Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays!

It's a busy time of year, but (usually) a good time. This year has been interesting. The Dems Trilogy was completed this year. Yay for that! Work started on The Catalyst: Book Two. Which I'm really excited about. And I'm having a Holiday Giveaway!

But first...the news from the trenches! (My Crazy Family)

The Travelling Mice

The Short Version: Mice nested in my mother's car. Under the hood. And ate some wires. She was unhappy.

The Longer Version: My mother lives in rural Missouri. The area is mainly made up of forests, fields, and streams. For a mouse, it is the promised land. In this mousy utopia, there is nothing quite as nice as nestling up near a warm engine on a cool fall day. Sauna, anyone?

So, when a vehicle sits for more than a day outside a garage it becomes a mouse dwelling. A mouse house. A mobile home for the discerning rodent adventurer. Basically, they move in and eat up the place. Like bad hotel guests.

The result is a hot mess of chewed wires, random bits of nesting fluff, and a car that will definitely NOT start. My uncle was roped into helping. Which leads into my second story, The Outdoorsman, and explains where my dad was when he would usually be dealing with the car. Or calling someone to deal with the car. Details, details.

Now, my uncle is great with cars. He's a little cantankerous at times, but great when cars go boom. Or don't. Whichever. He does, however, spend a great deal of time complaining to the car he is working on. I repeat, he complains TO the car. About his day, my aunt, the weather, and (very rarely) the car itself.

It's sometimes a little difficult to keep track of who he is talking to or about. "And it just rains all the-  Hand me that wrench- time. How am I supposed to- Try the engine- get anything done with it just- Anything? Yeah, I didn't think it would- raining all day."

And then there was the issue of getting the part. The guy at the parts store in town said it would be "a few hundred bucks" and advised my mother to go "pick and pull" at the junk yard near the county line.

Keep in mind, neither one of my parents are particularly good with cars. The likelihood of either of them finding the make and model they need on the lot and getting the part from it without injuring themselves or others is not great. There could be bloodshed. They could end up on the evening news. It could get ugly.

In the end, a friend of my dad's rebuilt the part and my uncle put it on. While talking to the car.

The Outdoorsman

The Short Version: My dad thinks he is outdoorsy. He's been using a chainsaw to clear out some trees on his property. So far, he has managed to get his truck stuck in mud up to the frame and nearly lose a limb. It's not going well.

The Longer Version: My dad is a city guy. He was born in a city and raised in a city and has mostly lived in cities. He is not outdoorsy. He does not camp. He will never be a park ranger, canoeing instructor, or scout leader. Which is fine. Or it WAS fine, at least.

He recently got it in his head that he is a rugged outdoorsman. The forest is his homeland. He is Daniel Boone. Or Rambo. Or some odd combination of the two. He is one with the trees. Yeah.

In the past year, he has gotten a truck, a chainsaw, and a plot of land. Two days ago, he got the truck so stuck in the mud it took a two pick-ups, a semi with a chain, and an industrial wench to get him free. This follows on the heels of him nearly knocking out power to half the town when he cut down a tree too close to the power line.

I think I should introduce him to NatGeo. That way, he can watch other people chop down trees and build log cabins. It seems safer. He can vicariously be Daniel Boone/Rambo (Danbo?) and keep all of his limbs.

And that is the news from the trenches.

Now, about that FREE stuff...

The entire Dems Trilogy (No Light, Darkness Blooming, and [NEW RELEASE!] Shadows Fall) will be available for FREE from Christmas Eve (Dec. 24th) to the day after Christmas (Dec. 26th). 

So if you know anyone who may enjoy it, now is the perfect time to let them know. Don't you just love free stuff? 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Shadows Fall is on Amazon!

Shadows Fall is available on Amazon and Smashwords

The Dems Trilogy is now complete! Shadows Fall definitely puts the first two books in context. It may even change your opinion of certain characters.

I'm really excited to see what you all think. :)



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Book Cover Debate

So, I've been thinking about changing some of my book covers. Specifically, The Dems Trilogy and The Catalyst Duology.

As some of you may have already noticed, the book images on Amazon don't match the ones on my website/blog. I'm taking the new covers for a test drive. To see if you guys like them better.

Why the sudden change? Well, I am pleased to announce the completion of Shadows Fall. Yep. It's done! I expect it out next week.

I am also participating in NaNoWriMo, because I guess editing one book is not enough work. :)

That book may end up being published at some point (or maybe just find its way onto my blog), but I'll let you all know.

Let me know what you think of the covers. Leave me a comment below or swing by my Facebook or Twitter. I always love to hear from you. :)




Saturday, August 8, 2015

Shadows Fall: The First Two Chapters

As promised, here are the first two chapters of my rough draft of Shadows Fall. They will still need to be edited along with the rest of the book (once it is complete), but this should give you a good idea of what you are in for. 

In case you missed the prologue last week, it can be found here.

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to put them in the blog comments or hit me up on Facebook/Twitter/My Website. :) 

Chapter One
The Broken One

4,000 B.C.

Ibi raced through the forest ahead of her. His longer legs gave him a vast advantage. Aya darted between the trees, struggling to keep her brother in sight. At sixteen summers, he was a superior hunter, but she was small and quick. Many times her father had told her Ibi was the river, but she was the wind.

“Hurry up, little sister!” Ibi called over his shoulder.

Aya left the path and cut across the stream. She hopped from stone to stone to land with a dry skirt on the other side. Seconds later, Ibi crossed the stream in their usual spot and slid to a stop and the sight of her.

“Smart, like mother,” Ibi snorted and gestured for her to follow him.

Aya followed her brother deeper into the forest. Their bare feet made barely a whisper on the ground. As they walked, Aya clenched and unclenched her fingers around her knife. It was a gift from her father to mark her tenth summer. Soon, she would leave the forest and stay in the village with the rest of the women.

When Ibi froze in front of her, Aya quickly moved to his side. They crouched together in the underbrush. Ibi gestured for her to stay still and peeked over the top of the bush that hid them. Aya waited, clutching her knife. From the other side of the bush she could hear the snuffling of a boar. The animal’s musky scent permeated the air so thick she could taste it.

Ibi crooked his fingers at her to get her attention. When she looked up at him, he motioned for her to go left. Aya nodded. Staying low to the ground, she scampered around to the other side of the boar. From her new vantage point, she could see the animal clearly. It was large, at least three times her size. She gripped her knife tighter.

Ibi’s head appeared over the bush across the small clearing and their eyes met. Aya nodded. With a nod of his own, her brother let out a loud yell. The boar startled. It whirled first toward Ibi, then Aya. It charged.

Aya forced herself to stay still as it raced toward her, trampling saplings under its feet. At the last moment, she leapt forward.

Her knife pierced the boar’s side and it let out a piercing scream. Its front legs slid from beneath it, but it had enough energy left to turn on her. Aya screamed as the boar’s tusk burrowed into her leg. She ripped her knife free and stabbed it again. With a jarring shake, the boar’s body fell to the dirt, pinning her bloody leg beneath it.

“Aya!”

Ibi’s face appeared over the boar’s body. His proud smile gave way to fear when he saw her blood painting the earth.

“I did it,” Aya said.

Ibi nodded. “Yes.”

He shoved the boar off of her and knelt to examine her leg. “You will need to see father.”

Ibi ripped a strip of cloth from the base of her skirt and bound the wound. Once it was done, he tied the boar’s back legs and hefted the kill onto his back.

“You can walk?”

“I will,” Aya confirmed.

She grabbed her brother’s offered hand and rose to her feet. The leg burned as if fire lapped at it, but it held. She limped along behind her brother as they headed for the village. Her father, the healer, would use his herbs to fix her wound. Or she would die of the inner fire like her mother.
Just over the hill from the village, an odd sound reached her ears. Ibi’s pace slowed.

“What is that?”

Ibi shushed her.

As they reached the top of the hill, she saw the village. It was burning. Among the huts, the demons from the north rode their four-legged creatures. Her people were cut down by their weapons. Ibi dropped the boar and ran toward the village.

“Ibi, no!”

Aya limped after him as fast as she could, but he reached the village before she could stop him.

“Iltani!” he shouted.

If his future mate lived, she did not answer.

The sound of his voice drew the attention of several of their attackers. Aya shouted a warning, but it was too late. Ibi crumpled to the ground, an arrow through his chest.

Aya fell to her knees at his side. She could feel the eyes of the demons on her, but she ignored them, gently lifting her brother’s head to her lap. The cloth on her leg was soaked through, a stream of blood leaving her to soak into the ground.

She stroked her brother’s bright hair, the same color as her own. Her father called it sunlight. The same as her mother’s but no one else in the village. It was growing red with their combined blood.
Aya curled around her brother’s still body, until she felt the first touch on her shoulder.

She whirled on the demons like a wild thing. She bit and scratched at them, but they overwhelmed her, binding her hands and feet. They threw her into a cage of thick branches like an animal. She hissed at them as they laughed and poked her with sticks.

The jeering only ended when one of the demons barked something in their tongue. The demons fell silent. The one who seemed to be their leader came closer to the cage, looking at her closely. He spoke often, seeming to be addressing the other demons. At one point, he glanced at her brother. When he reached his hand toward her, she swiped at him with her fingernails. He drew back with a hiss of pain.

After he said many words to the others, he walked away. The demons surrounded her and used two long poles to lift her cage. She hung several feet above the ground, the branches of the cage floor digging into her skin. Aya turned in her cage to see her brother’s body. She watched him, until the trees obscured her view.

The cage bounced with every step the demons took and the branches beneath her grew red with her blood. Every night, the group stopped and the leader tried to approach her. His eyes always went to her wounded leg. Aya bared her teeth at him and cursed him in her own language. She did not want his help. She refused to show weakness.

After the sun had risen on the third day, she fell into an exhausted sleep. When she woke in the darkness later, her leg had been bandaged. Aya cursed the demons all night, ignoring the angry shouts they threw at her. The next morning, the group was clearly furious with their sleepless night. The ones carrying her cage were rougher than usual, bouncing her against the cage bars until she was cut and bruised.

When the leader approached her that night, he left with a scowl on his face. She heard him yelling soon after. The next day, her ride was much smoother. It did nothing to relieve the gnawing pain of hunger or the dryness of her mouth.

The sun rose and set five times before the trees gave way to flat, dry land. Out of the shelter of the trees, the sun burned her bare arms and legs. She ducked her head to hide her face.

Aya took the water the leader offered her that night, but she would not take the blanket. She shivered through the night, unable to sleep. Above her, the pale moon cast its cold glow.

For two days, they crossed the desert. On the second night, Aya took the blanket. When the sun was high in the sky on the third day, something appeared on the horizon.

With each hour, it grew more pronounced. Soon, the blur was a large structure. Aya could not keep herself from pressing against the bars at the front of her cage. Smaller structures, surrounded the larger one, spreading out in every direction. As the group entered the confines of the city, people spilled from the smaller structures. Houses, then.

Aya avoided looking at the curious faces, setting her expression in a dark scowl. Let them gawk at her. The procession moved through the city toward the center where the large structure sat. Its shadow fell over her and she looked up until she felt her neck would break.

It had four sides and three levels. In the front, a massive staircase lead to the top. Aya gripped the sides of her cage with both hands, as the procession started up the stairs. She shivered.

The demons meant to sacrifice her. Her father told stories of them. When her mother still lived, before the inner fire took her, the demons had come to the village. They had taken her mother’s sister and seven others.

One warrior had returned to the village. He had not spoken for many days. When he recovered, he told the village about the demons from the north.

The demons served a blood thirsty god. A foul creature who demanded death to quench his hunger for destruction. The warrior said the other villagers had been taken to the temple and sacrificed.
Aya fixed her gaze on the top level of the structure. It must be the temple the warrior spoke of, and she would be the next sacrifice.

* * *

“Father?”

Baraz turned away from the high priest to look at his son. “What is it, Farran?”

“The humans have brought a sacrifice.”

Baraz waved his hand to dismiss the high priest. After the man was gone, Baraz gestured for his son to walk with him.

“I said no more after the last one. What need do I have of sacrifices?”

Farran shrugged. “They feel they will have bad fortune if they do not appease you.”

“Do I not look appeased?”

His son smiled at his attempt at humor. “Will you look to see what they have brought?”

“Must I?”

Farran chuckled.

They left the inner rooms of the temple to step into the sun. Servants rushed forward to fan Baraz as he walked. He tried to ignore them. At the edge of the platform, a groups of humans waited.

“What have you brought me?” he asked in their language.

The leader of the group bowed low. “In my southern travels, I have found a rare treasure to please you.”

“Bring it.”

The man scrambled to his feet and gestured to the men behind him. Four men came forward with a cage between them. Another wild creature. Baraz fought the urge to sigh. But as they turned to show him the interior of the cage, he found himself enthralled.

A girl child hunched in the small space. Her long, pale hair was knotted and stained red in places and her roughly-hewn dress was tattered. But it was her eyes that caught his attention. The child watched him with a narrow-eyed stare, rebellious and threatening all at once.

His gaze fell to the crude bandage on her leg.

“Why is she wounded?” he demanded.

The leader of the group glanced at the girl and shook his head. “She was injured when we found her.”
He would have doubted the man, but the humans knew better than to lie to him. As he continued to look at the girl, he saw countless scrapes and bruises. She held herself upright, but he could see the slight tremor in her body. She was exhausted and likely in pain. A surge of protectiveness swept through him.

“Does she please you?” the man asked eagerly.

Baraz gave him a long stare.

“I could sell her in the market if she does not please you.” The man hurriedly gestured for the men to carry her away.

“Yes.”

Everyone froze. Even his son could not hide his surprise.

“She pleases me. Leave the cage.”

The man smiled. “Good, good.”

Baraz watched the men hurry away, before he spoke again.

“Bring me one of the others to translate,” he said in the human language.

As a servants ran to do his bidding he met the child’s eyes. She eyed him with clear suspicion.

“What will you do with a child?” Farran asked.

Baraz wondered the same thing. It was a momentary lapse in judgment. He had no need or place for a girl child. The priests would not want a child underfoot and he knew nothing of girls. But when he looked into her blue eyes, he could not let her become an exotic pet for one of the upper class men.

“You called for me, Your Highness?”

Baraz glanced at the servant standing a polite distance from him. He gestured to the child.
“Tell her what I am saying.”

At the servant’s nod, he began to speak.

“You have been given to me as a gift.”

The girl hissed a few venomous words once the servant translated his words. The man winced.

“You will live here in the temple and train as a servant.”

Again, the child reacted violently.

“If you do not do as I say…I will give you to the others to do what they will.”

The threat tried to stick in his throat, but he hardened his expression. If she tried to leave the safety of his presence, he could not protect her. Something about her made him want to keep her alive. Perhaps, it was the fire in her eyes. So much like one of his people.

The child did not speak after his threat. She turned her head away from him and ignored the servant when he tried to speak with her. Baraz outwardly scowled, but inside he smiled at the show of defiance.

“Clean her and bring her to me.”

He turned away and strode back into the temple. Farran walked at his side silently. When they were in his private rooms, his son turned to face him.

“What will you do with her?”

“As I said,” Baraz sighed. He walked over to a padded seat. “She will serve in the temple.”

“And when she is no longer a child?”

“I will release her.”

Farran sank down onto the seat across from him. “The priests will not be pleased.”

“They will do as I say.”

Farran did not comment.


Chapter Two
Ancient Scorn

2720 A.D.

Aya marched across the godforsaken desert with her eyes on the horizon. She ignored the three suns beating down on her pale skin and the heavy silence from the man following along behind her. She was sure he was just biding his time, before he tried another foray into conversation. Aya ground her teeth.

"Aya, I believe we should speak of this."

She stopped and spun to face him. Glaring up into his eyes, she growled, "I really don't."

After a moment, she released him from her stare and bent to take off her high heels. Aya considered tossing them into the near distance, but restrained herself. She gripped them in one hand and continued walking.

"How much further?" she demanded.

A flare of surprise swept through her. It was followed by an inkling of hope. "It should be visible soon," Baraz answered. After a beat he added, "How are you feeling?"

"My feelings are none of your concern," Aya snapped.

The feeling of hope faded into resignation. "Of course," Baraz murmured. "My apologies."

Aya wanted to scream at him. She did not ask to have his feelings clogging up her head. She did not want them. He could keep his emotions to himself. Aya almost turned to tell him as much, but stopped herself. He would take it as license to speak to her.

A bead of sweat rolled down the back of her neck. Aya wished she had something to tie up her hair instead of leaving the blonde strands to stick to her skin. She wiped at her forehead. Her attire was not helping the heat. She was dressed for a meeting at a base, not a trek through the desert. Black was not ideal. As she grumbled under her breath, she stepped on a sharp rock.

"Are you alright?" Baraz asked with a blast of concern through the bond.

Aya slapped his hand away before it could land on her arm. She scowled straight ahead. "I'm fine."

She saw Baraz withdraw from the corner of her eye and clenched her jaw at the wellspring of hurt that filled the bond. Aya walked away from him without another word. It took him only a few minutes to begin leaking curiosity into the bond. Aya almost looked at him to see what he wanted.

"How long have you been the human ambassador?" he asked softly.

Aya increased her pace. Her lungs burned with the heat and dust in the air. Baraz's unease was growing in her mind, increasing every second she did not answer. She peered into the distance in search of the platform.

"Aya?"

She glanced at him. "Where is it?"

He turned his attention from her to scan the flat land. Confusion fluttered in the bond.

"Well?" she demanded.

Baraz's bright blue eyes found hers. "It must be cloaked."

"Of course, it is," she muttered under her breath. "Exactly where was it?"

Baraz was silent long enough that she turned her head to look at him. "There." He pointed at what seemed to be a random patch of ground about a quarter of a mile away.

"You're sure?"

He nodded.

Aya trudged toward the spot.

"When did you come to that country?" he asked, as he followed close behind her.

She thought about ignoring his question, but he drew even with her and sent her a quick look. Aya sighed and bubbles of happiness drifted across the bond.

"After the civil war." At his blank stare, she added, "1870."

His steps faltered. "And before that?" he asked carefully.

"Spain."

Her long dress tangled around her legs each time the hot wind blew. She kicked her skirt out of the way. A faint twinge of amusement drifted to her and she glanced at Baraz. He looked away.

"Do you enjoy being ambassador?"

"Why?" she snapped.

He dropped his head. "I apologize."

"You told me apologies were for severe disrespect," she said, turning her back on him.

"Then I should do nothing but apologize to you."

Aya stiffened. "Don't." She shot a glare over her shoulder. "Don't try to manipulate me."

"Aya, I--" he broke off as sunlight glinted off metal.

The cloaking was either too old to work at close range or not built to hide the platform at less than ten feet. Like a mirage, it swam into view. The platform was the only thing around for miles in any direction. When she looked back from scanning their surroundings, Baraz was already at the control panel.

"Why would you have platforms here?"

He paused in his work to glance at her. There was surprise in his expression and the bond. He clearly did not expect her to make conversation.

"There was a lake over there." He pointed off to their right.

"How long ago?" Aya gestured to the ground beneath their feet.

"A long time." He watched her until, she gave the control panel a pointed look.

As Baraz went back to work, she snuck peeks at him. He looked exactly as he had. The same dark hair, tan skin, and bright blue eyes. She used to love those eyes. Every time he looked at her, she had wanted to kiss him. Now, she mostly wanted to punch him.

"What was the larger platform for? The one we arrived at."

"Supplies." He tapped a button on the panel and it bleated. Baraz muttered something under his breath, too quiet for her to make out, and pressed several more buttons.

Aya sighed. "If that one was for supplies, why isn't it working?"

"No one has been to this planet in over two millennia." Baraz pressed a final button and the platform hummed to life, shaking the ground. "The broken platform on Earth must have randomly selected a location."

"Right."

Aya ignored the hand he offered and climbed the two steps to the platform. Even though she had only used the mode of travel once, she already had an opinion. She hated it. It sucked all of the air out of her lungs and left her with a queasy feeling. Like a ride in an elevator with the wires cut. Aya set her jaw.

Once Baraz stood beside her, the platform activated. It was equally horrible the second time.
Aya covered her eyes with one hand as soon as they arrived at the new location. She heard and felt Baraz take a step toward her. The side of her body closest to him felt like it was bathed in sunshine. Aya dropped her hand and took a step away from him.

"Where are we?"

"Democlaste," a voice answered. It was not Baraz.

Aya followed Baraz's frown to a small group of armed guards. They glanced at her, but most of their attention was on Baraz.

"Ambassador," the same one spoke again. "I am pleased to see you so well."

Aya nodded in acknowledgement.

The guard turned his head to Baraz. "Abdicated King Baraz."

* * *

The guard was a young, one of those born on Sinmer in the past few centuries. Baraz could see the nervousness in his gaze, even as the guard stood straighter. Those with him were equally young. In time, they would rise in rank and move on to more prestigious positions. Until then, they were simple platform guards. And they were in the way.

"I have orders to detain you," the young guard said.

Baraz gave him a cool smile. "Orders. From whom?"

"King Farran."

Baraz saw Aya twitch from the corner of his eye. "I see. And if I refuse?"

"I have orders to bring Ambassador Berk to the palace."

"That does not answer my question." Baraz cocked his head and looked over the group. "What if I choose not to relinquish possession of the ambassador?"

A wave of fury swept through the bond.

Aya stepped forward. "I'll go with you." She walked away from Baraz to be surrounded by the guards. She did not look back.

Baraz mentally winced. He held back most of it. It was difficult to hide the pain from the bond, but he thought he was successful. Otherwise, Aya would be even angrier with him than she was. And she was very angry. Her fury felt like needles in the bond, all of them aimed at him.

He had done everything wrong. In the past and just hours ago. It seemed he was doomed to always make the wrong choices with her. He could feel her seething at his high-handedness, even though he could not see her. Baraz sighed to himself. He could sacrifice his pride, give in to the young guards, for her. It was the least he owed her.

"I agree to be detained," he announced.

The spokesman of the guard group blinked in surprise. Several of them exchanged looks. With a quick nod, two stepped forward. Baraz eyed the restraints they held. The same type once used in The Corridor. Democlaste steel and the energy dampeners. Suppressing just enough of his strength to allow the superior steel to hold him.

Baraz set his jaw, as the guards snapped the restraints around his ankles and wrists. The air filled with their unease when it came time to fully activate them. He did not look at any of them, as the chains snapped tight. The energy dampeners flared on and sent a pulse of fire across his nerve endings. Baraz refused to show his pain.

The guards were almost meek when they backed away from him.

He took a slow breath in through his nose and let it out slowly. The agony faded to a dull ache. The guards moved back from him and reformed in a loose circle with Aya and him in the middle. Baraz glanced at her when they began to walk. She kept pace with him, but her gaze was on the horizon. The clear blue eyes he remembered were shadowed by anger and time. There was not a shred of softness in her face or the bond.

They travelled quickly from the platform at the outer edge of the city to the palace. Baraz was staring straight ahead when he felt a burst of wonder from Aya. He glanced at her without turning his head. He need not have worried about her noticing his gaze. She was gaping at the palace. Baraz had to look away from the child-like amazement.

The grief hit him a split second before she felt it. He could tell the moment it registered in the bond, because she shut him out until there was only a trickle from her side. What he could feel was black with bitterness. Aya slowly turned her head to look at him. Their eyes met for a moment, before he could not stand the coldness and had to look away.

End of Excerpt

Did you like it? Let me know.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Shadows Fall Prologue

I thank everyone for their patience. This book is longer than the other two in the series (the longest I've written actually), so it is taking a little while to finish. I hope you all like the prologue! :)

Shadows Fall
 Prologue

He stumbled through the brush, his wounded leg leaving a trail of blood behind him. It should have healed. Why was it not healing? The thought plagued him as he ran. He could not be caught. His younger son would be merciful, he was sure, but Farran was too much like him. The years had made him hard.

The trees suddenly ended and he tripped over the edge of a paved road. Baraz lay gasping for breath on the hot asphalt for precious minutes. He had to keep moving. To make it to the abandoned portal. He painfully pushed himself up to his knees, then his feet. He swayed in place.

As he took a halting step forward, the sound of an approaching vehicle filtered through the trees. Baraz slowly turned his head and narrowed his eyes at the red blur that appeared around a sharp curve. A second later, his world erupted in agony. His roar of pain was buried beneath the squeal of tires and the smell of burnt rubber.

Baraz blinked his eyes open and rolled his head to the side. He lay on his back twenty paces from a smoking wreck. Through the front windshield of the vehicle, he could see two dead men, their bodies hanging limp from safety harnesses. As he watched, breathing shallowly, the back door of the red vehicle opened and two figures spilled out onto the road.

The larger one, an older man, held a weapon in his hand and kept the smaller figure behind him. Baraz forced himself to his feet. At his movement, the weapon swung in his direction. The human yelled something in a language he was unfamiliar with and began backing toward the tree line. Limping, Baraz followed him.

The human pulled the trigger. The bullet went wide, striking a tree on the other side of the road. The miss seemed to rattle the man, as he pulled the trigger three more times. He missed each time. Baraz moved faster. By the time the human thought to try again, he had the man’s arm in a bone breaking grip. The limb snapped with little effort.

Baraz watched the man’s face contort in agony. He expected a scream, but the man glared at him defiantly.

“What is your business here?” Baraz demanded.

The man clamped his jaw shut.

Over the human’s shoulder, Baraz saw the smaller figure raise their head. An opaque veil hid their face, but he could feel the weight of the gaze. Baraz frowned, but pulled his attention back to the human man.

“Tell me and I may spare your life.”

The man’s glare darkened. “I won’t tell you-” The smaller figure hissed something and the man’s words broke off.

Baraz raised an eyebrow.

“The ambassador has a meeting with the base.”

Baraz fixed his gaze on the smaller figure. “The ambassador.”

The human gave him a stiff nod.

Baraz snapped the man’s neck without giving him another look. As the human’s body crumpled to the ground, the smaller figure turned and ran into the trees. Baraz watched for a moment, before he gave chase.

The ambassador was remarkably fast for a human, weaving between the tightly packed trees as if made for it, but Baraz caught up in a clearing. He lunged forward and the two of them slammed to the ground. The ambassador let out a soft grunt, but nothing more. Baraz rose to his feet stiffly with the ambassador’s arm gripped in his tight fist.

Being struck by a vehicle and romping through the forest had not improved his injury or his mood. Baraz growled to himself, as he towed the ambassador behind him. Across the clearing, a copse of trees grew around the retired portal platform. As far as he knew, no one had used it in centuries.

He pushed his way through the trees and shoved the ambassador forward. With a soft gasp, the figure stumbled forward and landed at the base of the steps.

“Go.”

The ambassador’s veiled face turned to him and he imagined he was receiving a lethal glare. He ignored it.

“Move.”

The ambassador climbed the steps to stand in the middle of the overgrown platform. Baraz quickly moved to the control panel and set the portal for his home world. The platform began to vibrate immediately. Baraz climbed the stairs to stand next to the ambassador.

As the ancient portal came to life, distant yells floated on the wind. Baraz jerked his head in their direction. They were too far away to make out clearly, but he imagined it was his sons. Coming to kill him. The portal activated in the next second and the trees faded to darkness.

When he opened his eyes, it was to the unflinching light of a vast desert. Scorched earth as far as the eye could see. Movement from the corner of his eye, drew his attention from their predicament to the ambassador. The small figure was facing away from him, shoulders tense.

“Ambassador-”

“What have you done?” a familiar voice hissed.

Baraz faltered.

The ambassador turned to face him and pale hands slowly pushed the veil back. A familiar pair of ice blue eyes glared at him.

End of Prologue

Okay! That's the prologue. I'm going to edit the first couple chapters soon, so expect to see those toward the end of next week. :)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Broody Face (or 'How the Writing is Going' and 'Yes, I Talk to My Dogs')

So, it's been a minute since I posted a blog entry. I've been toiling away on Shadows Fall. When I say 'toiling', I mostly mean staring at the wall and scowling. That's my process.

I scowl, I write, I scowl some more. My mother calls it my 'broody face'. I prefer to think of it as my 'pondering the mysteries of the universe' face. But, yeah. It's my broody face.

Which is what I've been doing lately. Brooding. And going over the plot. And brooding some more. And eating chocolate and drinking too much coffee. And brooding.

When I get stuck on a plot point, I go to Youtube to watch cute/funny videos (usually cats) until my brain starts working again.

Such as:


Which is narrated by Zefrank1, who has his own Youtube channel full of videos (specifically the 'True Facts' videos which are not particularly safe for work, but pretty amusing anyway).

And I found this video:


Which is basically the way I talk with my dogs.

In other news:

I'm hoping to have an excerpt up some time soon. By the end of the month, for sure. If you're on the mailing list, it will go to your inbox. Otherwise, check back in a bit to read it here.

Anyway, I should get back to work. Hope everyone is doing well. :)




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Naming of Things - The Dems Trilogy


Do you remember the crazy debates people had about the pronunciation of the names of Harry Potter characters? Before the first movie, some of my friends were losing their minds. 

Bickering about 'Is it herm-eye-oh-nee or her-mee-oh-nee?' (both were wrong) and 'It's Dobby, like 'knob', not Dobby like 'globe'!" 


Which brings me to my point.

The Dems (and some of the humans) have uncommon names. Some are completely made-up and some are existing names. 

Between my editor and I, there has been some confusion on name pronunciation (even the ones I made up), so I decided to do a post on the meanings of the existing names and the pronunciation options. 

This is just for the sake of curiosity. You can pronounce them any way you like. :)

First, the Dems:

Farran - 

Pronunciation: FAR-in alternately FAIR-in or FUH-ron (I pronounce it FAIR-in)

Origin: English surname derived from Old French ferrant meaning 'iron gray'.

Lonan -

Pronunciation: LO-nin alternately LO-nan (I use the first one. It makes my editor cringe)

Origin: Derived from Irish Gaelic meaning 'little blackbird'.

Baraz - 

Pronunciation: BUH-raws

Origin: Means 'exalted' in Persian.

Motlin -

Pronunciation: MOT-lin

Origin: Made-up

Tradis -

Pronunciation: TRA-dis alternately TRAY-dis (I use TRA-dis. My editor and I have agreed to disagree)

Origin: Made-up

Eitad - 

Pronunciation: EE-tad alternately EE-tod (I use the first one)

Origin: Made-up

Dorin -

Pronunciation: DOR-in

Origin: Romanian form of Dorian, a name first used by Oscar Wilde. Possibly taken from the Greek tribe called the Dorians.

Hrim – 

Pronunciation: HUR-im

Origin: Made-Up

And…the Humans:

Sarah -

Pronunciation: SER-ah

Origin: Means 'lady, princess, noblewoman' in Hebrew. 

Rissa - Rissa is a little different because she has her birth name, Tamsin, and the name she goes by which is short for Clarissa.

Rissa pronunciation: RI-suh alternately REE-suh (I say RI-suh)

Clarissa origin: From Late Latin clarus meaning 'clear, bright, famous'.

Tamsin pronunciation: TAM-sin

Tamsin origin: Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning 'twin'.

Aya -

Pronunciation: AH-yah alternately AY-uh (I say AY-uh, but my editor hates it…)

Origin: Name is Sumerian (meaning unknown), but can be pronounced like the Japanese name meaning 'color' or 'design'.

Adela -

Pronunciation: uh-DEL-uh alternately ah-DE-lah (I use the first one)

Origin: From Germanic element adal meaning 'noble'.

John -

Pronunciation: JAHN

Origin: Derived from Hebrew meaning 'YAHWEH is gracious'.

So, there you have it. Those are names of the characters that show up in at least two books of the trilogy.

All name information came from the website Behind the Name. Which is awesome and extremely useful for coming up with character names.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Shadows Fall Cover & Blurb

I'm pretty excited to show you all the cover (and cover blurb) for Shadows Fall, the third book in the Dems Trilogy.


Where it begins. How it ends.
It is the beginning and the ending of everything. Shadows Fall.

U.S. Ambassador to the Dems, Aya Berk, has many reasons to resent King Baraz. She has thousands of them. He is a stubborn, hateful man who drags the rest of the universe into his misery. Some may fear him, but she never has and certainly will not start now.
King Baraz has hated humans so long the reason has become secondary. They are devious, plotting, and not to be trusted. He is certain of himself and his place in the universe. That is, until the one person he never expected to see again re-enters his life.
Aya and Baraz are two people separated by time and choices. But when an ancient evil threatens to destroy everything they have built, they are forced to set aside their differences. In the battle to hold on to what they love, can they find some spark of what once was? Or will it all fall into shadow? 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pie Pans & Pippin

My aunt made pie today. In honor of Flag Day. I was not actually aware that Flag Day was a pie holiday, but I digress. So, she made pie. And it was awesome. Which brings me to the topic of my post.

Have you ever noticed that trying to be quiet never works? You end up making more noise than a 747 during take-off. Or is that just me?

Well, today I was trying to dispose of an empty pie pan. They are silent when full. When empty they are...not. I managed to drop it three times in the five feet from the counter to the trashcan. It hit the edge of the cabinet, the cabinet door, the floor, and rolled across the floor to hit another cabinet. Three times.

If there was anyone asleep in the neighborhood, they weren't after that. I turn into Pippin when I'm trying to be quiet. I trip over things, bang into things, knock things over. I'm not exactly graceful as a swan at the best of times, but it gets so much worse when I'm actively trying.

You know that scene with Pippin in Moria? Where he knocks the skeleton's head into the well...and the body...and the chain...and the bucket? That's me.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the scene I'm talking about.


That's me. Pippin all the way. By the time I was done, the dog was howling like we were under attack. But the pie was really good. So, there's that.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

More of the Story - Darkness Blooming

Just a quick little scene between Rissa and Lonan from Darkness Blooming. This scene takes place between the second and third book. Right after the second book ends.

###
“Where did you get those clothes?”

Rissa glanced up from tying her combat boots to give Lonan an amused look. “We’re about to go after your father and that’s your concern?”

Lonan raised an eyebrow at her.

“They’re Sarah’s.”

He looked more perplexed than before. “Why does the queen have tactical clothing?”

Rissa stood up straight and plucked at the tank top she had tucked into the dark green pants. “Better to be prepared?”

Lonan frowned.

Rissa sighed. “She got them from that Adela woman.” Lonan started to open his mouth and she cut him off. “You can’t tell your brother.”

He crossed his arms. “Rissa.”

“Sarah made me promise. Come on! Are you really going to sell out a new mom?” She was not above playing dirty.

At the mention of his niece, Lonan’s handsome face lit up. When the smile faded, he gave her a stern look.

“Fine.”

Rissa smirked. She could still feel his happiness even though he tried to keep a straight face. His voice was quiet in her mind, too faint to hear. Even if she could make out the individual words, she knew the pleasant rumble would be in his language.

“You’ll need to teach me your language,” she said, reaching over to grab the military jacket Sarah had loaned her.

“Yes.”

She looked up from the buttons at the tone of his voice. He was watching her closely. His eyes were dark as he took in the picture she presented. Rissa’s lips quirked and she reached up to tie her hair back. His eyes followed her movements.

“Eyes front, soldier.”

Lonan’s eyebrows rose and he turned to face her fully. “Giving orders, now?”

“That’s what I do. Or didn’t you know?” She gave him a cheeky grin.

He hummed. Lonan took a step toward her and reached out to slide his hand around the back of her neck. Rissa tipped her head back to look up at him. The playfulness of his expression had faded into worry lines. She shook her head.

“None of that.”

Lonan’s frown deepened. “Rissa, I would rather you stayed—”

“No,” she cut him off. “I’m going with you. It’s done.”

He gave her a pained look. “If something happened to you…” Lonan shook his head like could not even stand to say it.

Rissa sighed. “We’re fine. Both of us. As long as we’re together, nothing will happen. Okay?”

Lonan hesitated.

“Kiss me.” At his surprised expression, she smiled. “It’ll help.”

“If you insist,” he said. His mouth cut off her huff of amusement.

###

Thanks for reading! If you would like to read an excerpt from Darkness Blooming, click here.


Friday, June 5, 2015

5 Things You Never Knew About the Dems Universe

1. Motlin is Older than Both Farran and Tradis
I won't give away too much of this because it is explained in the third book, but suffice it to say Tradis is the baby of the trio.

2. No Light Takes Place in the Early 2020's
While No Light actually takes place in the near future, the city is stuck in the 1980's as far as technology is concerned. The city's status as being the black sheep of the world means it has been mostly shunned. As a result, most of the city is run-down. The Corridor's technology is the polar opposite and another reason why the citizens of Ameritat resent the Dems.

3. The Containment Technology in The Corridor was Based off Motlin's Design
While the actual work was completed by Motlin's engineering mentor, the idea for the technology came from Motlin. That is how he knew the tech was built to eventually fail. He designed the prototype and could see the weaknesses.

4. Sarah and Rissa are Distant Cousins (very distant)
While the family tree split a LONG time ago, not all of the family was taken to Sinmer. Several members of the family escaped capture and stayed on Earth.

5. Sinmer is the Name of the Planet and the Only City

Sinmer is the only city on the only continent. It was built to hold just over 100,000 people and is designed in a square with the palace at the center.

Bonus

6. Motlin's Marked is a Marine
After the land for the base was given to the Dems, the world sent (and continued to send) human military units to Ameritat as a sign of goodwill. About 300 years later, one of the U.S. Marines stationed there was Adela Ramirez. She was a sergeant at the time of her marking.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

More of the Story - Kingdom Come

There's a quote about stories that I have always liked.

“Stories never really end...even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don't end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page.” - Cornelia Funke

Working off this principle, I decided to write up a little 'after the curtain closed' scene. This one is from the same universe as Kingdom Come. It takes place a few months after the end of the book.
###

"This is good."

Abby looked up from her plate to smile at her dad. "Caught it myself."

Alfred stared at her for a moment, as if trying to decide if she was being serious. When her smile widened, he glanced at Edric.

"She still goes hunting with you?"

Edric shook his head. "Only trapping for the past few months."

Alfred's gaze returned to her and dropped to her rounded belly. "Right."

Abby grinned at his expression. "I can't do anymore hunting until the munchkin comes."

Loreet looked up from her plate. "Of course," she said, as if the mental image of a pregnant woman setting traps in the forest was not odd at all.

Abby smirked at her dad. Even after spending several days a month at the palace in Ghadrik, he was not completely comfortable with how Abby chose to spend her recreation time.

"My huntress," Edric murmured.

She glanced at him and their eyes met. His Caribbean blue gaze swept over her face and landed on her belly. When his eyes met hers again they were heated. Abby returned the look, until Loreet cleared her throat. They broke away from each other like guilty teenagers.

The rest of the meal past with comfortable conversation and soon her father was taking his leave. Abby walked him to the portal outside the palace. Her loyal guards and friends, Limek and Konani, hovered near the door to give them privacy.

"This was…good. Thanks for having me, Bebe."

Abby smiled. "You know you're always welcome. See you in two weeks?"

"Yes. You sure you want me to bring your brothers?"

Abby smiled at his expression and leaned in to hug him. Her belly, five months pregnant, was round enough to push out the front of her shirt and place a small gap between them.

"Bring them."

John pulled back to hold her at arm's length. "Alright, then."

His eyes dropped to her midsection and he smiled. "Take care of that kid of yours."

"Will do."

Abby stood back and watched until he stepped through the portal and vanished from view. When she turned back to the palace, her guards were gone and Edric was standing with his arms crossed watching her. His lips curved into a smile, as he pushed away from the wall.

He prowled toward her and she took a moment to sweep him with her gaze. The midnight black hair, high cheekbones, and strong build were as attractive to her as they had been the moment she met him. She had given herself a hard time then, tried to tell herself he should not be as distracting as he was.

But he was. Still. Abby adjusted her stance and gave him an encouraging smile. His eyes turned molten. He stopped just inches from her, close enough for her to feel his breath on her lips. She tipped her head back and brushed her mouth over his teasingly.

"Did you want something, Your Highness?"

His eyelids dropped to half mast, eyes fastened on hers. "If I did?"

Abby pressed her lips against his for just a moment, too quickly to be satisfying for either of them.
"Depends what it is, Your Highness." She nipped his bottom lip and he let out a shaky breath.

"You."

Abby pressed herself against him. "Sounds like a plan." She squealed when he swung her into his arms.

He kissed along her jaw as he carried her into the palace, holding her close to his body. The workers they passed hid smiles and pretended not to hear her giggling.

When they reached the second floor, Edric nudged open the bedroom door with his hip and kicked it closed.

"Now what?" he whispered against her neck.

Abby grinned. "I'm going to take advantage of you."

He growled playfully and set her on her feet by the bed. "I am at your mercy, my love."

He bumped his nose against hers, before kissing her deeply. Abby let out a soft sigh.

Things has been difficult in the beginning, but she would go through it all again. To be with him. She said as much to Edric and he pulled back to look in her eyes.

"Nothing would have kept me from you. You are…everything."

She could not say it often enough, but she murmured, "I love you."

He smiled. "And I love you."

###
Thanks for reading! If you would like to read an excerpt from Kingdom Come, click here.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Love Letters of Great Men

Confession time. I have never seen a single episode of Sex in the City. There, I said it.

However, I have read Love Letters of Great Women. According to the internet (which never lies, of course), Sex in the City made Love Letters of Great Men very popular.

In the spirit of my newly discovered knowledge, I have decided to share a few letters from the Men's book. Some guys are downright poetic when they are in love. *swoon*

Ludwig Van Beethoven


Beethoven left several unaddressed love letters in his desk drawer. They were found after he died.
Written July 7th (year unknown)


Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. 

No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V is now a wretched life - Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men - At my age I need a steady, quiet life - can that be so in our connection? 

My angel, I have just been told that the mail coach goes every day - therefore I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once - Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together - Be calm - love me - today - yesterday - what tearful longings for you - you - you - my life - my all - farewell. Oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. 

ever thine
ever mine
ever ours 

Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire)

This one sounds pretty clandestine...

The Hague 1713 

I am a prisoner here in the name of the King;
they can take my life, but not the love that I feel for you. 

Yes, my adorable mistress, to-night I shall see you, if I had to put my head on the block to do it. 

For heaven's sake, do not speak to me in such disastrous terms as you write; you must live and be cautious; beware of Madame your mother as of your worst enemy. 

What do I say? 

Beware of everybody; trust no one; keep yourself in readiness, as soon as the moon is visible; I shall leave the hotel incognito, take a carriage or a chaise, we shall drive like the wind to Sheveningen; I shall take paper and ink with me; we shall write our letters. 

If you love me, reassure yourself; and call all your strength and presence of mind to your aid; do not let your mother notice anything, try to have your pictures, and be assured that the menace of the greatest tortures will not prevent me to serve you. 

No, nothing has the power to part me from you; our love is based upon virtue, and will last as long as our lives. 

Adieu, there is nothing that I will not brave for your sake; you deserve much more than that. 

Adieu, my dear heart! 

Arouet

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
October 17, 1790 
(A Postscript to a Letter)

P.S. 

While I was writing the last page, tear after tear fell on the paper. But I must cheer up - catch! - An astonishing number of kisses are flying about - The deuce! - I see a whole crowd of them! Ha! Ha!...I have just caught three - They are delicious! - You can still answer this letter, but you must address your reply to Linz, Poste Restante - That is the safest course. 

As I do not yet know for certain whether I shall go to Regensburg, I can't tell you anything definite. Just write on the cover that the letter is to be kept until called for. 

Adieu - Dearest, most beloved little wife - Take care of your health - and don't think of walking into town. Do write and tell me how you like our new quarters - Adieu. I kiss you millions of times. 

Napoleon Bonaparte

What is there to say about Napoleon? His passionate letters to his wife are basically legendary. The guy was INTENSE. I've included a couple of his letters to illustrate my point.

To Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais 

December 1795 

I awake full of you. Your image and the intoxication of last night give my senses no rest. 

Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart. Are you angry? Do I see you sad? Are you worried? My soul breaks with grief, and there is no rest for your lover; but how much the more when I yield to this passion that rules me and drink a burning flame from your lips and your heart? Oh! This night has shown me that your portrait is not you! 

You leave at midday; in three hours I shall see you. 

Meanwhile, my sweet love, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they set my blood on fire. 

And Another-

April 3, 1796 

I have received all your letters, but none has made me such an impression as the last. How, my beloved, can you write to me like that? Don't you think my position is cruel enough, without adding my sorrows and crushing my spirit? What a style! What feelings you show! They are fire, and they burn my poor heart. 

My one and only Josephine, apart from you there is no joy; away from you, the world is a desert where I am alone and cannot open my heart. You have taken more than my soul; you are the one thought of my life. When I am tired of the worry of work, when I feel the outcome, when men annoy me, when I am ready to curse being alive, I put my hand on my heart; your portrait hangs there, I look at it, and love brings me perfect happiness, and all is miling except the time I must spend away from my mistress. 

By what art have you captivated all my facilities and concentrated my whole being in you? It is a sweet friend, that will die only when I do. To live for Josephine, that is the history of my life I long. I try to come near you. Fool! I don't notice that I am going further away. How many countries separate us! How long before you will read these words, this feeble expression of a captive soul where you are queen? 

Oh, my adorable wife! I don't know what fate has in store for me, but if it keeps me apart from you any longer, it will be unbearable! My courage is not enough for that. Once upon a time I was proud of my courage, and sometimes I would think of the ills destiny might bring me and consider the most terrible horrors without blinking or feeling shaken. But, today the thought that my Josephine might be in trouble, that she may be ill, above the cruel, the awful thought that she may love me less blights my soul, stills my blood and makes me sad and depressed, without even the courage of rage and despair. 

I used often to say men cannot harm one who dies without regret; but, now, to die not loved by you, to die without knowing, would be the torment of Hell, the living image of utter desolation. I feel I am suffocating. My one companion, you whom fate has destined to travel the sorry road of life beside me, the day I lose your heart will be the day Nature loses warmth and life for me. I stop, sweet friend; my soul is sad, my body tired, my spirit oppressed. men bore me. I ought to hate them: they take me away from my heart. 

I am at Port Maurice, near Ognelia; tomorrow I reach Albenga. The two armies are moving, trying to outwit each other. Victory to the cleverer. I am pleased with Beauliu; he maneuvers well and is stronger than his predecessor. I will beat him soundly, I hope. Don't be frightened. Love me like your eyes; but that is not enough: like yourself, more than yourself, than your thoughts, your life, all of you. Forgive me, dear love, I am raving; Nature is frail when one feels deeply, when one is loved by you. 

Bonaparte 

Sincere friendship to Barras, Sucy, Madame Tallien; respects to Madame Chateau-Renard; true love to Eugene, to Hortense. 


Goodbye, goodbye! I shall go to bed without you, sleep without you. Let me sleep, I beg you. For several nights I have felt you in my arms; a happy dream, but it is not you. 


 If you want to read more, you can find the book here


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Light (Book Excerpt)

I am finally posting the first chapter of my first book, No Light, on my blog. I know, I know. Well, at least I have an excerpt of all of my books now. I know not everyone wants to make the trek over to another website just to download the first chapter. I thought it might make things easier to just post it here. :)



Chapter One

Iron and Stone


The staircase twisted down into what felt like the very bowels of the Earth. Wrought iron and spindly, it creaked with each movement. Every irregular step nearly pulsed with hesitation. Some held back by fear, others pressing forward toward something new and terrifying. The bodies swayed in and out of the sparse light, like spirits jumping at the stone walls.

Her gaze dropped momentarily, away from her thoughts, to look toward their destination. The diamond weave of the steps allowed a caged view of what lie beneath. Sarah's hand gripped the railing tightly, jerking her eyes to the back in front of her. Not allowing them to stray to the lonely darkness beneath her feet.

The steady creak and pound of the footsteps seemed to go on forever, as the class followed the trainer. After ten minutes, the hollow sound of the stairwell seemed to swell in volume. Shuffling coats, heavy breathing, and something else. Sarah tipped her head, peering over the railing into the darkness. There was a wailing just under the creaking of the iron and the thuds of the heavy work boots.

"What is that?" she heard one of her classmates whisper.

She narrowed her eyes at the blackness beneath her feet. So far down, the cold of the stone stairwell made her hands nearly freeze to the railing. She did not dare let go.

"Do you hear that?" Another voice whispered.

The noise increased in volume. It sounded like glass ground between two stones. It set her teeth on edge. It was only the settling of the stairs. Nothing to be afraid of, but that did not stop her hand from shaking in her pocket. She stared at the back in front of her, stepping down over and over.

"Is that them?" The voices sounded almost shrill, made high with panic.

The light flickered overhead, and her eyes rose to the line of dusty lamps along the wall. She refused to look at the dark stairwell above them. The darkness made monsters of shadows. She imagined she saw hungry eyes and grasping claws reaching through the iron slates. She quickly returned her eyes to the back in front of her, glaring so her gaze did not stray. Still, her breath caught each time the lights faded.

Ridiculous, but it was not. There were monsters here. Monsters who wore the skins of men. She licked her dry lips, trying to ignore the burst of darkness. The back of the grey work suit in front of her winked in and out of existence with each flash of light. Fear slithered down her back, cold as the air on her face. Not far. It could not be much farther to the bottom.

Sarah peeked over the rail at the opposite side of the stairwell. The wind swirled down from the surface, whipping her hair around her head. It only increased the groan in the air. Her free hand curled into a ball in her coat pocket. The helmet lights of her classmates curled back around to her, and she could just make out the lean form of Robinson at the lead. Two figures began to tussle in the sparse light.

"Oh, my god," a voice said from right in front of her, barely audible over the wind and the groan of the stairs.

She tensed her body to keep from colliding with the boy ahead of her. She turned in time to see two figures topple over the railing. They fell like wounded birds. Their helmet lights spun wildly as they descended, showing terrified faces and flailing limbs. The settling of the stairs sounded like a roar of victory.

Someone prayed ahead of her, fervent whispers for deliverance. She did not see who swayed into her, her eyes still focused on the shadows where her classmates had disappeared. As if their trainer could hear over the noise, the lead light swung in her direction. The prayers stopped.

Robinson's brown eyes glittered in the shadows, and she held her breath. He stared toward her, before he turned away and continued the descent. She stood still, frozen in place, and allowed the others to pass her. Finally, there were no more to come. She joined the end of the single file line.


The stone seemed to hold and amplify the sounds in The Corridor. His gaze moved to the door of the main hall and narrowed. Where he sat at the table, two others regarded him with interest. He saw their gazes follow his as the faint traces of noise filtered through the hallways. Not even the closed doors could block the sound from his keen hearing. The noise combined dull thuds with the clang of boots on metal stairs.

"The handler class," the man to his right said under his breath.

He glanced at him, but did not reply. There had been rumors about the incoming class. A mix of morning handlers and night handlers. The whispers were mostly among the humans, whispers and mumbles of discord. Something about the incoming class was different. He looked away from the door and sat back in his chair.

"Only one day handler in this class," the same man spoke again.

He gave a small nod of acknowledgment, flicking his eyes around the room.

"Taking the place of James Mackenzie," the dark-haired man continued. His eyes moved toward the door. "A female, if the rumor among the humans is to be believed."

He looked at him sharply. At the others nod, he crossed his arms. He watched the humans move about the room. The wandering of a short and meaningless life. His lips twisted into a sneer. The creak of the stairs rose to a faint roar the deeper the handler class moved. The iron settled into the stone, the screeches and wails like the passing of spirits.

Soft cries of terror whispered through the halls. The same with every new class of handlers. It was quickly followed by the thud of two bodies hitting the floor. He glanced to his right to see his second smirk. The humans milled around the main hall, oblivious to the loss of their own. It was amusing in a dark way, and such a poignant illustration of their lot in life. He could not keep the humor from showing in his eyes, noticing the handlers who glanced at him in suspicious fear.

At half-past, those who had day handlers were herded from the main hall to do their daily tasks. The cavernous room emptied quickly until only a handful of his people remained. He sat perfectly still at the table, watching the morning handlers study him. There seemed to be some confusion among them.

When he surged to his feet, the group flinched back like skittish dogs. He ignored them. After flicking his gaze toward the door to the main hallway, he moved toward the entrance to Corridor One. The humans scattered in front of him. Several hurried to open the doors, most stood in watchful silence behind him. He did not look at any of them, passing through both security shields without a word.

In the corridor, two morning handlers quickly removed his chains and placed them on the bench that ran the length of the room. The irritating scrape of the manacles gave way to a familiar tingle, as his wrists healed. Scabs forming and falling away to litter the clean floor. The humans visibly relaxed once he was locked inside his cell, enveloped in the familiar scent of his own musk and the heat of the energy shields. He turned to face them and his eyes narrowed. They fled.


Eyes focused on the broad back in front of her, she stumbled on the change from stairs to level ground beneath her feet. The nearly deafening noise stopped with their arrival. She looked down, then back up. The grey stone stairwell spun toward a sky that was not visible from nearly a mile below the surface. Her eyes dropped to the floor. The same stone that formed the stairwell and walls. Drab and dull grey in the florescent lighting.

"As I'm sure some of you have noticed by now, there is an elevator to The Corridor."

At her trainer's words, Sarah looked around. The room was small, barely big enough for the twenty people in the training class. She stepped out of the stairwell to see around a blind corner. In the middle of the wall, a sheet of shining metal marked the elevator door. Just to the left of it, a black rectangle the size of a large hand.

"Like most everything else in The Corridor, the elevator will only work with your hand pressed firmly to the scanner. Understood?"

Sarah nodded at Robinson's gruff words, still looking around the room with interest. Aside from the open stairwell and elevator, the room held another doorway. Nothing else. No cheap furniture, nothing on the walls.

"I see your recently departed classmates have already been removed from the stairwell. That's good. The sight would only distract you all."

Her stomach tightened. There was a sound of disbelief from one of the other trainees. Sarah did not check to see who. Instead, she looked toward the floor of the stairwell. It was empty, as if two people had not fallen to their death. She looked away before she could see if any part of them remained, closing her eyes briefly at the thought. The conversation moved on without her.

"I want you all to stay close to me. No touching any hand scanners. Understood?"

Sarah nodded along with the rest of her classmates. Her eyes flicked to the young faces around her. All of them contained some combination of fear and excitement. The same feelings she felt swimming in her head, pressing in her chest. She trailed behind the group, as they herded through the doorway on the left.

"This doorway will lead to the Main Hall and the Corridors," she heard Robinson yell from somewhere ahead of her.

She could not see over the shoulders of her classmates, but she caught glimpses of the hallway between their bodies. Unremarkable stone walls, utterly free of adornments or blemishes. The group parted enough for her to see a door on the right, breaking up the long expanse of blank stone.

"This is the locker room. As you've probably noticed, The Corridor is kept cool. Sometimes, it's downright cold." The trainer pushed open the door after a soft beep. "As I said in the classroom, most every door is unlocked with your hand scan. There are a few exceptions. We’ll cover those later."

Sarah followed the class into the locker room. Her gaze moved around quickly, taking in the rows of lockers. The same grey as the rest of the Corridor. Her eyes dropped to one of the red benches. A pair of beat-up sneakers sat alone on the cheap plastic. She looked at the nearby lockers.

"This is a violation of the rules," Robinson said.

She looked over to see him pointing at the shoes. She slipped both of her hands into her pockets and waited for him to finish his thought. The air was warmer than it had been in the stairwell, but still prickled her skin. She rubbed her thumbs over her fingers. The trainer glared around the room, stopping at a few of her classmates.

"I've read your files. All of you. I know which of you has a problem with rules. Which ones can't seem to follow simple instructions." He crossed his arms over his chest, his thin biceps visible through the coarse fabric. "I see this from one of you, you're out of here. You got me?"

Sarah nodded, and for some reason his eyes landed on her.

"This class has enough worries without adding rule breakers." His watery brown eyes scanned her. After the quick comment, he turned away. "Let's see Corridor One, shall we?"

Sarah did not let her spine relax until the class started to leave the room. Her mind spun over his words. They prodded a wound that was still fresh. Another reminder that she did not belong with the others. Still frowning, she trailed after the class.

"To open the door to the Main Hall, just place your hand in the outline provided," the trainer instructed from the front of the group.

She craned her neck to see his actions, but her much taller classmates obstructed her view. When the young man in front of her turned around to look at her, she shook her head. He gave her a quick smile and turned around as the line moved.

It was not until it was nearly her turn, she got a look at the hand scanner. It was waist high to the man in front of her, chest high to her. The hand print was made for an adult man, it dwarfed hers. Her hand shook when she placed it against the cool glass and the scanner beeped a bright, alarmed sound. Her eyes flicked to the trainer standing to her right. She removed her hand.

"If that won't take your print, you don't get in. You got me?"

Sarah nodded at his gruff words. She rolled her shoulders and pressed her hand to the scanner, spreading her fingers to force them to fit the much larger print. The small bones of her hand screamed, but the scanner let out a pleased purr. She glanced at him, again.

"Good," Robinson said curtly. His gaze moved from her hand to her face. Something unnamed moved between them, a slight hardening in his eyes. It tightened the knot in her stomach. He turned and walked toward the front of the group.

Sarah waited until he was out of sight, before she allowed herself to rub her hand. It continued to ache, as the class started to move down the hallway. The walls seemed to get cooler as they moved closer to the Main Hall, leaking the cold of the surrounding soil. Then, the walls fell away and they were in a massive chamber.

"Welcome to the Main Hall. As you can see, most of the Dems are in their cells between morning shift and day shift."

Sarah vaguely heard the trainer's words, her eyes wandering the huge space. The high ceiling soared overhead, tall enough to fit the city courthouse, and the space far larger than city hall. But the room, the stone furniture, and plain stone walls barely registered. Most of her attention was on the handful of Dems who milled around the room.

All of them so similar, with minor variations in hair color and skin color, but the same impressive height and muscular build. As if they came from a race of warriors. Terrifying and dangerous, in their rough beauty. The lethal grace of a predator within the body of a man.

One of them sat at a table, his head down. Even from across the room, it was possible to see the wide restraints on his wrists. He watched them intently. The eyes did not lie. No mere man had eyes so watchful, so full of darkness. Every word, every twitch, collected and catalogued inside the perfectly unending memory of a Dem. She shivered.

Suddenly, the Dem at the table rose in one fluid movement. Going from sitting to standing between one heartbeat and the next. The tension rose in the room, but the Dem did not make any move toward them.

He turned his head away, a dismissal of their presence. She watched him roll his shoulders, stretching his neck and back in a feline arch, as a thin man walked up behind the Dem. He stopped a couple yards behind the much larger male and spoke.

From her place by the door, it was impossible to make out his words. The Dem jerked his head around to look at the man, his spine straightening. In one quick movement, he whirled around and stalked toward the man. Sarah held her breath, tense even when she was not in immediate danger. Aggression rolled off the Dem, seeming to fill every fiber of his being. He towered over the human handler.

Sarah watched in amazement, as the human spoke and all of the tension drained out of the Dem. The man pointed over his shoulder. Her gaze followed his gesture to a doorway. A large sign labeled it as the door to Corridor Two. The Dem raised his chin, but allowed the human to lead him from the room.

"That was proper etiquette for dealing with the Dems. I'm glad you all got to see that first hand. A firm tone and unflinching commands. Any questions?"

Sarah looked around the room at the other Dems, her mind filled with questions. Each one seemed massive and immovable. She looked back at her trainer to see him staring at her.

"I hope you’re all up to the task." He turned away and led them across the room.

As they passed the first security door and the walls of Corridor One closed around them, the atmosphere changed. It felt charged, like the very air was filled with electric currents. The static feeling tickled her skin through the suit.

"That feeling you are experiencing is normal," she heard the trainer announce.

"What is it?" one of her classmates questioned.

It was impossible to see who in the claustrophobic space. The question went unanswered. She felt the moment the corridor widened, more than she saw it. The electric crackle in the air increased, but the wider space seemed to make it easier to breathe.

"Time for you to get your first look at a Dem up close."

As the trainer spoke the words, another sealed door blocked the way. The class shuffled into a single file line. Sarah found herself sandwiched between two tall boys. The one in front, a blond with a ruddy complexion, and the one behind, a brunet who was almost too pale.

She turned her head to look at the boy as the line moved forward. His freckles stood out in harsh relief. She gave him a tentative smile. After a moment, he gave her a quick nod. She turned around when it was obvious he would not look at her again.

The line moved quickly. She watched the blond straighten his spine and walk to the scanner. Without any hesitation, he placed his palm against the glass. Sarah's gaze flicked from him to the trainer. The older man watched closely. When the scanner let out a quiet whir, a pleased look crossed his face. He stepped aside to let the boy pass through the doorway.

The metal door slid closed behind the blond. Sarah looked away to see the trainer watching her with an unreadable expression. She swallowed hard and stepped up to the scanner. Again, she pressed her hand to the hand print. Unlike the first time, the scanner immediately purred.

She glanced at Robinson, but he stayed silent. He did not smile. His dark gaze was heavy on her as she hurried through the doorway. The air was cooler on the other side. She imagined she could see her breath hanging in the air before her face. She looked around, moving to stand among her classmates. No one spoke.

More of the boys joined the huddle, the closeness of the bodies bringing a small amount of warmth. She looked down the long corridor. Ten feet wide, it seemed to stretch on forever. But from the manual, she knew it only held seventeen cells. Seventeen Dems. A rustle of fabric drew her attention from the long, stone hallway. She looked over her shoulder.

The brunet who had stood behind her in the line, shivered violently. When he noticed her gaze, he quickly looked away. She watched him eye the cells. Every few seconds, he licked his lips nervously. His jittery behavior made her look around at her other classmates.

She noticed twitches and flinches she had missed before. Her eyes widened in realization. Her classmates were terrified. An instinctual fear, like the terror a rabbit feels toward a fox. She looked toward the cells. The silence took on a maliciousness it had not held before.

"Alright! All of you pay attention, now!"

The trainer's voice jerked her attention from the corridor. She turned with the rest of the group to face him. He covered them all with the same no-nonsense look.

"By now, you all should know what happens when you don't follow the rules. Two of your classmates were unlucky enough to demonstrate in the staircase. I hope this has served as a warning and lesson to you all." He paused to sweep them with another look. When no one spoke, he turned to look down the length of room.

Sarah followed his gaze. A stone bench cut the room in half, empty except for a pile of what looked like metal chains. She frowned and looked back at the trainer who had moved from his place by the door. He strolled casually toward the bench. Just short of the restraints, he spun on his heel to face the class. Their eyes met.

"Handler Mackenzie."

She froze, feeling the attention of the group fall upon her. She licked her lips and stepped forward.

"Sir?"

"Come here!" Robinson barked. His gaze left her to glance down the hallway. "You will be our first lucky handler. As the only day handler, it’s fitting, I think."

Muscles tense, she forced herself forward, tuning out the cold, the scrape of the rough work suit, and the quiet murmurs of her training group. She stopped in front of him and straightened her spine.

"Sir?"

He looked at her, his smile cool. "Recite the definition of the Dem Classification System, Handler Mackenzie."

Sarah dropped her gaze. Staring hard at the floor, she searched her mind for the answer. It was just on the edge of her memory. Chapter one, the beginning of the book. She wiped her damp palms on her suit.

"Anytime, Handler Mackenzie!"

She flinched at his sharp tone, but the jolt seemed to shake the information free. She looked up at him. "The Dem Classification System is a color coding system created to indicate violence level among the Dem population."

"That's a very precise definition, Handler Mackenzie." He turned away from her to look down at the bench again. "Explain how the DCS works."

Sarah stared at him, wondering at his motives. She paused long enough that he looked at her again.
"Was there something about that order you didn't understand?" His eyes narrowed.

"No, sir," she said quickly. Her eyes widened when he took a step toward her.

"Then, I suggest you answer the damn question, Mackenzie." He looked down at her, jaw visibly clenched. "Now."

"Yes, sir," she said quickly. "The colors are red, orange, yellow, green, and blue."

"That's real helpful, Mackenzie," he interrupted, voice almost hateful. "That's really going to be useful. Much more useful than say, what the different colors mean."

She shrunk back from his glare. "Of course, sir. I mean, no, sir." She tripped over her words, flicking her gaze to her classmates. None of them met her eyes.

"Alright, I can see this is too hard for you, Mackenzie. I'll make it easy. What does blue mean?"

Sarah did not look up to see what expression went with the condescending words. "Blue is the lowest of the levels and means the Dem has not been violent in at least five centuries."

"Green?" he barked.

Sarah kept her head down. "Green is the second lowest level. It means the Dem has not been violent in at least a century." She looked up quickly to see if she should continue.

"Go on," her trainer ordered, stepping away and giving her some space.

She let out a quiet sigh, watching him carefully. "Yellow is the third lowest level. It means the Dem has not been violent in at least fifty years." When he did not look at her, she continued. "Orange is the second highest level. It means the Dem has not been violent in at least ten years."

"And Red?" he asked offhandedly, busy with the chains. She watched him rearrange the stack until wrist and ankle restraints were separated from the rest.

"Red," she said quietly, watching as he lay a chest harness next to the restraints, "is the highest level. It means the Dem has not been violent in at least a year."

"Explain why there is no color for Dems who have been violent in the past year." He finished sorting and laid the connecting chain beside the rest.

Sarah stared at him blankly. "I…" She looked at her classmates. All of them looked equally confused. "Sir?"

He straightened and tucked his hands in his pockets. "A new level has recently been added." He looked at the closest cell. "Black." He turned around and his gaze landed on her. "Handler Mackenzie will be the first to experience a Dem with a DCS of black."

"What is a DCS of black, sir?" she whispered, following his gaze to the first cell.

"Violent in the past year or violent on a regular basis. In this Dem's case, both." He turned to face the class and the look in his eyes was enough to make her shiver. "Handler Mackenzie will be demonstrating proper Dem handling technique."

Sarah stared at him. When his expression hardened, she took a step forward. "Yes, sir."

"What is the first step, Handler Mackenzie?" He stared at her expectantly.

Her eyes moved to the panel on the wall next to the cell. "Observation, sir."

"Do it, then." He stepped aside to give her a clear path.

"Yes, sir." 

She walked toward the cell. She had to do this. For herself. For her family. She forced herself not to move faster when she passed him, her muscles tense, and her body poised for flight. His gaze was a cold weight. Each step toward the cell was a struggle, until she stood just a hand width from the barrier.

Her breath hit the shield on every exhale, a small crackle across the field of energy. The cell appeared pitch black through the Dark Screen. Her eyes strayed to the glass panel just to the right.

"Take off the DS, Handler Mackenzie."

Sarah twitched at the sound of the trainer's voice from just behind her. She looked over her shoulder. The class stood against the wall across from the cell. All of them stared at her expectantly. She looked at her trainer.

"Yes, sir." With courage she did not feel, she touched a glowing square at the bottom left of the panel and the cell flooded with light.

"Handler Mackenzie, start observing."

His words seemed distant and fuzzy. Most of her attention focused on the inside of the cell and the Dem who was less than two feet from her, staring with obvious irritation.

"I said, observe!"

Sarah flinched at Robinson's words. She watched the Dem's gaze move past her and darken. His mouth opened and he said something, but the Sound Screen was still engaged. She moved to turn it off.

"Leave it," her trainer ordered. "Do your observations. We don't have all day."

Sarah dropped her hand from the wall panel. "Yes, sir." She stepped back to stand in front of the cell bars.

The Dem's dark gaze moved over her classmates, before landing on her again. His eyes narrowed. She watched his lips move, as he came closer to the bars. She tensed.

"Mackenzie!"

She flinched. Again, the Dem's gaze flicked past her. She swallowed hard and forced herself to calm. "Dem is tall," she said softly. She heard a derisive snort from behind her.

"Everyone is tall compared to you, Handler Mackenzie. I want a better observation."

Sarah's gaze moved to the panel on the wall, where the Dem's vital statistics were listed. She narrowed her eyes to read the small print. "Dem is six feet, seven inches tall." Her eyes flicked to the imposing figure who had fastened his gaze on her, as if he could hear her.

"And?" her trainer questioned impatiently.

"Dem is of the mesomorph body type," she continued hurriedly. Her eyes skimmed the loose suit that could not hide the broadness of his shoulders. "Hair is dark blond, eyes are green." She looked away from the Dem's narrowed gaze.

"And?"

Sarah looked at the Dem, frantically searching for what she had missed. "And…" she looked at the panel on the wall. Suddenly, she realized what she had missed. "Dem is called Farran." She looked over her shoulder.

Her trainer nodded. "Do the second step of the technique," he told her, before turning to face the rest of the class. "I hope all of you have watched Handler Mackenzie. You will be expected to do the same."

"Yes, sir," the class chorused behind her.

"Handler Mackenzie."

"Yes, sir," she said quickly.

"I expect you to follow the schedule for the day." He gave the cell a quick glance and walked toward the door.

Sarah stared in confusion, as the class followed the trainer from the corridor. When the last of her classmates had passed through the doorway, she turned to face the cell. 

Her eyes swept over the Dem's face, avoiding his eyes. A straight nose, thin lips, and a strong jaw below high cheekbones. It was a pleasing face, she thought. Almost beautiful in its ruggedness, but as the lips twisted into a mocking smile, her eyes rose.

The Dem stared at her. His mouth moved slowly, forming words through the sharp smile. Sarah tipped her head in confusion. She watched him look toward where the panel was embedded in the wall.

"Oh!" She hurried to the panel and tapped the glowing square at the bottom center of the screen. Immediately, the Sound Screen dropped. She stepped back to look into the cell. "Can you hear me?" She tucked her hands into her pockets.

The Dem leaned against the bars. He stared at her silently, pupils dilated until they nearly swallowed the green of his irises. He followed her every movement.

"Dem, can you hear me?" She took a step closer to him. When he stayed silent, she frowned. "Maybe, I did it wrong." She turned to look at the panel in confusion. "Maybe…" she pressed the only remaining square. The Containment Screen fell. "Can you hear me, Dem?"

Still, he did not answer.

She wondered at the look on his face. She took a step forward. "I am going to open the cell so you can hear me, Dem." She shook her head at herself. "Never mind. You can't hear me."

She glanced at the restraints on the bench. The panel held the schedule for the day, and it made it obvious she was already late. She bit her lip. After a quick look at the Dem, she walked over to retrieve the restraints.

They were lighter than they looked. Certainly not as heavy as an Earth metal. She draped them across her left arm and approached the panel. She saw the Dem from the corner of her eye. He had not moved from his position.

The panel purred almost the moment her hand touched the glass. A loud click made her jump. Her eyes quickly moved to the door of the cell and she let out a breath. The bolt had disengaged. She let out a nervous laugh.

"Dem, can you hear me?" She stepped to the door and gasped.

"Yes, human. I hear you." The Dem pulled open the door and reached for her. "Rule one. Do not disengage the locks when the prisoner is not restrained." His tone was full of dark amusement.

Sarah stared at him with wide eyes, too terrified to move. His fingers circled her arms. He jerked her forward and a choked gasp left her throat, as her toes skimmed the floor before it fell away. Her mind raced, but she forced herself still as he lifted her until they were eye to eye.

"Name?" he demanded.

"Sarah Mackenzie." She swallowed hard. She would be like the ones who had fallen, her remains something to be cleaned from the floor.

"Age?"

She tried not to tense when he brought his face to her neck and inhaled deeply.

"Twenty-two." The lie tried to stick in her throat.

He pulled back and gave her a dark look. "Try again."

"Eighteen," she whispered, tensing when his lips pulled back from his teeth in a shark smile.

"A lie, Sarah? How nice that you are not as innocent as you look." His smile faded. "Pick up the restraints. I have a schedule."

When he put her down, her knees wobbled, threatening to give out on her. He could grab her, shake her, kill her. She stared up at him, waiting for the violence to begin. Prepared to stand strong. He stepped back.