from the elements her cloak provided.

She finished her tea and returned her mug to the small kitchen. A few moments later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who could be out so early on such a nasty morning, she crossed to the door and opened it.

“Your pardon, Lady Cait,” the journeyman standing before her said.

As he spoke, he lifted his hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had come to the Citadel before her Confirmation.

Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked as if he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your presence in the council chamber at once.”

Her frown deepened. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knights Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been held. That Knight-Commandant Kirris had seen fit to call on that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.

“Thank you, Journeyman.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Lady Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I possibly can.”

“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.

She closed the door and lightly beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she felt at ease with yet.

Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the meeting. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough to make a few adjustments to her wardrobe.

Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in the braid she wore when teaching weapons, had been twisted into a tight bun at the base of her skull. She now wore a white silken blouse under the black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and sheath where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the safe confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. Fallon had not given many details about his mission over dinner and drinks the night before but he had said enough to let her know he had found serious trouble. She had no doubt that was at least part of the reason for this unscheduled council meeting. So she would go in, reminding the other members that they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.

Nothing else mattered, not in the grand scheme of things.

***

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow By  Fxquadro

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow
By Fxquadro

I am back to work on this and it feels good to get back to Cait’s story. The very rough draft is done but there is a lot of work let to make it publish-ready. Part of that is finding the right cover. I really loved the image used for Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) and am seriously considering using another image from the same set it came from. Here is one of the images I’m considering.

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