Tag Archives: writing

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.

Harvest Lick

Welcome to the second taste of A Harvest of Dreams & Embersin celebration of its full release this week! 

Remember, Licks are NSFW excerpts, so read carefully – and look forward to another erotic excerpt from my next new release, Wolf Bite, on Valentine’s Day!

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“This someone who is calling for you, you really must listen?” Kas’ words flowed warm across his shoulders. Myrddin turned and found himself caught in his lover’s arms.

“Yes. This time it’s my turn to go.” He paused, confused by the humor he found in the moment even now. “My turn to be summoned away.”

“I hear it. Did I not say? But I am surprised to find you giving such power to a mortal.”

“No lesser man than the High King of Britain.” He grinned as he said it, but the smile faded quickly as Kas stroked his hair.

“Why?”

“For the sake of peace, and my own conscience, and maybe…”

Kas gave a little tug to the strands still in his grasp. “You cannot stop what is coming. Not even you.”

Myrddin scowled and pressed his face against his lover’s chest. “Don’t pull my hair.”

“No? But that is not what you say when I take you.” And he stopped, ran his hands over the curve of Myrddin’s buttocks. “You have time before you leave me, do you not?”

“Always time for you.” He slipped out of Kas’ grasp and dropped onto his hands and knees. “Do what you want with me.”

Kas took Myrddin’s hips in his hands, bent over him and kissed the ridges of his spine. “What I want? That could take a while. This mortal king, he will have to wait his turn.”

Wait his—? Myrddin made a face. “No, thank you. I’ll have only you.”

“What a fool, to think that was what I meant. Even in jest, you would say that? As if I would let you, as if I would share you ever again.” The words were scalding, almost angry, but Kas’ hands were gentle, easy and eager both as he slipped them down to open him up.

Kas. I don’t deserve—oh!” his fingers inside, stroked just the right spot, and Myrddin gasped out the rest of his words. “I don’t deserve you. I don’t—deserve—ohhh.”

Kas slid one hand up Myrddin’s spine and into his hair again, tugged his head back and bent by his ear. “No. You probably do not. No more than I deserve you.”

There was a hint of subtle humor in his voice, the suggestion that he meant his words both ways that they could be taken. Myrddin opened his mouth to protest, but Kas kissed him and suddenly he was groaning instead. “It does not mean anything, Merlin. Deserve. You should know that better than I.”

“Ka-a-ahhh-ahh—” Slow, deep penetration. Cock, not fingers. Then slower. Deeper. Each thrust dragged out almost past bearing. But the sensation was intertwined irresistibly with Myrddin’s memories of every other time Kas had touched him, and with the fear of the future that went on compelling him.

 

Want more? Pick up your copy of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers here!

 

 

Harvest Bite

To celebrate its full release,  today I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter one of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers, Eight Kingdoms book five! The second half of the saga begins with Merlin…and mayhem.

 

Chapter One

Sleep had come to Spring, though it did not belong there.

Myrddin advanced alone through the stillness of the Wyrdwood and found even the birds sunk into slumber. Drowsiness had descended, and with it a sacred silence that brought disharmony, reducing the promise of the branches to the ghost of leaves. There had never been such lethargy in immortal Spring before, but the season had traded away its show of splendor for somnolence.

King though he was, even Myrddin was tangled in threads of torpor and his own sudden awareness of the presence that incited them. Why here, why now? Father?

Yes.

With the feeling of acknowledgment came a summons Myrddin could not deny, though he wanted to. No other being was so perilous to him, had ever cost him so much, as his own father. And now, now that he finally had Kas for his own…

Neither the time nor the place of the visit pleased him, but Myrddin could no more deny the summons of the one who had sired him than the buds could refuse the spring.

His heart clenched. Had he regained what he’d lost only to have it taken away? Kas. All his desires were bound up in the single syllable of that name. He would not give his lover up again, no matter what demand the god of the wild had for him.

Myrddin found his father at the heart of the forest, wrapped around its most ancient oak. He knew it was his father, but Myrddin had never seen him like this. As the Stag of the wood, yes, carrying the moon in the spaces between his antlers. As a mist, or in a man’s shape, but like this?

The god of the wood had come to him as a dragon. His father was a moss-backed beast with leafed and feathered wings whose span stretched beyond Myrddin’s sight. He was the wildest and most beautiful of his kind Myrddin had ever seen, but he was a dragon all the same.

Did that mean…he was no longer a god?

There was a shiver in the branching pinions, a sibilant trembling of feathers. A sound like silk being stretched too tight and too quickly snapped through the air as the great wings beat once then settled.

“Father…” The dragon opened his mouth and breathed out the scent of somnolent blossoms, but not a single word in answer. “Father?”

He resisted the urge to go to one knee as he resisted the drowsy pressure of the air, a sudden urge to yawn. Silence greeted him. More than before, stronger the closer he came to the unsteady orb of his father’s eye. He recognized the source of the unnatural sleep with a familiarity that reminded him of his own long-vanished past.

‘My little shoot.’

Not his father’s voice, but the memory of his mother’s, brushed Myrddin with a faint prickling of dread. This sleep was akin to his own lost winter slumber. The sleep that had taken him at Samhain each year, before Spring had had a rite, or a kingdom… When winter had come to him as to the blossoms and dropped him down the well of the sleeping season.

His father blinked one enormous eye, and the flickering facets drew Myrddin in. The eye became a world, a universe in the shape of an ochre orb. “I forget who I was before the birth of this moment.

 

Want more? A Harvest of Dreams & Embers is currently available at Pride Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Grab your copy today!

Eleventh Entry: Rakushinpu

 

joro

The sound of the water rushes overhead. Beside us, the great fall is a roar and in its shadow the gleam of spray and the shadow of leaves overtake the world, together with drowsy promises. 

The spirits of the mountain speak in murmuring voices, a whisper to calm the senses, a low, red sound. Of love, it speaks, with the sound of a lute  and the eager harmony of all night’s darkest passions.

Come to me.

The voice does not belong to the water.

Stay with me.

The words are a plea from which an answer will summon only regret.

Is it not quiet here? Are you not tired now? Stay a while and sleep with me…

The lady of the falls trades on her whispers, and when the sun dips past the high of noon toward the horizon, when the laziness of the afternoon is full upon us – then, at the edge of the water, climbing in silken coils, the threads come one at a time.

Each one attaches to a man. An ankle. A toe. A calf. But we are prepared, as not many before us have been. The threads are not broken, but hooked to trees, to stumps – one rooted life in exchange for each marked man. 

As the sun begins to go down, the threads are pulled, one by one, and one by one pieces of the forest crash over the cliff-side, down the mountain, into the rage of the river and the waterfall’s roar.

A woman cries with it, and the longing has not left her voice. 

Stay with me, won’t you?

There is no laughter, no speech, as we make our way down the night blackened sides of the autumn mountain. We return to our camp – to the nearest village. It is there that we count our number and find that twenty-four has been reduced to twenty-three. 

Stay with me…

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Read more in the erotic horror novella Rakushinpu, free on Amazon KDP!

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Rakushinpu/Jorogumo References
Jorōgumo Wiki
Jorōgumo Legends

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!

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.”

 

Interview, Excerpt, and Giveaway: Wolf of the West at Prism Book Alliance

Something new has arrived, glorious beings – an interview at Prism Book Alliance, including an exclusive excerpt of Wolf of the West and a special giveaway!

wolfofthewest_800 (2)

Enter until July 2nd to win a free  copy of your own through Rafflecopter!

Good luck!

Deathless Lick

This  Lick comes  from Deathless, the second of the Tales of the Eight Kingdom to be released! This excerpt is a site exclusive,  celebrating Deathless‘ full release this week – check at the bottom for links! 

Remember, Licks are NSFW excerpts, so read carefully – and look forward to another erotic excerpt from my next new release!

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Myrddin closed his eyes, let out a breath then lifted his lashes and met Kas’ gaze.

“Are you going to kiss me, Kas? Is this our rite?” His voice was…changed. Warmer. Husky. “Are you going to be my lover?”

Kas stared down at him, suddenly breathing hard for no reason he could explain. The heat within him was divided, and thus multiplied, but he understood what he’d been asked— or thought he did.

“Yes, kiss you.” He lifted Myrddin’s lips against his mouth, parted them with his tongue. “Yes. Our rite.” He kissed him again, softer this time, tender, and Myrddin sighed, a low, moaning breath, when Kas pulled away. “Yes. Love you.”

He had no more words for what he wanted to do, what he needed—but that no longer mattered. Myrddin under him was naked and willing, cock hard for him and wet with desire, seeking friction with the rocking of his hips. There would be no more escaping, no shift of shape, no running away. Kas pulled Myrddin’s legs apart, settled himself between them and entered him with one finger.

Myrddin groaned, spread his legs wider, and Kas tried another and watched Myrddin open for him, stretching—watched him arch his back and grab twin fistfuls of grass, moaning, cock twitching.

He wanted another response like that, so Kas did it again, added a third finger alongside the first two, slow penetration, deep and curling inward. He got what he wanted—the wide eyes startling wider, pale thighs twitching apart, cock harder and his mouth open to beg for more. More. That was the word on Myrddin’s lips, and a broken moan that went on, and on, ooh-oh-oh-mmm-ohh.

And…his name. Again, and again.

My name.

“Kas, Kas don’t tease me. Kas…”

He wanted to laugh, but he bent forward instead and braced himself on one hand, kissed Myrddin quiet. “No words.” He kissed him again, kept his fingers moving—in, out—slow penetration that was nothing but a tease for both of them, satisfying only in its promise. Myrddin wormed one of his hands between them, took Kas’ cock in his fist and stroked just as slowly.

It felt good, the same tingling touch as that blood on his lips. It made Kas wonder what it would feel like when his cock was inside Myrddin instead of his fingers. Without another thought, he leaned back and pulled his hand away, tried to jerk Myrddin’s thighs wider apart. Myrddin stopped him before he could do what he wanted.

Kas. Wait, wait.”

Purely aggressive, Kas pulled on his leg. “Again? Wait? No.”

“Yes. Please?”

He paused, crawled forward over Myrddin’s body and licked his last word off his lips. “Please… That word. I like it. It is mine.”

Breathless amusement warmed Kas’ lips. “I’ll say it again, just for you. Please?” Myrddin leaned up, his mouth an offering that Kas was more than willing to take. This time Myrddin slipped his lips away, kissed Kas’ cheek, his throat, his collarbone, his shoulder. When he pushed at Kas’ chest, Kas allowed it, until he sat back on his knees, and Myrddin was braced on his thighs, looking up with lust and mischief in his gaze.

His mouth moved down, down, down, traced trembling patterns of heat and tongue over Kas’ chest, his abdomen, lower and lower until Myrddin was lying on the ground. He used one hand to hold himself up and kept the other at the base of Kas’ cock while his tongue played at the tip, made circles, whorls, spirals, until he leaned forward, took the whole head in his mouth and groaned.

Kas’ breath shallowed, sped. He reached down one hand and tangled his fingers in Myrddin’s hair, stared at his wet lips as they moved down, then up again. He pulled back, and there was tongue again, lapping, sucking, wrapped around his cock. All the while those eyes stared up at him, bright with a spark of mischief and more than a hint of Myrddin’s own pleasure.

Kas’ gaze was fixed on the sight, the most gorgeous submission he’d yet gained. He liked it better when he could see what Myrddin was doing to him, hear it—the lash of his tongue, wet sounds…moaning.

He liked the moaning most of all, wanted more of it and knew how best to get it, but it was hard to make himself move, give up the pleasure. He jerked his gaze away from that mouth, down Myrddin’s back, over the curve of his buttocks.

Wait?

No. No more of wait. Kas dragged Myrddin back off his cock, clutched him close and brought him down under him, back against the grass. A startled sound escaped Myrddin’s mouth, but this time when Kas pushed his legs open, held his thighs apart, Myrddin reached for his hips and pulled him against his skin. “Please.” That word…

Kas leaned down, licked it off his lips again, tasted himself on Myrddin’s mouth and pressed his cock against the tight entrance he’d teased. Myrddin’s eyes opened wider, wider. A dark flush spread across his chest, up to his throat, and he held tight to Kas’ shoulders with both hands. “Kas, it’s too much. I—I—can’t—Kas.”

Kas liked the name even better now he’d heard it in that voice, guttural, stripped of everything but feeling. It was the voice of nerves drawn taut and abused. He knew they were a lie—those words. Myrddin squeezed both legs tight around his back, pulled him closer and urged him deeper into heat and tightness.

 

Want more? Pick up a copy of Deathless here!

 

 

Hunter, Prey

Because context is key to the marvel that is #1lineWed, and because I haven’t shared anything in particular from this monstrosity I know you’re all waiting for…a piece of the upcoming book five of the Eight Kingdoms series! (With which I am currently arguing about its title.)

Saoirse watched the Red King stride up the curve of the snow, down over the crest of frosted dunes and into the darkness that reflected off the surface of the water.

Without ripples, without waves, it still lapped at the motionless shore, and gave away thus that it was water and not frozen. The deep was black and still, but as the Red King approached, the surface of the water was broken by a small, black head – and then by more, and more.

Selkies.

She had playmates and companions among their number. She had been warned in the days just past that this time was coming, but she hadn’t believed. Her own trust in Macsen Cadoc was absolute, and that there was enough worry in any being who owed allegiance to him to bring them here, to the edge of everything, to the last of all shores, hoping to escape some unknown catastrophe…

She hadn’t believed.

Quiet, stepless, without a splash, her special friend among the selkies was out of the water and by her side, and Saoirse watched her lean closer without allowing any expression on her face.

“Hello, Líadan.”

“Saoirse, didn’t I say we were going? You shouldn’t have come. Shouldn’t have come!”

“You did intend to leave without goodbye, then? I thought you were my friend!”

The edges of Líadan’s soft, black body went stiff and salty, licked by the waves, but she was still. “Your friend. Yes, I am that. But this is my family, and all of my kin, and I will not be the one who is left behind. There are stories enough of last stands and hopeless cases, and not for you or our friendship will I become one of them.”

“I didn’t ask for that, did I? Only for goodbye. Which is nothing but polite, if you cared.” Saoirse squinted and peered through one eye, but her friend didn’t seem bothered in the least about her frustrated tone. “The Red King -”

“Will let us go. He’ll see right through excuses, promises, platitudes…and he’ll talk of fear, and how little it should matter to those such as us. But though we are Hunters, we remember. We were of dark Summer first. Midsummer’s midnight moon is our provenance and our place.  Not in this dark, this winter land of blood and violence. Not for a people of mothers, daughters – not though he sheltered us when our place in the world was taken away.”

Saoirse stared back at Líadan, understanding and confused both. She remembered fear from her time in the human world…and from those first hours, alone here, wondering if she would be kept. If she could stay. Not now. The sting of the emotion, the feel of it, was all but lost to her.

“Líadan I don’t understand. You’re Hunters. How could you not belong here? What does anything else matter? How could you have belonged to Summer? This is the Hunter’s kingdom, this is…”

Líadan shook her head, had only black laughter to offer, a sound as dark and deep as the matte shine of her eyes. “You do not understand. But then, you aren’t one thing or another, are you?” Her smile showed pointed teeth. “Not yet.”

“It’s not fair. I learn so many things, but they’re never enough. Not enough to understand even my friends, and the Red King -” She made a despairing sound and shook her head at the selkie’s continued laughter.

“Girl creature. Something will call you, one thing or another, meaning or madness…and you will find your way. I have that faith in you.”

“Hmm… But I’m tired of waiting. Time is different here and still I’m tired of it.”

“The mortal in you is murmuring now. You are so young – so young! I’m still a child in the water, among my people, but I barely remember being young like you. Before I could slip the sea, leave this shape behind… Saoirse, haven’t you felt it? Your soul is slipping away. A little longer, and a little longer…and then the empty space will have to be filled in by something else. What have you chosen?”

Saoirse blinked into Líadan’s eyes, blinked at her own reflection there, and then smiled.

“Blood of course. The Hunt, and its power.”

“Have you.” Líadan blinked, and the smile on her face stretched wide, then wider. Saoirse frowned as her reflection in the black eyes distorted, changing shape, size…something.

“Saoirse, I think you will surprise yourself with how much emptiness will be left behind when you lose your human self for the last time. I think you will surprise yourself with how little blood will fill the space inside you. You are not the Red King. Macsen Cadoc is of his own kind, and it is not yours. You may walk in the shadow, but I do not think it will be this shadow…or his.”

Saoirse crouched, reached forward and pet the flat, smooth space between Líadan’s ears. “What, then? Whose? I’ve been hunting, hunting without knowing – do you know my prey? Tell me!”

The selkie closed her eyes to night-dark slits. “I see a pale shadow behind you. Yes. Not red, but stripped of all color. A pale shadow…in a pale land. White flowers beneath a black moon.”

Saoirse contemplated this, but she had never heard of a place like that. She knew of eight hidden kingdoms outside the mortal world, and none of them sounded like the place Líadan was describing to her.

“When I find it, will I know what I’ve been looking for? What I’ve been missing since – forever?”

Even before I came here. The thought left Saoirse agitated, but without an outlet, just like many other such thoughts. They were becoming more and more frequent as time passed…and didn’t. As it washed over her, and left her unchanged, as the freezing ocean water moved over Líadan’s smooth, seal-black back.

“Saoirse, it is nearly time.”

“Time -”

“For us to go.”

“You…will be safe, won’t you?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. These are dangerous times, and there may be no safety for anyone, anywhere. But we will make the attempt. If things change, and what is broken is fixed, perhaps we will even return…and I will find you then, and see what you have become, and be, even as I will be far from you, your friend.”

“As I’ll be yours! I promise, Líadan. Friends, always.”

The wide grin Líadan wore as she slipped into the sea sealed the promise, and Saoirse stepped back from the water. She slipped into a shadow, then over the crackling, frosted dunes, closer to where the Red King was. She could hear his voice, and some other, and she wanted to know if Líadan had been right.

Would he be angry? Or would he let them go? Or both, maybe. She was curious, but not afraid. There was no violence, not even the anticipation of it, in the wind tonight.

Anyway, it was fun. Hunting Macsen, Red King that he was. She would tell Bran about it later, and he would laugh with her. He understood better than the rest, and regardless, she had to stay close to him.

There was an oath that she’d made, and it remained unfulfilled, but she understood oaths better now.

Saoirse took another step, then another, until she could hear clearly. Yes, she would tell Bran…even though Macsen was Bran’s, and therefore not her prey. Again, she faced the frustration of not knowing who, or what, it was that she was meant to be hunting.

Líadan had not answered her, but now, watching, listening, she wondered if the Red King would.

 

Want more? Book five is coming soon, but you can grab the first four books here

Deathless Bite

Today is a deathless day…or should I say, the day of Deathless? Now on early release at Pride Publishing, this second Tale of the Eight Kingdoms starts in the ancient woods of Britain, ten thousand years before the events of book one, and takes us to the meeting of Kas and Myrddin, and the first Spring Rite.

Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from the very beginning of Deathless!

 

Chapter One

The nights were growing chill, but the change of the autumn foliage had turned the river valley into a sea of flames. Leaves fell like sparks, browned the underbrush and bared the branches of the wood, but not only the canopy was failing. On a bier in the open, breathing slowly and quietly, Myrddin’s mother, the old chief’s daughter, lay dying.

“Mother, you can’t go!”

“Oh, it’s time. It’s past time, Myrddin. Look at you, my little shoot. You don’t change any more, but you’ve grown, and your mother is old and only a woman. Now is my time.”

Myrddin gripped her fingers tightly. The lines of her face were smooth, but worn, and her hand was limp in his grasp. The only brightness left in her was in the green shimmer of her gaze. Already he could feel her slipping away.

He supposed he should be grateful it was happening now, at the end of autumn, and not when he’d already begun his winter sleep. But how could he be? Grateful. He could have hated it—her dying—if she didn’t look so much like she was letting go of something heavy that she’d carried for far too long.

It was still agonizing to watch.

Why did death have to come so gently? Like a fall of rain—like falling asleep after making love. Myrddin could have hated it, except that she welcomed its coming.

“You’re going where I can’t follow, Mother. I won’t have anyone if you…when you die.”

She laughed, or at least she made a sound that was something like it, and he winced. “You have to learn to let go. Let it be. We’re all mortal, aren’t we? Yes, all of us but you. And you…my son, if you can’t learn to let us go, you’ll have no companion but pain, and that’s…not…what I wanted for you.”

“Mother…”

Red leaves fell onto the furs that covered her, then mingled with her hair as she tried to lift her head. One descended lightly into the spread-open fingers of her unclasped hand, and she smiled. You’ll have to learn. You will, won’t you? Promise me you will.

“I—promise.”

Good boy. Now, let them bring me where I want to go.”

Myrddin lifted his gaze. Her bearers were already waiting around them, their eyes averted from the final parting of mother and son. “Mother. You don’t have to do this. What good is it to just—

I want to die where it began. That’s all. For you, and for me. Won’t you come with me? I won’t make a journey in this world again.

He stared at her, almost shook his head, then squeezed her fingers and let go. “I’ll be watching. I can’t… I’ll just…be watching.”

She sighed, reached up and patted his cheek with her free hand, and the bearers came forward and took up her bier with careful hands. His mother’s fingers slipped out of Myrddin’s grip, and he stepped back, and back, watched her go into the forest then turned and fled up the side of the valley. The sun was setting, and the evening came full of swallowing shadows that he followed along the ridge above the crest of the valley.

He couldn’t stand it, couldn’t bear it, but he was equally incapable of avoiding it, of denying her or leaving her behind. Even at a distance, even in darkness, he could see the cortege accompanying his mother’s body, heard the wails of the tribe’s women as they fell in line behind. He wanted to go to her, stand with her, wait until the end, but he couldn’t do it. Not this.

As he thought it, the wind moved, a sudden hush of gusts that nearly blew him over. It was only then, forced out of his grief, that Myrddin felt the oncoming tide. Power was flowing around him, the green whispering. The wildlife was growing awake, aware, and the blood of his father inside him, the immortal link that connected Myrddin to the growing and greening of the world, pulsed alive.

The whisper rose through the wood until it was a roar among the leaves, a howl in the throats of wolves. The sudden baying of stags mingled with a thousand fluted melodies as the birds scattered from the trees, and the trees bowed, bent, rolled their shoulders and tossed their heads with no need for the wind.

Still, the wind was rising, carrying whispers and roars, howls and birds. Awake! Wild spirits of the spring sped past Myrddin, not focused on him, not paying him any attention, and he closed his eyes but couldn’t close his mind to the message. Awake! He comes, He comes.

Myrddin didn’t need to wonder who. There was only one reason for this much excitement in the wild. My father is coming and why? Now? When it’s too late for him to do anything. A flush of rage replaced his grief, but it was rage tempered by truth and sense. His mother had been an offering since before he was born. That had been the reason why he was born. She had belonged to his father from the moment she had chosen to give herself as a gift to the God.

I was just the result, not the fulfillment. My mother, but she belongs to Father as she has always done.

There had never been any doubt about his father. His mother had been taken, and given a child, and returned…and he was that child, bound to the spring as much as to the mortal world—or more, maybe.

Immortal powers were stronger. Immortal purposes were more demanding than anything but death, and Myrddin remembered his birth—remembered his first year as well as yesterday.

By the end of his first summer, dressed in a loincloth of leather and painted with the brown mud of the forest, he had toddled behind the hunting men. By the end of his first autumn, he’d been strong and straight enough of limb to walk with them. He’d had the look of a boy of ten years, though he couldn’t yet count even one, but he had carried no weapon and only clung to the edges of their sight.

It hadn’t been their prey that he was after, only the wilderness that ran before their footsteps…until autumn had ended, and the first snow had begun to fall.

Snow. Timeless and endless and white, it had fascinated him, then made him irresistibly drowsy. He’d gone to his mother and spoken his first words.

“Mother, I’m tired.”

“Then sleep, dear one. Sleep…”

And then, and every year since, her lullaby had gentled him into the dark. He had slept through the winter and its whiteness, the long, cold months. Only his mother had never been surprised. Like the spring shoots, he had grown and blossomed with the passing of the seasons. She had thought it only natural that winter was time for him to sleep.

“But there won’t be anyone to sing me to sleep this year.”

The flush of anger at his father gave way to grief again, and Myrddin looked up and saw that his mother and the villagers who followed her had almost passed out of sight. He caught up quickly, with the feeling he was stepping in his father’s footsteps as he crossed the ridge line back down toward the floor of the valley.

The procession wound through the trees, bringing his mother one final time through the wood she loved. Myrddin stopped when it stopped, and stood still, arrested in place for no reason he could explain. It felt wrong to move forward, though he could sense his mother’s death coming for her, walking toward her. It was here, in the wood! On the path—in the clearing—right in front of him…

A silence the likes of which Myrddin had never experienced came crashing down.

He tried to take another step forward, but the air was heavy, liquid and too thick to move through. In the same instant, Myrddin saw a shadow dart from the forest with the speed of a fleeing beast, the speed of a predator following. He saw a moment in which darkness lay itself like a shroud of shadow over his mother, a shadow the shade of the forest canopy at night.

Then, color flowed into the dark. His father. The God was green, green and growing as the vivid earth, green as the forest leaves, and He was brown, as the eyes of the stag and the pelt of the stag, and His eyes were black as the rich, turned earth of spring.

“Father… What…are you doing?”

The words fell heavy as stones from Myrddin’s mouth and disturbed the silence, but not the frozen moment. He took a breath and held it as his father bent and lifted his mother in his arms.

And now it is time for you to come with me.” His father’s voice did not disturb anything, nor his mother’s, as it came just after.

“Is this what dying is?”

Myrddin heard his father laughing.

Yes. No.”

The world snapped open and shut.

Want more? Grab Deathless here, on early release at Pride Publishing, before it’s out anywhere else!