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Kagami

It’s time for another dip into…the Secret Files! Have a peek at Kagami, the character who gave his name to the first book of the upcoming Yokai Chronicles!
Kagami is a type of tsukumogami (pronounced soo-koo-mo-gah-me), mythological creatures in Japanese folklore. His true form is a mirrored piece of glass, but he’s eager to escape the restraints of being a mirror. Mischievous, dedicated, and just a little bit of an oddball, Kagami escapes his mirror with an eye on Akira, a Tokyo police inspector who reminds him of the one he must avenge: his Maker. In search of the one who slew the glassmaker who created him, and the full experience of life in the real world, Kagami…begins!
Take a peek at some inspirational images (yes, that means gorgeous Japanese men), and a special sneak-peek of Kagami’s first scene below!

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Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami.
Are you awake? Awake…
Wake!
Ka
Ga
Mi.
From the depths of his own reflection, he surfaced with the sound of that name. Am I Kagami? The world around him, outside him, was a red-hot blur of indistinct intentions, full of the wild pounding of drumbeats, the ritual smoke of incense, sand burning, charcoal, fire. Most of all, the mirror was aware of the flames that kept his molten surface in motion, but his consciousness was scattered. Piecemeal. His perceptions gained meaning only as he grew aware of them.
To see. To feel – and again, to see. And then: to hear.
“No, no. There’s no point complaining, and I don’t want to hear you scream.”
A voice engaged the mirror’s whole attention as his surface smoothed into stillness and reflected more of the world than fire. Thinner than that boisterous voice, muffled noises hummed at the edge of his consciousness.
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
Are you awake, awake, awake – ?
The echo was distorted, a shallow vibration that twisted slowly through the molten depths of the mirror. Then, more strongly, he heard a single voice from outside, though it was not speaking to him but someone out of his sight. “You did this to yourself, yes, you did. Oh, I know all the excuses, all the reasons you could list. I have heard them all before – yokai, human, it makes no difference.”
A clatter of shining sound sprang to life all around the mirror. Metal? But no, it was too clear, too starry, too bright. The roar of the fire intensified in response to a bellows’ gust, and the mirror realized it was the sound of other glass, tingling voices shouting, laughing, agreeing with their Maker.
There was only a single muffled tremor of denial, and then the Maker’s voice again. “Yes, I know. You think yourself special. But it has been more than eight hundred years since I took this work on myself, and criminals are all the same. Now, wait just there while I make this beautiful baby ready.” A pair of gleaming eyes appeared suddenly above the mirror’s glowing surface, set in a soft, furry face. The dark eyes were black-ringed, tanuki eyes, and the whole of his body, nose to tail-tip, fangs to claws, glowed with a soft haze of yokai energies. The Maker leaned back and changed, his body flowing like the glass he worked, and the mirror observed with interest the way he traded his tanuki shape for one more human. Only the dark, soft eyes with their kind satisfaction, their encouraging expression, stayed the same.
Restless, the mirror shifted, bubbling with focus but not purpose, need but not understanding of it. He was, but who was he? Who was he to be? What was being?
Beautiful baby, the soft-eyed one had said, his Maker. Beautiful baby. Was that his name? Or was it kagami, as the shining echo still insisted? The question vibrated through him, coalesced in sparks on his molten surface, and the Maker’s voice was tender when he answered.
“You are awake, Kagami? Yes, that is your name, though I will call you many other things in love. It is almost time to give you your heart. Pay attention, now. This is your sacrifice, your beginning. You will cleanse his soul in the fire, and in one hundred years you will take it for your own.”
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
This time the pieces of echo, this new label for his being, came with laughter and a feeling of welcome, but Kagami, newly named, was still only a questioning awareness, perceiving and not understanding. A heart? What was a heart? What was a soul? Whose were the voices that laughed at him, reached out for him, not his Maker but shadows in the dimness with him, behind the surface of still-boiling glass?
Kin.
Your.
Kin. Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami!
The heart is –
The soul is –
The sacrifice!
The…sacrifice?
As if in answer to his questioning, a boy was lowered toward Kagami’s surface. The ripples of heat rising from him brewed drops of sweat that sizzled as they fell. The boy’s eyes were hard and cold and horrible, but Kagami perceived without knowing how that the fire still within him, his own molten being, would cleanse the grime from the soul that had been chosen for him, the heart that would beat inside him.
Yes.
Kagami!
A heart, a soul, a face, a name.
To be born.
With us!
Among us.
One of –
Us.
Kagami.
More and more voices, more and more entreaties called out to him, demanding, amusing themselves with his emptiness, the things he did not know or comprehend. The truth came in softer, firmer words from outside the mirror-world, beyond the inner reflections and their echoing glass voices. “You become, Kagami. My finest work, the most beautiful mirror, one pane of glass, never to be broken, never to forget your name. My masterpiece. You become, and you are tsukumogami. Do you understand? That is to be yokai, but born of man and not of nature. Tsukumogami: a living thing, an embryo one hundred years in the birthing. Behold your sacrifice, Kagami. Behold your heart, and the face you will possess.”
The face…he would possess? The Maker gestured, and the muffled source of the room’s discontent was revealed. A boy, hanging above him, bound and gagged and struggling vain and furiously. Sluggish, learning more of motion than he had in his first moment, Kagami rose up, pressing against his own red-hot surface to peer closely.
Oh. Pretty. As the sacrifice was lowered closer to his molten glass, Kagami could see the boy more clearly, the rippling muscles of a youth in his prime, soft, bronze curves of body, narrow nose, slender face, elfin chin…they were not quite human, those features. More than mortal. An interesting face. -a yokai face?
This one…he would be a powerful sacrifice.
Tendrils of bitter yoki embraced his Maker once more, embraced the boy as he pulled at his bonds, and rained onto Kagami’s surface.
“You can’t do this! I’m not human, you can’t just snatch up yokai and use them as you please! Don’t you know whose son I am? What right do you -” The Maker made a slashing gesture with one hand, and though the boy’s mouth kept moving, the hollow of his throat vibrated only with silence.
It appeared the Maker knew everything that mattered – even to this boy. “Quiet now. Enough struggling. This is the end of your world, you should know that. What does your father matter, compared to your crimes? What would the Fujiwara say to your excuses?”
The boy bucked harder, bent nearly in half, then screamed as his toes came too close to the searing glass beneath him. He jerked back as far as he could in the other direction.
“Was that a name you didn’t expect to hear? But that is why you are here, boy. The life you stole is the reason your life was given to me.” The glassmaker spoke in a conspiratorial tone, but with sad, sad eyes. “It troubles me to no end that I never have any trouble finding a sacrifice. Ah, well. You’re a beautiful boy, you will give my masterpiece a lovely face. And one hundred years from now, when the grief of your evil has faded, I am sure your soul will serve him better than it has served you.”
Dark hair flailed as the boy was dropped the last few feet, free-falling, the strands dancing like silk thread in a high wind. His face was a scattering of regrets-rage-hate, a distortion of his general, fleshly beauty. Then he hit the surface of the glass, and Kagami bubbled eagerly out of his frame, up around the boy then down to embrace him. He became more as he consumed this sacrifice. More aware. More shining. Brighter.
Blood and skin and bone melted away, eaten in an instant, devoured to the last particle, leaving behind only the diamond heart of a soul, and a realization. To be was… To be was to be Kagami.

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Icarus

It’s #1lineWed again! Meet Icarus, one of the main characters in The Wrong Things, a book series I shouldn’t be writing! He starts out homeless and alone, an Ara (submissive vampire) with a fear of Ada (dominant vampires) and a desperate need for one all the same. The one he ends up with is Raven – black, beautiful, and old as the desert… But Raven is for later.

For now, wave as he passes: sharp-tongued, snarky, still soft as a sigh, the redhead with bedhead, Icarus!

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Icarus swallowed thickly, touched his tongue to his teeth, sucking on one fang, then chewed his lip. This Ada – he would never say it, but this Ada was tempting him, too. And more than just with his taboo offer of the richest blood in the world.

“Do you really mean it? I’m so -” He closed his eyes, felt the heat rising in his cheeks and couldn’t deny it. “I’m just so hungry.” And then he snapped them open again, shook his head and inched a little farther back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even -”

“I made the offer. I mean it. Come here.” And, more softly than he’d spoken yet, Raven said, “I have no idea why you are so terrified, but I will not hurt you.”

It was unbelievable. Icarus believed him anyway. Why not? This was already insane. An Ada in the room with him, ignoring his heat, sitting on his own hands – another hysterical flip of laughter popped out of him, and he crawled up the bed, put his hands on smooth, dark shoulders and sucked his lip between his teeth before he could moan just from the heat of Raven’s skin.  “Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you being so good to me?”

“That frightens you?”

Shaking his head, Icarus slid one of his hands up into the Ada’s thin, tight braids, and then other down his arm, over the swell of one huge bicep to the bend of his elbow. “You scare me. Ada scare me. Or maybe you don’t scare me, but you’re still an Ada and you should.”

Raven was frowning at him now, but he still tilted his head to the side, the curve of his scalp against the curve of Icarus’ fingers. “I will ask questions later. For now, if you are going to drink, then do so. It is not easy for me to have you in my lap like this.”

“Where…” The word was hushed.

“Were you not going for my throat?” There was so much amusement in Raven’s voice Icarus huffed, then realized he really wasn’t afraid, and was almost scared by that. Was it this Ada’s attitude, his gentleness? His self-control? His humor? Was it Icarus’ heat, the drive he could sense even now, encouraging him to –

Icarus.”

He sucked in a breath, then leaned up on his knees and sank his teeth into the Ada’s throat.

Green Iron

Since the magic of #1lineWed and Camp NanoWriMo coincide for the first time today, I am going to crawl all the way out to the end of the furthest limb and share not only a bit of context for some of those lines, but a piece from my Camp project, Earthbound!

This lovable doom of a novel has been in the making since my first November attempt at a Nanowrimo, and has grown in the telling…considerably.

Enjoy a sneak peek!

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The door closed behind the servant, and his sister’s hands pulled Lu Yin down into her bed as she slipped from his arms.
He stumbled away, tangled his legs in the sheets and fell to the floor.
Bells.
But no, there were no bells, only the sound of his sister’s laughter shattering in his ears.
“I know what you want now, Lu Yin.  Did you not want me to know? Or did you want it too much?”
He stood slowly, disentangled himself from her sheets and tossed them back on the bed. Red silk pooled around her legs, and she drew it up, up, over her knees, her thighs –
“Are you listening, elder brother?” He wet his lips. “You should be listening. You should -”
“Enough!” And then, more quietly. “Enough.” He pinned her to her pillows, and oh, those eyes.
Blue, so flashing, all the amusement in the world when she was on the verge of breaking him – could he not even have the silence to console him?
The silence and the scent of her, when that was all he had.
He held her throat in his hands, slender and bruised, white but for where she had been bitten, and squeezed for a breathless moment. He traced the dark-marked places with slender fingertips, as if they were wounds.
“Why? Who would dare to mark the Fourth Princess?”
Her dancing eyes. No promise of the truth in them – had there ever been? But now the old, dim lifelessness was laughter. Why would she still be so amused?
“I should tell father -”
“You won’t tell father.”
“I must -”
But the pressure of her mouth against his lips brings him to tingling silence. Forbidden pressure. Forbidden kiss.
“You won’t tell father. Or did you never mean it when you said you loved me?”
“I love you.” Helpless. What else to say? What lie could be enough in the face of her certain knowledge, the gleam and promise in her face?
Her kiss tasted green as the wild frontier mountains from which he had come. Her hair, too, smelled of the wild, and the iron taste of the blood on her skin was the taste of war.
There was war, too, in her hands and against his throat. Iron in her eyes, and in her hands.
The point of his own gilded dagger was sharp against his throat as she spoke.
“Did I say you could have me? Did I say, come, take, this which belongs to my lover belongs also to you?” Shadow in her eyes. Shadow in the green of her warm breath against the side of his face.
“No. I did not say that.”

 

Last Laugh

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Holy – the theme was humor, after all! 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Artemio felt Matti shifting on his chest as Marina shouted down Luca’s protests. He was so relaxed, his lips occasionally pressing against his throat, his fingers warm against the back of Artemio’s hand, that this time he didn’t worry. He grinned as Luca reached out and clapped a hand over Marina’s mouth to shut her up, at least long enough that he could get a word in.

“You’re drunk. Seriously, do you hear yourself? The second one is the shitty one, Jason vs. Necromancer Moon Unicorn three is Stabbin’ Fever.”

Marina pulled Luca’s hand off her mouth, took another drink and shook her head emphatically. “No it’s two, three’s from 2029 and it has the Cyberwar crap in it -”

“Uh…huh.”

Luca looked contemplative, but Artemio nudged the back of his head with a knee. “Nobody cares, because we’re not watchin’ anything with Necromancer Moon Unicorns.”

“But boss man -”

“Not. Happening.”

“I’m with Art on this one. Gotta add it to the list – no driving for Yuyi, nobody go to Luca’s house, and no picking movies for Marina when she’s drunk.”

“Fuck you – and you – and…and Taj again.”

“No, you just keep fuckin’ Taj, I got enough on my plate.”

“Hey!”

“The hell now? That’s like the third time tonight, who said I was screwing Marina?”

“I -”

“I mean not like I’d say no, but -”

“I -”

“Seriously, what gives?”

“I would like to say something if you’d both SHUT UP.”

Two pairs of eyes turned in Marina’s direction.

“….”

“…What?”

“Artemio’s a prick and I will never fuck Taj.” Without further ado, Marina slugged the rest of the bottle, then rolled it away across the floor and threw her head back. “Next!”

Artemio nudged Taj with an elbow, looked back at him over his shoulder. “Artemio, she says. Look at that, you got her to use my actual name.”

“I got her to? I think this one’s all you, Art.”

“Uh-huh, whatever. But anybody gives her another bottle I’m settin’ Yuyi on ‘em.”

“Oh? Oh? Oh? Yes? Yes…”

Artemio glanced down at her, suddenly alert, her head lifted, her eyes bright. “Don’t be too eager or nothin’…”

Luca reached up a hand, waved it around.“I want a bottle. Or a glass, even. Since, y’know. Marina drank the whole rest of the first one.” Luca scowled around, irritated, but nobody made to get up, and he scowled harder. “Seriously, I gotta get it myself?”

Artemio shrugged. “I’m not getting up. And that means Matti’s not getting up, or Taj, either.” Luca glared at him, then shrugged.

“And Marina can’t stand.” He tossed a hopeful glance in Svava’s direction, and she lifted an eyebrow.

“You are a lazy man.”

“I’m an old man.”

“You are only forty seven. I came into being more than two thousand years ago, but I am not whining about old age.”

“You don’t get achy.”

“I will be kind and bring you a glass, and the bottle, as I wish for a drink myself. But it does not change that you are a lazy man. And you, Taj?”

“No, thanks. I gotta drive, and dealing with Marina’s gonna be hell as it is.”

“Hmmm…this, I think you are right about. Artemio, is your glass full? Should I make offering to your lover?”

Artemio jerked his gaze up to her face. “To my – Matti? Fuck no, he’s had enough twice over.” There was giggling against his chest, then laughter, and Artemio only sighed. “See? Look at this. As I was gonna say before, I didn’t mean to even get him drunk, but I fucked up pourin’ outta the bottle and onto the altar. Which I’ve never done before. Also I got no idea how much it takes to set him off, I mean he’s got this wine, and he never got like this off that.”

“Yes, Artemio. But you?”

“Eh…yeah, I could use a splash.” He sipped at his glass, stretched his leg until he felt Luca’s shoulder against his knee, cold through his sweatpants. Svava came back with the bottle and a pair of glasses, topped off Artemio’s drink then stepped around the couch to give Luca his.

“Thanks, Svava. Life-saver, really.”

“I am not getting up again to give you the bottle -”

“Eh, you can throw at it me. Or I’ll just make Marina get it, that’ll be fun. So anyone gonna pick a movie or not?”

Artemio leaned his head back against Taj and closed his eyes. “I never finished watchin’ Terminal Glory but I think the noise might scare Matti into another incarnation. Unless he’s passed out alr-” Mouth. Tongue against his lips, so hot, so sudden he almost dropped his glass of whiskey. Matti kissed him hard enough to steal his breath, then pulled back and stared at him with eyes that were burning with brightness.

“Not passed out, not sleeping, not anything, only waiting, wanting – waiting.” Another kiss, somehow sharper and softer both, and then Matti slid back down Artemio’s chest and turned to the face the Wall again. Artemio blinked down at the top of his head, licked his lips, then lifted his glass carefully around Matti and transferred it to the hand resting on the back of the couch.

“Well. Guess that answers that – but I still don’t wanna watch it. Anybody else got a suggestion?” Artemio slung his gaze around the room – Jer only lifted an eyebrow, and Sváva blinked at him dispassionately. Yuyi’s eyes were closed, her breathing steady, and he couldn’t see Marina or Luca at all, turned his head and peered up at Taj out of one eye, met his gaze and the shrug in it.

“Don’t look at me.”

Artemio sighed. “We’re gonna end up watching moon unicorns, aren’t we?”

“Nah.”

And, as always happened eventually, random movie titles began to bounce around the room. “Imperfect Suicide?”

“Seen it. Sucked. Last Call?”

“You think everything sucked. And Last Call is almost four hours long, I don’t wanna listen to the boss snoring for that long. The Omen?”

“Luca, nobody is ever gonna wanna watch The Omen. Why do you always suggest it?”

He shrugged, a movement Artemio felt against his leg. “Better than Robocop?”

“Oh you dinn’t – don’even – Rob’cops th’best. Well, almos’. Alien’s reall’ th’bes’.”

“Christ, Mari. Just…don’t even talk. Though…actually. What about Alien?” Artemio scanned the room, got shrugs and shrugged himself. “Fine, at least it’s somethin’. Wall, find movie, Alien.” It came up almost at once. “Play. Hey, Matti. Matti -”

“Hmmmm? Master. Master? You need -”

“No, just – ‘s gonna get loud. Eventually. If it scares you, you don’t have to -”

“Master. It doesn’t scare me, it’s just…loud.”

Taj was snickering again, and Artemio shoved an elbow back into his ribs – but then the movie credits zoomed in from space to the interior of the ship, and Matti wiggled back against him, and Artemio gave up his scowl for a sip of bourbon and pressed his lips against the back of Matti’s neck.

By the time the movie was a half hour in, the soft whiskey scent had left Matti’s skin, and his mouth only tasted like sweetness when Artemio bent to kiss him, testing. In the light from the Wall, his eyes were clear now, and Artemio leaned back satisfied.

“Master.”

It was the softest whisper, pleased and warm. Matti wiggled back against him again, slipped his hand over Artemio’s hand and pushed it down to his waist, then his hip.

Artemio lifted an eyebrow, hooked his thumb into the waistband of Matti’s borrowed sweatpants and pressed his lips against his throat again, brought his mouth up to Matti’s ear and nipped the curve of it. “You be good.”

But Matti turned against him, pressed back and wiggled, wouldn’t be still until Artemio’s erection settled against the curve of his ass, and then he rocked against it.

“Matti enough!” He hissed it sharply, truly annoyed now. Hadn’t he made it clear enough that he wanted him? Didn’t the fucking hard on that’d been jabbing him in the back for the last hour prove it? “Enough.” Softer, irritated at himself now for being so sharp, he tightened his grip on Matti’s waist.

Matti shivered once and went still against him, eyes on the screen – but Artemio wondered, because there was no worry on his face, and he was still relaxed…even though that hadn’t been the case before, when he’d been sharp with him.

What had changed? Was it that there was someone else here with them now? Instead of paying attention to the movie, which he’d seen before, Artemio sipped at his drink, closed his eyes and contemplated the riddle that was Matti.

Obedience. But even if that was his nature, it obviously wasn’t the whole of him – wasn’t everything – or he wouldn’t resist. Or does he? Or…was he…

By the end of the movie, with Matti still and no longer trying to entice him, Artemio had dozed off. He always did, couldn’t help it – the dark did him in, and the alcohol, and the warmth of familiar presences, the knowledge of their safety which was the whole point of the evening. The difference was that this time, when he cracked his eyes open to the sounds of people moving around, felt Taj’s body moving out from under his head, there was one point of warm contact that didn’t move away.

Matti was still against his chest, his eyes closed, his breathing even and deep. He was glowing that soft glow again, asleep and perfect, and four pairs of eyes were staring at him that weren’t Artemio’s. Jer was already gone, and Yuyi was pacing by the door, waiting for Svava, but the rest –

He shifted his glance from one to the other and grumbled at them. “What’re you lookin’ at? Why are you still all here? Get.” Warmth tickled his chin as Matti turned his head, waking, rubbed his cheek against Artemio’s chest, and looked up at him.

“Master, should I get rid of them for you?” That scattered the rest of team. Artemio grinned, waved them all off and snickered at Taj’s back as he helped Marina stumble swearing out the door. It clicked shut, and Matti kissed Artemio’s throat in the same instant.

“You are awake now, Master? You were sleeping, so I slept with you – I did not like that movie. Everyone kept dying.”

Artemio chuckled, shook his head. “Yeah, I know. And I’m…awake? Mmmm…sorta. Kinda. Maybe.” He yawned, shifted, and Matti sat up, slipped off the side of the couch and knelt beside him. “Why, there somethin’ you wanna do?” He asked the question even though he knew exactly what Matti wanted to do, and the thought brought back the last thing that had been on his mind before he dozed off.

“No. No, not -” But he was biting his lip that way he did so often, leaning forward, and Artemio pushed himself up on one arm and leaned over the edge of the couch. He kissed him deeply, fully, smirked and came far more awake at the sound of Matti’s moan.

“What if there’s something I wanna do?”

“’Temio?”

“Like take you.”

“Oh. Oh -”

“I made you a promise…though I seem to remember somebody gettin’ handsy. In the middle of the movie – in fronta my whole goddamn team.” He lifted an eyebrow, reached out to tug at Matti’s hair the way he knew he liked, watched his lips part, his eyes darken. “Somebody who knows better.”

Matti’s gaze was innocent, but that innocence uncompelling. “Master, you never said not to-”

“Rub all over me? Kiss me like a dyin’ man? Try to make me fuck you right here, in front of my team? Cause you got me this close -” Artemio kissed him roughly, tugged harder at the hair in his grip and then forced himself to let go.

 

Omega Run

It’s #1lineWed again – amazing how that happens every week! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from my sexy, sneaky side-project, The Other Omega, which is currently in final edits for its  Friday release!

The Other Omega is sequel to First Nights and The Other Alpha, which is the first of these books (and also free here ’til the end of the week!)

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The morning after the full moon’s last night, Niketas saw Luka turn on the phone his brother had given him and was almost overcome by the sudden, restless twist of heat that pooled in his gut. It wasn’t Wednesday, so the only reason for his Alpha to be messing with his phone was if he thought Stelios was going to call for some other reason. For him. It had to be for him…

Didn’t it?

Had Stelios said so when he’d talked to Luka, something Niketas hadn’t been privy to? Had Stelios told Luka that he wanted Niketas to come back? He thought back to the weeks he’d spent with Stelios and bit back a moan. So good. Everything he did, every place he touched, everything he wanted.

It had been – god. He hadn’t even wanted to leave, but Luka had come for him and he hadn’t been able to say anything. Not a protest…not even goodbye, not in front of Luka. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to call Stelios by name, but neither could he call him Sir in front of his brother.

There was a wolf whine waiting in the base of his throat, now as then, but he denied it. There was no point in getting all worked up. If Stelios was going to call, he’d call. No point, no point –

But he stared fixedly at the damn phone, and ignored Leon’s taunts and his questions. He was aching a little still, from how rough Leon had been, making him ready to take that woman. Not in the good way, either, like with Stelios.

That was the only thing that had made him capable, kept him hard enough to fuck Luka’s girl. Stelios. Pretending Leon was him, ignoring the woman under him, her softness, the heat of her, and focusing on the memory. Stelios stretching him open, so much thicker, so much bigger than Leon, and –

“Fuck.” His cock was straining at his jeans, and he reached down, rubbed his palm over it, then jumped as the phone rang. The sound was incongruous with the furs and spartan bareness of their den, but Luka walked over and grabbed it up off the shelf as if he’d been expecting the call.

“Uh-huh. And so what, if I had forgotten you could have just…yeah. I was expecting you to. Oh, come on, he might be wondering because he doesn’t know you but I know that look, you – yeah. Alright. Today? Yeah, but you know he’s still going to – alright, alright. Yeah, Wednesday. The usual thing.”

Luka hung up and turned to face him, but Niketas was already on his feet, going for his jacket. He heard Leon laughing at him again, and even Luka was smirking, but he didn’t care. He was grinning like an idiot and he didn’t care about that, either.

“Eager, aren’t you?”

“That was your brother.”

“Of course it was.”

“And he-”

“Wants you? Yeah. Go on. You remember the way?”

“You’re…not coming this time?”

Luka scowled at him and shrugged off the suggestion. “Why? Into the city? Fuck no, not unless I have to, and I don’t. Go around back like I brought you last time, and hit the buzzer for the penthouse.”

“Got it. Did he say…do you…how long am I staying?”

He was very still while Luka looked him up and down, then shrugged. “As long as you want. Doesn’t matter to me, if you’re having a good time…but I’ll come get you for next month’s full moon if you haven’t come back yet.”

Niketas flushed as he tossed a few shirts and pairs of jeans in a bag. “Really? Another woman? Luka, I really don’t – I can’t -”

“You think I didn’t notice?” His smirk widened a little. “Seemed to do alright once Leon got you going, though.” Niketas was less than amused, and avoided Luka’s gaze with a shrug as he zipped up his jacket and tossed his bag on the back of his motorcycle.

“I guess I’ll see you then, if I’m not back before.” He grinned faintly, then rolled out his bike, swung into the seat and revved the engine.

“Niketas…”

“Yeah?” Something in Luka’s stance as he stood at the entrance to the den, hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forward, made him sit up and take notice. “What else, Luka?”

“Be careful. Don’t get yourself hurt, yeah?”

“…I…” Then Niketas shook his head and grinned. “It’s just sex, Luka, c’mon.”

Luka scowled. “Just sex -”

“I’ll be fine. See ya.”

Niketas raced himself down the mountainside, away from the den and into the city. He could see the way as if it was printed for him with giant arrows on the pavement – and more than that, the closer he got the more the thin thread of Stelios’ scent became a rope dragging him onward.

Impatience crawled up Niketas’ back like some kind of animal, digging in its claws.

 

King’s Daughter

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Earthbound, that book which will one day consume  us all. But me first, so you’ll have warning! 

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From the inner chambers of the court, past the Golden Lotus Pavilion and over the covered bridges, the King made his way past the flares he’d ordered lit. Some of them, poorly placed, guttered in the rain.

As he crossed the last bridge, the sound of strings came to him, though faintly. A low arpeggio of sound brought green to mind, swelled like a mountain growing in the back of his thoughts. Beautiful, Liuxing’s playing, and more lush than he remembered. Quietly, careful to make no sound, the king passed through the open door at the northwest corner of the Hall, then up the stairs to where the outline of the prince was barely visible, staring down from the shadows, visibly enraptured.

The king smiled, then stayed where he was, waiting. Trickling sound filled up the room and spilled out its melodies around them. Deep, plucked notes slid down the walls, pooled on the floor, then sprang up and splashed down again, rippling outward.

But the longer he listened, the more the king frowned, and deeper.

This…was not a song he knew, or one he had heard her play before. The falling arcs of sound were slow…so slow, but there was passion in them and unease crawled down his shoulders. Passion. Not love or excitement, not gentler emotions. Something as real as the passion of the spring for rain –

That green, flowing sound. Did she already have a lover? Was that the reason behind her avoidance, the reason she chose to ignore every suitor he selected?

He hadn’t even considered that, when perhaps it was the most obvious reason…but how could it be? The first man he’d picked, she had rejected without a second glance, and all the others since. She was watched, accompanied, guarded and attended, so how could she have had a lover? One or many, it was equally impossible.

Still, he couldn’t deny what he was hearing. If he closed his eyes and shut out the sight of her, her playing rolled over him and spoke of things she shouldn’t know. One of his own consorts might play such a melody, one of the palace concubines. It was seductive, a lure, a song designed to enchant a man, and it should not have been coming from the fingers of his innocent daughter.

But there was more than desire in it to disturb him.

Mountains, hills, the river moving – moonlight – they were all in her music, but they were sounds of the wild world, far beyond her experience. She played them all the same, and his mind chased the straining sound of her strings back to their source. A shadow. It moved behind his eyelids, silent and saturated with green.

A green…shadow. The rhythm moved in waves that summoned more than sound, layers of melody speaking a language he didn’t understand.

A whisper disconcerted him, a human noise rising through the falling tones of longing Liuxing was sending out into the rain. It was the prince, speaking to a servant, but the king heard nothing of his words. He was on the edge of approaching, making himself known, when the woman came back and the Prince reached out and took something from her –

A flute. He lifted it to his lips and played a clear, strong note that chased the sound of Liuxing’s strings in eerie harmony.

There was a gasp in concert with the first note of flute, discord as Liuxing’s hands came down across the strings, as she looked up and caught sight of the Prince standing on the gallery, looking down at her.

“Don’t stop, Princess. Play something with me. I’ve never heard anyone as good as you.”

“You’ve interrupted me, and spied on me, and you still ask that question? Do you have my father’s permission to make such requests?”

“I could not say I do.”

“Oh? Very well then.”

She returned her hand to their places on the strings, and the king smiled. Perhaps Liuxing had finally taken interest after all? He looked down and moved along the gallery away from the prince, until he could see her face.

Her expression set off a tingle of warning at the base of his spine. She looked – so calm. But calm was not the word for it. Her expression was deep ocean, still on the surface but something moving beneath. For a moment the king saw that something clearly, and didn’t understand. A monster, terrible and lovely, lifting her head to discover what had dared call her out of the deep…

For the second time that morning he remembered Liuxing’s mother.

He closed his eyes, but the music had changed. The green shadow behind his eyes turned black and cruel as the night.

 

Red Woman

It’s #1lineWed again, and that means time to riffle through my word-stash! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Rakushinpu, another WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place slightly before  and during Japan’s Heian era, and explores some of the mythology of the Jorogumo, or Rakushinpu.

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The woman – is she, can she possibly be a woman? –  draws Miho’s eyes. The red-painted smile drifts on her face like coiling smoke. She walks under a red umbrella, and her hips sway back and forth with her steps.

Her robes are the robes of a lady, but she is alone – no guards, no outriders, no chaperon, no escort. Her face is hidden behind a red fan, but her eyes are black and gleaming above it. Miho stares at her; why is she familiar?

No woman like that has ever been inside her father’s house.

A little at a time she follows the woman through the market. Past the stalls of food vendors and their sweet-spicy smells, past shops selling paper and silk and ink and furnishings and combs and jewelry, past men and women going about the business of their lives.

Her eyes are focused on the flash of red that moves ever in front of her, the swinging black hair like a cut out section of starless night, drinking light.

Miho traces lines of gold embroidery with her eyes, then stumbles a little. She has seen a flash of pale skin. A bare foot, visible for a sneak of a moment, one shining instance that Miho was lucky enough to catch.

So improbable. Her attention lingers on it long after it has passed. Her gaze is fixed to the hem of the woman’s robe now, waiting, hoping – so pale, that skin! Milk and moonlight. Like Miho’s own skin, but more gleaming.

She is so distracted by it that she doesn’t notice the trap in front of her until it is too late. Until she is in it.

The woman turns down a darker way, and Miho waits a moment and then slips around the same corner.

A dead end, and two chips of onyx that confront her, eyes so dark she can’t discern their pupil. Miho draws in a sharp breath and turns to run, but a sharp, hard grip has her by the shoulder in the next moment.

“Don’t run, little girl. I meant for you to follow me, though I wasn’t sure it would be so easy. Do you know me, pretty one?”

Miho stares at her, stunned. No one has ever, ever called her ‘pretty one’. The fan lowers before the face, and it is a beautiful face – the most beautiful face Miho has ever seen, as she’d known it would be.

“I – you wanted me to follow you?”

The woman smiles, though her mouth does not move. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes give her away. The eyes themselves drink Miho in, drink her whole awareness with the penetrating nature of their stare.

“Yes. I needed to thank you. But you haven’t answered my other question. Do you know me?”

Miho stares at her, the slender fingers wrapped around the black lacquered pole of her Chinese umbrella, the red shade across the pale skin of her cheeks and the darkness of those eyes. Always, always the eyes.

“I know – your eyes.”

And then she averts her gaze and twists her fingers together, suddenly ashamed that she should be dressed below her station, with leaves in her hair and the dust of the market on her face – and I’m ugly I’m so ugly it’s not fair, she’s so beautiful

“But I called you pretty one, didn’t I?”

Miho starts backward away from the fingers that are reaching out for her cheek and finds her back pressed against the wall of the alley.

“I – you – I didn’t meant to say that out loud, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry -”

“Hush, flower, glowfly, beautiful darling – is that enough to reassure you? Pretty one, I said, and I did mean it…and you…you spoke only to yourself, only in your mind – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.”

Miho stares.

“You know who I am now, don’t you?”

The utsukushii woman has a voice like honey and plum syrup, thick and rich and too, too sweet. Miho feels that voice sticky on her skin and poured into her ears and drowns in it. Red woman – red woman, utsukushii woman, too sweet woman luring her closer, always closer, speaking like the spider to the fly.

“The spider.”

Yes.

 

Wild Justice

The best part of the writing week is Wednesday, because Wednesday on Twitter is #1lineWed. The hashtag will lead you to a land of glorious lines, excerpted from the works in progress of writers all over the world!

Because I participate myself, and because Context is Key, today’s entry in the Secret Files comes from Haven, a WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place at the meeting of east and west, covering nearly a hundred years, from the mid 1800’s to the end of World War II. 

This bit comes from what is  currently scene one of draft one….the very beginning! 

P.S: If Casimir’s body movements seem strange, it’s because right now…he’s a Unicorn. Bwaha!

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Casimir came following purpose, the nature of his being – the odor of a final sacrament. Out of the night of the summer forest, skirting villages, towns, civilized places, he came summoned by the need to act, to fulfill his own essential task. Yet he was drawn onward, needled through every wild place until he breached the borders of domesticated gardens.

He heard low voices, words in German and a language he did not know, quick and light and sharp, incomprehensible as the darting speech of birds.

There were nothing but human sounds from within the boundaries of the garden, and Casimir shook his head, pushed his nose through the edge of the green. Brick and white masonry, tall fences of fern and flowers plaited into webs against the walls – nothing unusual. In a clear space paved with white stones, there were a table and four chairs.

He caught the thin smell of tea, food odors, and focused on the four unfamiliar faces in those chairs. Mortal. Pale.

Empty. What was he doing here? What drew him onward?

I have nothing to do with men.

This was not the place or time for some great revival, for a fight against this world. The world of men and real things, the world of iron. And yet as he focused on the strangers – so foreign, the source of those bird-voices.

He heard a wail that did not come from this world, but from the world beyond. Purpose. Madness. Intention and price. The black eyes of a woman who stood behind one of the seated strangers opened for him, and showed him a land of mountains. Islands and sea.

How long since I have seen the sea?

But there was nothing clean in the salt or the wave, and over the green mountains, which first had beckoned him, there grew a haze of orange and gray. The vision expanded, focused, drew him down from the blue of the sky into jade canopies, the million leaves of an ancient forest. Then – terror!

Smoke sensations.

Casimir reared back, but there was no escaping it now.

Wild justice. All that was magic turned to dust. Yes. Black eyes opened over a tea cup, and they were full of future reflections. In the east, a green land would fall to screaming fire. Even the land on which he stood would turn to brown ash.

War is coming. It comes with these men – fire from the sky.

He breathed sharp and deeply, and panted enough to dislodge the blossoms before his face. A gasp of surprise broke the trance that held him, shattered the vision. It was a gasp directed at him, but that was all but impossible.

Long gone, the days when mortals knew our ways, could sense us, see us.

Casimir hesitated at the edge of retreating, then remained.

Accidental Master

As I’ve been whining about it everywhere lately, I thought it only fair to share with you a snippet of my newest and most all-consuming work in progress: Holy.  

This bit comes from what is  currently scene two of draft one!

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Angel-face didn’t stir until Artemio had made his way almost a full block, past the screaming lights of a half dozen ambulances to the emergency tent that had been set up on-scene. Even then, it was only to press his face against Artemio’s shoulder, to sigh and breathe deeper, reach his arms around Artemio’s neck.

“You awake? I thought you’d gone out on me. Think you can stand?” There was a pause, and then he felt the head against his shoulder shaking no. “Don’t worry about it then, not like you weigh much.” It wasn’t far, anyway, just around to the other side of the tent where the parmeds were clustered together, speaking in low voices.

Female, all of them, but not women – not, definitely not women. What they were exactly, Artemio didn’t know. Taj would, always did, but it was enough for Artemio that they were Other, and therefore trouble. As much as he was capable of, he was…quiet with them.

“Hello, ladies. Got another patient for you.”

Six pairs of eyes turned to him at the same time, though he’d no doubt that they had noticed him long before he’d spoken. The murmuring was quiet, but only one stepped forward, peering at the Angel-face in his arms.

“This one is not like you, this one is Other – all the rest were human, had mortal mothers.”

He stopped. That was…interesting. “He was marked for a sacrifice, tied up, kept captive -” Their faces were growing darker with every word, and he took an involuntary step back at the sound of hissing, rattling, snake-and-shadow-sounds to which his most primitive instincts were vulnerable. “Yeah. I know – he’s cut up and bruised but I think the worst of it’s probably mental. I think…” He hesitated, then shrugged. “I think he’s been captive for a while.”

“This is not done -”

“It was, so take care of him, will you?” Artemio stepped forward, and the parmeds parted around him, let him into the tent. It was only when he tried to put his burden down on one of the medtables that there was trouble. The blond head snapped suddenly upright, and tight fingers clutched at Artemio’s duty vest, then at the sleeves of his jacket beneath it.

Oh please no. Don’t let go.”

Artemio shook his head, lay him down on the table and unwound his arms, but he couldn’t get away. Soft fingers plucked at his jacket, tried to keep him close. “Angel-face you’ve gotta – you’re hurt. You need to let the parmeds look at you, they’ll bring you to -”

“No don’t send me away not back not anywhere not – no – Master – Master.” It was a babble of words on the edge of terrified hysteria, and despite himself Artemio took a step back toward him, reached out and lay his hands on shaking shoulders.

Angel. You need -”

You.”

Artemio pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, huffed out a breath. “Look I – I’ll stay while they check you over, all right? I can do at least that much.” He turned to get the attention of the parmeds again, finally, but they were standing by the wall, clustered together, staring not at Angel-face but at him. “One of you gonna help him, or -” He was interrupted by all of them in turn.

He called you Master -”

“You, no king, no lord, no caster!”

“If we could we’d take him from you-”

But what has been done is not in our power to undo.

The last phrase was blazed only across his mind, not in his ears, and Artemio jerked himself away from clutching fingers, took a full step backward, angry, averting his eyes awkwardly. “Stop that, just – stop. This one’s one of you and I just pulled him out of that house, and you don’t want to help him?”

As he does not want us to, as he wants only you – and what a disaster! A servant of the Master – so mastered!

“Get the fuck out of my head!”

The lead parmed drew herself up and threw a scornful glare in his direction. “He is yours. We will not, cannot touch him. Go to the Council, if you’d make much of it!”

They streamed out of the tent past him in one unbroken line behind her, but his glare was tempered by the need to steady himself against the table as Angel-face crawled all the way out of the tapestry he’d been wrapped in and up into Artemio’s arms. “Master -”

“Oh, no. Don’t get comfortable, I’m going straight to the Council with you, I don’t care if it’s two in the morning, I’m not dealing with this -” But his arms were closing around the worn, warm body, drawing him close, and when Artemio looked down again, the coffeecream eyes were already shut, and his face was relaxed, and Artemio knew, knew, that he was doomed. “Fuck.”

Artemio lay him back on the tapestry, wrapped it up around him despite the sound of protest he got when he let go, and then picked him up again. “’S a damn good thing you don’t weigh much.”

“Yes, Master.” But it was more of a yawn than words, and in the five minutes it took Artemio to make his way back from the tent to where Taj had parked his car, the Angel-face in his arms had fallen asleep.

“Hey Art, you need a ride home, or -”

Artemio whipped around, knot between his brows. “Shh. And yeah, I need ride, but not home.”

Taj blinked at him when he came around the corner and saw his arms still full of blond, sleeping Other. “What are you still doing with him?”

“The parmeds wouldn’t take him. He’s – he keeps callin’ me master, Taj.” The word came rough and thick and hesitant off his lips, still quiet. Even if he was causing trouble, Artemio didn’t want to wake the poor bastard. He’d suffered enough.

“Master? The fuck did you do, pick up a -”

“I don’t know. But I’m not gonna keep him no matter what he calls me or what the parmeds think. You know I can’t.”

Suddenly bright with djinn-fire, Taj’s eyes met his gaze. “But you want to.”

“I -” The word came out loud, angry, and Artemio caught himself, stole a glance down at the sleeping angel-face. Fucking Taj. Fucking djinn. Knows too much for his own good.

“I don’t know what I want. He’s gorgeous, yeah. But he’s Other, and that means he’s trouble. Plus he was…fuck, Taj, you know what I like. I can’t do that to him. Not the way he was…not how he was when I found him.”

Taj’s brow knit into a dark maze of disturbance. “That bad, huh?”

Worse. Let’s go – Council never sleeps, but I do – and I don’t wanna hold onto him for too long, might give him the wrong idea.” Carefully, groaning faintly as he bent, Artemio slid into the front seat and settled Angel-face on his lap, tucked his legs in so Taj could shut the door. There was a content murmur against his throat, lips and sound both whisper soft, and the arms around him tried to squeeze tighter. Artemio shook his head. He had never been a safe space for anyone, and now this Other was clinging to him like his life depended on it.

Well, maybe it had – but only for about five minutes. So why wouldn’t he let go now?

Goddess

As accompaniment to my latest Rant, have this snippet, which comes to you from the first draft (ooooo! scary!) of the prologue of Earthbound!

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Pine for me, and I will return from the moon to love, brown earth and green leaves and the flowing water. Pine for me, but that means to remember my name.

Tell me, beloved, how do you forget what you cannot remember? I have been drawn to you from the beginning. Timeless, I am still enamored of time, and all its passing shadows…you are those shadows.

What lives in them is a man, and a woman. You and I, beloved. Shall I tell you their story? Once, it was for her, not the world, that he would have done all things, any thing. And so it was for her, not for the world, he shot the sky. His arrow past the moon, white-shining in a world made clear as glass by the fall of night.

The sun rose. The sun rose. The sun rose and rose and rose and rose until the face of the earth heaved and flame rode its curves and settled in the hollow throat of the world and cried out from the curled and hidden core, hidden at last in its own petals.

“Enough, enough, we can bear no more!”

He heard. You heard. Hou Yi, the archer. Did you know then? No… But the price of heroism would be steeper than the mountain, steeper than the curve of the sky. Nine times, you lifted your bow to heaven. Nine times, slew the sons of the brightest light. So that the fire fell, gleaming, bolts brighter than lightning piercing heaven and earth together…and not to be undone.

Your reward was your punishment. To put on the robe of heaven is to forget the world left behind, and you, you forget even now what you have done that was forbidden, even in the name of saving the whole of the earth. I remember, what you do not. That is my punishment.

To slay a god with mortal hands…

But this is not the first time I have told this story. This is the last, because you do not understand it, do not hear me, and you are the one it is for.

What speaks the shadow to the one who casts it, what speaks the shadow to the sun? Ages of ardor and ages of agony, and they were mine – as I was like you, doomed from that first stretch of the bow. 

Now I must acknowledge having planted temptation in your path – but in the manner of all good things, what I give is no more, no less than I sought. Whatever you suffered in the light, yes, all those eons in which I begged and you did not listen, do you suffer more in the darkness?

What are the thousand woes of your new existence? Are you still the lord of frigid stars? Are you still my darkest king?

What are you?