Getting the creative juices flowing again

A couple of quick notes first. I have a blog post up at Twisted Writers today discussing what platforms you can look at when going the indie route. Coincidentally, my friend Cedar Sanderson has one up at Mad Genius Club on “the fading stigmata of self-publishing“. Finally, we got our first look at the new royalty payments for Kindle Unlimited titles and, so far, I am very pleased with what I’m seeing. I’ll be doing a post about that in the next few days. I want to take time to break everything down for July’s sales/reads and then compare them to June’s.

On the writing front, not much has been happening. I have warring stories in my head but the rewrite of the last half of Nocturnal Challenge has been, well, a challenge. I think I know what needs to be done but I am also at the point where I recognize that I need to step away from it for a few days to a week to let it start to gel in my mind. In the meantime, an older story I’d started but I put on the back burner some time ago has come back to haunt me. So, I’ll work on it and see if that doesn’t get the creative juices flowing again.

This story ran me off when I first started writing it because it came at a point when my craft was taking a jump — I’m not sure if it was a jump ahead or to the right or left. All I know is that my writing wasn’t the same comfortable writing I’d been used to. So it scared me and I put it away. Now, a couple of years later, I can see what the problem was and I can also see where my craft has, hopefully, improved since then. So, I’ve read the first couple of chapters and then put away the printout. Everything that comes from it comes from memory and I think it will actually wind up playing into the Hunter’s Moon series. I’m not sure about that yet or if it will start a new “world” for me to play in.

(As if I need yet another world. Sigh.)

Anyway, here’s this morning’s output. It may seem familiar to some of you guys. For others, I hope you like it. As always with snippets, this is the first draft. It is unedited and so there will more than likely be misspellings, comma faults and other grammar and punctuation errors.  Oh yeah, working title is Hunter’s Moon 4.

***

“There she is.”

The voice, slick like oil on water, came from the deepest shadows. A chill ran down my spine. My breath caught in a near-sob of frustration that I couldn’t quite hold back. Every instinct screamed for me to get up and run. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. All I could do was silently curse my bad luck and offer up a prayer. But for what?

For enough time to think. That’s all I needed. If I could think of a way to survive the next few minutes, I might manage to survive another day.

Maybe all was not yet lost.

Not that I believed it. I knew that voice. Gods, did I know that voice. My blood ran cold at the memory of the last time I’d heard it. My pulse beat an almost deafening beat as my heart tried to pound its way out of my chest. Every instinct screamed for me to get up and run. It didn’t matter where I ran just so long as I get away from there. I’d spent a lifetime praying I never heard that voice again because it meant only one thing – death was near.

But it had been so long. I’d actually convinced myself I’d finally managed to give him the slip.

Gods, I’d been beyond foolish. This encounter had been years in the making. I could no more avoid it than I could deny who – or what – I was.

But that didn’t mean I would stand still, patiently waiting for him to strike. I would never do that. Once before I’d fallen prey to him and it had almost cost my life. Never again would I let him lay hands on me. I’d take my own life before that happened.

Still, fear raced through me, forcing me to remember that terrible time. Panic quickened me pulse and clouded my mind.

No! Don’t panic. Not now.

Panic was what he wanted, what he expected. After all, it would weaken me even as it fed him. So I had to focus. My only hope was to stay calm and figure out a way to escape.

But how?

Slow your breathing. Settle your nerves. Still your heart. Feel the Earth and the Moon. Draw from them. You’re safe. Remember that. You’re safe for the moment.

“You’ve led me on a fine chase, so you have,” came that soft, menacing voice from somewhere behind and to my right.

Determination tinged with anger replaced the fear. With it returned the ability to think. I needed a plan before I moved from this spot. The moment I did, my protections would be gone and I would be at his mercy.

Unless I acted first and took him by surprise. That was my only hope. But I needed to know where he was before I did anything.

“Ah, Fiona, don’t tell me you’ve nothing to say.”

It was hard but I resisted the urge to respond. Let him think me too scared – or too foolish – to speak. It would keep him talking because he wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to taunt me some more. That would, I hoped, give me the time I needed to determine where he was in the darkness beyond the small clearing where I had cast my circle. As long as I remained within its protections, he was helpless to attack.

I hoped.

But the circle’s protection was limited and I knew it. I could not remain there forever. Unfortunately, he knew it too and he had proven to be a very patient hunter when the need arose.

So I remained where I was, kneeling in the center of the circle, my sword and ritual blade carefully placed on the grass before me. The warmth of the earth beneath my knees was like a gentle embrace and I drew it close, savoring the energy I felt growing from ritual and need.

SNAP!

It wasn’t much, but the sound seemed almost ear-shattering in the still night. The muscles of my neck twitched and I fought the urge to turn in the direction of the sound. Instead, I lifted my face skyward and spread my arms as if in anticipation of a lover’s embrace.

“I think little Fiona is afraid.” Menace dripped from his voice. “Come, girl. Don’t you want to play?”

Fool!

In all the years since we had last met, he’d learned nothing. His pride, always his greatest weakness, prevented him from even considering that I might have changed, might have grown in ways he hadn’t anticipated. That was good, very good – for me.

And, I hoped, very bad for him.

Eyes closed, I drew a deep, bracing breath. As I did, I felt him probing, pressing against my protections, trying to find a weakness. Let him try. Each moment he delayed in attacking was another moment I had to live and plan.

I lowered my arms and rested my hands on my thighs. Through barely opened eyes, I saw sword and dagger just inches away. My focus split between my weapons and the enemy circling me. All I had to do was wait for the right moment to act, to catch him off-balance.

Slow, even breaths. Calm. Don’t rush it. You are the last of the line and can’t fail.

Slowly, so slowly it was barely discernable, I reached for my weapons. They might not be much but they were all I had.

They have to be enough. Otherwise, all was lost.

“Come now, girl. Let’s put an end to this.”

The uncertainty and frustration tinging his voice were intoxicating. For so long just the thought of him had been enough to plunge me back into the nightmarish memory of our last meeting. I’d lost so much that day. He’d killed my sister and left me with the guilt of knowing Siobhan had sacrificed her life so I could live.

Maybe if I’d fought harder, if I hadn’t fled when Siobhan had told me to, Siobhan would still be alive. There were still nights when I woke, Siobhan’s cry of pain followed by that terrible dull thud of her body falling resounding through me.

Now I was about to fail my sister again. But at least we would be rejoined in death and there’d be no more nightmares, no more fear.

No! That is the fear talking. Look at him. He’s unsure and confused. He didn’t expect you to deny him. So act now, before you lose the advantage.

I would never know if it was my own words or my sister’s, but my resolve firmed. I wouldn’t give up. I would make him pay for what he’d done to Siobhan and to all the others. Then I would figure out how he’d found me. Otherwise more would come. I’d stop them. I always stopped them. And maybe, just maybe, I would find a way to take the battle back to where it began so long ago. Only then would I be able to end it.

“Just admit it, Fiona. You’re only postponing the inevitable.”

I ordered her body not to respond to his taunts. Instead, I remained where I was, kneeling in the center of my circle, my senses reaching out, noting everything around me. I was safe as long as I remained in the circle. All I had to do was choose the right moment to strike.

Wait . . . wait.

The tips of the fingers of my right hand slowly inched toward the smooth hilt of my katana. When they closed around the worn leather grip with the familiarity that belied all the hours I had worked with the blade, the corners of my mouth turned ever so slightly upward. He had no idea what I could do with the katana. He’d never expect me to actually wield it against him. After all, what sort of good Irish lass would use such a blade?

A smart one who knows her strengths and weaknesses.

It didn’t hurt either that I had never really been a good Irish lass. If I had, I certainly wouldn’t be kneeling in the middle of the woods in the dark of night. Nor would I be carefully planning the best moment to banish my circle and confront the man – the monster – who had haunted my dreams for so long. I most definitely wouldn’t be about to do battle, a battle that very likely would end in my death.

But I was damned if I’d die – AGAIN – without taking this beast from Hell with me.

Slowly, seemingly reluctantly, I climbed to my feet. The katana trailed from my right hand as if it weighed too much to hold before me. Somehow, my ritual blade had found its way into my left hand. I didn’t remember reaching for it, but I welcomed the feel of the hilt, the heft of the blade. Through my lashes I watched as he stepped closer, triumph lighting his expression. He obviously believed the battle already won. Hopefully, I’d be able to prove him wrong.

“Come play with me, Fiona. I promise you’ll not forget it.”

His voice rippled over me, soft as a caress. It would be so easy to give in. I was tired of running and hiding. I was tired of losing everyone close to me. Most of all, I was tired of fighting battles for those not deserving mercy, much less life.

Stop it! He’s putting those doubts in your head. Don’t listen to him.

Ruthlessly, I clamped down on those fatalistic thoughts. I knew better. If I listened, it wouldn’t lead to release and peace. It would only lead to torment and, if I was lucky, death. But only long after I had begged for it and then given up all hope.

Remember what he and his kind do to others, to those like you and to those who refuse your help.

Moving almost silently, he took another step forward, pressing against the edge of my circle. The night air crackled with power as he tested first one section of the circle and then another. He was probing for a weak spot, something to exploit in his attempt to get to me. All the while, he continued his soft, seductive promise to be merciful if only I would banish the circle.

So simple.

Se easy.

And so very stupid.

“Don’t be a fool, Fiona. If you come out now, I’ll be merciful.”

“Merciful?” I laughed bitterly, unable to help myself. “You don’t know the meaning of the word, Conal. You’re Morrigan’s wolf in more than just name.”

“Just as you once were,” he growled.

“I was never Morrigan’s.”

With that, I instantly banished her circle. Before Conal could do more than start in surprise, I leapt. The katana flashed against the night sky as it arced through the air. It might not be as heavy as the blade I had carried the last time we met, but it was every bit as deadly. In fact, it was more so because I knew how to wield it, something I’d not known so long ago.

Conal stumbled backwards one step, two and fought to bring his blade up to deflect my blows. The katana sang as it struck his broadsword. My wrist registered the impact even as I reacted on instinct. My right knee bent and, as I let my body bend and move forward, my right elbow leading, taking the katana into a defensive position over my shoulder, I stepped past him. Off-balance, his broadsword sliding down the length of the katana toward the fresh earth, Conal cursed. That curse turned vicious as I once more pivoted, dropping my left shoulder and pulling the katana lengthwise across his side, opening him as easily as a helpless doe.

Ignoring the spray of blood and the hot fury reflected in Conal’s blue eyes, I pressed my advantage. The moment I showed mercy would be the moment I died. I had to keep him off-balance and on the defensive. Otherwise, all was lost.

The silence of the night was shattered as blade met blade and the sounds of battle filled the air. I did my best to take advantage of my speed and agility. Conal was bigger than me, slower and he was injured. But I was tiring. If I didn’t find an opening soon so I could deliver a debilitating strike, all would be lost.

Fear spiked as I danced away from his blade as it swept through the air where I had been just a split-second before. My foot shifted to the left and then slipped. My guard dropped as I struggled to maintain her balance. Everything was happening too quickly, too unexpectedly. Worse, Conal knew it. His heavy broadsword arced toward me. I had to regain my balance…I couldn’t fall.

Damn it, not again!

5 Comments

  1. Do you mind a minor quibble on the swordplay? It’s not major really, very, very few people would notice, and I have to admit this segment is good enough that I just slightly gritted my teeth as I went by it. It didn’t take me out of the story.

    The quibble comes from my experience as a swordmaker, having made several different types of medieval euro swords {many to spec from antiques}, and have made kat blades while working with a polisher who finished and mounted them as well as made sayas for them.

    I’ve also studied two sword arts extensively, and dabbled in a couple of others, as well as sparred uneven weapons {like kat vs longsword or kat vs jian}.

    1. No sweat. The swordplay is something I always go back and fix because I know I skim it and don’t get everything right when I write as fast as I did this section. My own experience with swords had me grimacing as I wrote it but I wanted to get the scene done and not stop and actually work it all out and decide if I had the right blades for what I wanted.

      1. Its not my place to intrude, even though I have a bit. I won’t any further, though if you were to have any questions or desire for other opinions, I think you have my email address {I’m not on facebook unfortunately}.

        I like what you’ve written. Even with the quibble, I’d buy this book based on the segment.

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