NaNoWriMo Project–excerpt 1


“Mistress!”

The boy scurried across the open square, pausing beside her with eyes wide and breath misting in the night air. Niamsha Pereyra frowned at him. Another of Nijel’s spies, but one she couldn’t bring herself to dismiss. His brown eyes tugged at her grief in a way that Nijel must have intended, the innocence and hue reminiscent of the brother Niamsha had failed to save.

“What, boy?” Her sharp words sent the boy cowering into the shadows of her porch.

“Ya asked fer news when the merchants come,” he replied. “First one’s coming in just now.”

“Then get to the tavern.”

A twinge of guilt rubbed at her conscience. He was just doing what she’d asked. Or so he said.

Niamsha hiked her skirts up, hands full of rough fabric and hem still brushing the ground, and stepped into the dark. She knew these paths by now, her feet well accustomed to midnight treks through the worn, smooth dirt roads. The tavern sat behind a row of houses, hidden from the street. A poor place for a public business, but this town didn’t have the bustle to support a proper tavern anyway. Not enough to support much of anything. No tavern, no inn, the makeshift guild hall lost to the brutality of war almost a decade ago. Most would have taken one look at the ramshackle community and kept moving.

Instead, Nijel had appointed Niamsha to take over the long-abandoned guild hall and turn it into a place where he could gather his followers when he passed through. Perhaps he’d intended for her to create a less wholesome establishment, but she’d had other plans. And a local tavern brought in enough coin from the field workers to cover expenses for her side projects. Nijel had always been expedient in that way. Between the Rendell house in High Lord Arkaen’s home town and this guild hall, she was beginning to think he enjoyed repurposing old, forgotten buildings into new life.

Pushing the door open, Niamsha strode into the dim light and scanned for her guests. Just arrived, the boy said, but the common room sat empty. They should have been here. Unless the boy had lied to her. Her heart pounded at the thought. She had no illusions as to the boy’s loyalties. He’d slipped up several weeks back, hiding a note in a poor spot when she entered a room. Common-born gutter boys didn’t read. Not in these parts, at least.

The door cracked open behind her, just enough to let the cold breeze rush up her spine.

“Nisha.” Nijel’s voice was colder than the wind that chilled her hands. “What a pleasure to see you tending to my partners so diligently. I knew you could be trusted with my interests.”

Niamsha spun around to face him. “Of course, Nijel.”

He must have known she intended no such thing. His eyes sparkled with malice, the shared secret a threat he held over her. One word and he could take her life.

“Come along.” He waved a careless hand at her. “We should prepare. I’ve word a new speaker plans to join our cadre. I’ll need as much information as possible before answering his petition.”

“Yes, Nijel.”

She followed him into the back room, the table chipped and scarred from past negotiations gone wrong. A pitcher of ale sat in the middle of the table, the clay starting to sweat as the heat from the room clashed with the chill of the liquid. No seating, so Nijel wanted his guests off guard. Niamsha stepped forward, circling the table as if her life didn’t hang on Nijel’s whims. He chuckled.

“Don’t be ashamed of ambition, dear,” Nijel said. “I did not find my place by letting others choose for me. I only ask that you respect the efforts I’ve taken for your well-being.” He fixed her with a knowing smirk. “You wouldn’t be here, but for me.”

“Would that be worse?” She shouldn’t have said it, but the wear of this life weighed too heavy for a moment. Just enough to betray her own disgust with her new position.

“Nisha.” His sorrow almost sounded genuine. “How cold this country would be with you removed from it.”

He didn’t sound like her ‘removal’ would be a simple matter of living elsewhere. She hadn’t meant it that way. Emrys’s death still haunted her–she might seethe for the chance to avenge his loss–but she had no plans to let her life to end early.

The door opened before she could answer. A heavyset man entered, pausing at the sight of Nijel as he rubbed at a scar on his chin. He glanced at Niamsha. Stared at Nijel. Stepped inside.

“Didn’t think you lived, lad.” The merchant, Heikkan Carrillo, nodded at Nijel, his casual tone a shock against the tension of the room. “She got you here, too? Just like the rest of us.”

“Young Nisha is my liaison,” Nijel replied. “Though I admit I’m quite surprised you answered, Heikkan. Obedience was never a strong quality of yours.”

Heikkan glowered for a half-dozen breaths. “Obedience is for pets. Men offer loyalty, and loyalty must be earned.”

“Indeed.” Nijel grinned, but she could hear the rising fury in the clipped tone of his voice.

“Earned,” Nijel continued. “Just as your Lord Phoenix earned the men Griffin gathered, protected, and trained. As Kumiho and the Dragon earned the honor and respect the Serr-Nyen owed to their proper rulers. As Griffin earned the betrayal of her army?”

“Griffin went mad.” Heikkan snarled the words like a curse. “I know you believed in her, but you weren’t in the meetings. You didn’t hear. Lord Phoenix–“

“Told you lies,” Nijel interrupted. “Griffin had plans to support Sernyii through our transition. To give power to those who aided her cause. What has Lord Phoenix done for your land since the war? Nothing but enslave his former allies and sell his loyalty to the very empire he opposed.”

“Well.” Heikkan jerked his head at Niamsha. “I did come for a reason. Girl said we got a new power in town. Calls himself the Siren. Supposed to have plans for us all.”

“That is perhaps the first true thing you’ve said.” Nijel paced around the table and lounged against the wall, his lips curling into another smirk. “I do have plans, old friend. Many, many plans.”

Heikkan took a step back, eyes widening at the response. His gaze locked onto Nijel’s, an instant of locked eyes and matched wills. And then Heikkan laughed.

“It would be you, I suppose. Too damned smart for your own good. Always were. We’ll talk, then. When the others get here, we’ll have plenty to discuss.”

Prologues: A Defense and a Primer


I have long been a supporter of prologues, especially in longer fantasy works. My own debut novel has a prologue that I fought for when I was considering traditional publishing. But the stigma against prologues still runs strong in many communities and is stronger than ever in traditional publishing circles. Let’s take a moment to look at what prologues are good for and discuss proper prologue usage.

What is a prologue?

We all know the obvious answer. It’s that opening chapter of the book that is often confusing or boring and is labeled “prologue” instead of “chapter 1.” But there’s actually a specific purpose for a prologue–or, more accurately, a few specific purposes, each mutually exclusive. So, here’s a quick listing of some good reasons to use a prologue:

  1. Give a first-hand account of a specific event that is central to the primary story line but does not take place in the natural arc of the story. A great example is the Game of Thrones prologue, which kills everyone involved but makes clear to the reader that White Walkers do, in fact, exist.
  2. Tease a particularly cool aspect of the world-building which won’t become obvious to the reader in the opening chapters of the book to build excitement in–and offer context for–the opening.
  3. Offer a POV that is useful for the reader to understand but doesn’t fit in the main narrative. Often termed the “villain POV prologue” because of a trend to use these to explain villain motivations, this is a tool that can be great, but it better be very important or you’ll get a lot of complaints for extraneous information.

I hesitate to say this list covers everything, but if it doesn’t fit any of these three elements, be very cautious about using a prologue for that. As a general rule of thumb, if your reason for including the prologue is anything other than “I think this addition will help my readers get greater enjoyment out of the primary story arc that starts in Chapter 1” then you should cut your prologue.

Is this thing working?

Once you’ve determined that your prologue fits into one of the above reasons for use, you need to make sure your prologue accomplishes what you set out to do. Prologues are a much finer art than many realize. Here’s some common mistakes and ways to correct them.

First, did you spend your prologue dropping a bunch of world-specific terminology without much explanation? You probably have a problem. If readers are on page one or two of your book and don’t understand what you’re saying because of world-specific words, you’re going to lose a bunch of readers. And I completely understand that the prologue is not the place to explain those words. Please, for the love of all decent writing, do not edit your prologue to have a definition after every world-specific word. Instead, find ways to make clear through context what the words mean. My husband uses the Rage of Dragons prologue as an example here (and not a good example). See below for his full opinions on that prologue. The important part of this point is, it doesn’t matter if the word has a typical meaning that you’re leaning on. Evan Winter uses “the Chosen” and “the Gifted” as world-specific words, which can easily be assumed to mean something we understand. But it’s clear that the usage isn’t the general sense, and as a result, the lack of clarification can be confusing. If possible, don’t use words which have world-specific meanings in your prologue, or if you must, make clear through the immediate context what the word means.

Now let’s talk about how long your prologue is. Is it more than 3 or 4 pages in the printed book? This is typically about 1500 words on the high end, and shorter is almost always better. If your prologue is longer than this, you’re probably not focusing on the correct elements, or you’re explaining too much context, or maybe even mixing goals. Chapters can have multiple reasons for existing. Prologues must be lean, precise, and clearly understandable. Evaluating a prologue that is too long can be a challenge, so get some beta reader feedback to determine how to cut it down.

Prologues are typically designed to hint at information that will be important later in the book, but this often leads to an additional problem. Does your prologue go out of its way to avoid explaining what’s going on in that specific moment, and/or intentionally end without resolving the scene in an attempt to be mysterious? Stop that. You’re trying too hard and I guarantee it will fall flat for a lot of readers. If you’re writing from a POV you don’t want to go into too deeply for fear of breaking a later reveal, change the POV. Nothing frustrates a reader more than feeling like the author is intentionally hiding things from them. We are, but they shouldn’t feel it.

Finally, what’s the effect on the book if you remove the prologue entirely? Does the story remain completely unchanged by dropping the prologue, including context and reader engagement? If so, cut that thing. It might be the coolest scene in your mind, but if it doesn’t enhance the story, the reader doesn’t care. Conversely, does your book fail to make any sense or feel like it’s missing major story elements if you pull the prologue? Well, turns out, you don’t have a prologue at all. What you actually have is a first chapter and you need to connect it more directly to the main story. If the events are too removed to fit in the story arc there, find ways to drop the information throughout the narrative (or, if it fits your book, through the dreaded flashback) instead of in a prologue. Or maybe consider if your story starts in the right place.

Why even try?

As disliked as prologues are in the modern publishing world, you may be wondering if it’s even worth trying to write one. Some agents will reject on the prologue alone and those that don’t are extremely critical of prologues. Maybe even more critical of prologues than of first pages.

Absolutely you should write one.

Despite everything I’ve said about the dangers and pitfalls of prologues, I would never tell you not to write one if you think it fits your story. Prologues serve a very specific set of uses and are often misunderstood and misapplied. But in those instances where they are done right, they are absolutely critical to the story. I’m going to use my own work as an example here.

I went back and forth on a prologue several times and had several different drafts of my potential prologues. I queried initially without a prologue. Rewrote to improve flow and queried with a prologue, but got some backlash over my prologue. Pulled the prologue and got significant reader feedback that my opening was too abrupt. I finally settled on the prologue I have because it fits my rule above. The story was complete without it, but my prologue gave readers a chance to explore the political landscape and underlying tensions between a handful of important side characters. It was a short, direct scene that addressed the setup of the story without giving you a full history of the world, or even the recent war. This is the sort of prologue that supports the main narrative without frustrating the reader with world-building details or being so removed that the reader only understands the context several books later.

The same can be said for the Harry Potter prologue (you don’t have to like the books or the author, but the prologue does it’s job: telling you that Harry is important); the Game of Thrones prologue (you, the reader, have knowledge that the characters only learn later, so you feel more tension when Eddard Stark says that White Walkers are myths); the Red Sister prologue (you know from page one that “a nun” has a very different training than in our modern world and that becoming a nun must be dangerous); and many others.

A final, cautionary comment

Many epic/high fantasy authors and epic science fiction authors make a very specific faux pas that is often credited as the reason prologues have a bad name. They use the prologue to info-dump setting or history. I’ve even seen numerous advice web sites describe this as a potential use of a prologue.

Do Not Do This!

Unless you are well-established author with a loyal following of dedicated readers, you will, not get away with this. An agent who sees this in a debut author’s submission will auto-reject (if they even look at a submission with a prologue at all). A reader who picks up your book without knowing you as an author will look at this and skip it–or they might just put the book down. Either way, that prologue isn’t helping and might be hurting. Feel free to add an appendix discussing these things if you think some readers might be interested. Some people will be. But placing it in a prologue has a very, very high likelihood of harming the marketability of your book.

Arcana Hydrogista


Caryllie Shaw frowned, her hand trembling over the bucket of water on the table beside her and her nail-beds aching in the dry heat. One dip and her magic would burst free. She could feel the pressure as a writhing creature under her skin, its desires fighting her own. The dry skin of her fingers throbbed as she clenched and relaxed each hand. Just the right pressure along the edge of her index finger and blood would flow from the cracks that had formed in her skin. The council would be forced to pull her from the front.

“Dammit, Caryllie, do something.” Llyr Moreno grunted as he dropped another bucket of water beside her, splashing her thick, leather hiking boots with the liquid. “I’ve got plenty of materials for more water, but I’m running out of space to store it.”

A chorus of quick, snapping noises drifted from across Centennial Boulevard, followed by a loud pop as a burst of sparks flew into the air. Cary looked up, scanning the area.The roads had long been evacuated, but the raging forest fire crept closer to the boundary. Anyone else would have needed full fire gear with masks and still would have been forced further from the edge of the fire. But Cary and Llyr stood protected behind a wall of aerogystas, each pouring their very selves into the effort to blow the heat back and away from where Llyr and Cary worked.

“We should go, Llyr,” Caryllie said, dipping a hesitant finger into the water. Still warm from Llyr’s magic forcing it to convert from separate gasses into liquid. She glanced back, at the distant forms of vehicles approaching their location. “If the firefighters see us here—”

“They bloody won’t if you do your job.” He waved at the growing flames. “You’re the only hydrogista in a hundred miles. Get this water onto those flames or we won’t have homes to go back to.”

As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. Centennial was a large enough road it would stop most fires from tearing through the city, but this monstrosity was no ordinary fire. It grew with a speed that seemed almost supernatural, even in the parched land west of Colorado Springs on a particularly dry summer. Wind blew into her face, pulling loose strands of brown hair away from Cary’s face. And sending the sparks drifting toward the untouched greenery of Ute Valley Park.

Cary dipped another finger into the water, sending a stream out of the bucket to douse the sparks before they found purchase. But that small stream was all she could manage with her hand still clear of the water. Proper control required full contact, her hand fully submerged and becoming one with the liquid, imparting her will on the foreign substance. A tactic she didn’t dare risk. Instead, she sent another stream into the heart of the fire, cooling a flare into a burst of heat. Uncomfortable, but not a risk of breaking free. Yet. Another stream pushed the flames back from the far side, where the fire had been creeping toward the elementary school to the south. A minor shift, but enough to keep the fire moving away from the school. Firefighters had already fought for Chipeta Elementary, further south and west, the night before. Cary shifted her stance, dipping the fingertips of her other hand into the water, as well. Stream after stream, like water guns, soaked fresh fuel and cooled the edge of the flame. Not enough. Like fighting a tidal wave with sand bags. Each shot slowed the fire less as the heat burned away any moisture before she could get a second blast in.

To her left, one of the aerogystas wavered. A blast of heat swept past, tearing the breath from Cary’s throat. Llyr, beside her, gasped in shock and collapsed on the ground, sweat dripping from his face. Cary’s body would take several more minutes to realize the danger and start producing sweat, and those minutes would likely be too long. Heat exhaustion would quickly drain her of any ability to manipulate the water and might leave her unconscious. Her fingers sank further into the water, the edge just below the damaged skin on her fingers, and she splashed the water closer. First on herself, drenching her clothes from top to bottom in controlled bursts. Then the aerogysta, who was far too close to danger to wait. Several splashes and the woman rose, nodding in thanks as she applied herself to the task once more. And finally, Llyr.

Llyr stood when she was done, fixed her with a damp glare. “You’re holding back. This isn’t practice.”

“My skin’s too dry,” she replied. “If I go deeper, I might bleed.”

He cursed. “I can’t allow blood work in my region.” Llyr glanced up at the still raging fire, creeping ever closer. “But that thing isn’t slowing down. Can you use gloves?”

Cary shook her head. “I need to connect. It’s not like air work. It’s not inside me already.”

A series of shouts sounded from behind her and sirens blared over the roar of the blaze. She’d waited too long and they’d been spotted. The firefighters would be there any minute. How many of their lives would her hesitation cost?

“Do it, Cary.”

Llyr turned away, running toward the far side of the park where a half dozen officials were waving at them. He could stall them, but only for a few moments. Hold this fire back now or lose the town.

For an instant she was paralyzed. Dip her hand into the water when she knew the aching dryness like an old, long-despised acquaintance? If she bled into the water as she used it, her soul would be bound to this place forever. Any other home would feel empty, devoid of the life she’d built and savored here. Llyr couldn’t be asking her to sacrifice her freedom for the whims of the arcane council. But if she didn’t, the entire town would burn.

Drawing in a deep breath, Cary dipped her hands deeper into the water. At first, the moisture seemed to soften her too-dry skin, soothing the ache of broken skin. She smiled, narrowing her eyes as her hand clenched in triumph and the water from all the buckets Llyr had filled leapt to her command. Then the pain started. First in her fingers, where the cracks had been in her skin, then growing and radiating further. The pulsing sting arced through every muscle. Her body throbbed in time with her heart, the essence of the ground beneath her suddenly an extension of her pain. She could almost feel the heat of the fire drying the trees, the needles screaming as they burst into flame. Cary stared at the water that streamed from her closed fist, sending a torrent toward the sparks that drifted across the road. A thin, nearly invisible line of red wound through the liquid, threading its way out of a deep crack in her skin. She was bound now, for better or worse. This land was hers, and she would allow no harm to it.

“No.” Llyr’s voice was a distant plea from across the park. “Cary, what are you doing? Stay here!”

The dry ground crunched under the heels of her boots. This land was hers.

To Catch a Prince


High Lord Johannus Sentarsin scowled at his court, their fidgeting and the glitter of their finery grating on his nerves. Spineless sycophants, the lot of them, milling around his marble-floored great hall waiting for a chance to snatch an advantage from their peers. And now they cast terrified glances at his throne, judging how likely he was to let them renounce their vows to follow the newly crowned emperor.

“My lord.” A messenger shoved through the crowd, his rumpled livery covered in mud. He dropped to his knees as soon as he reached the foot of the high lord’s dais and slammed a hand to his chest in salute. “News on the foreign soldiers spotted entering our lands. They’ve done no damage, avoided all our patrols and troops as though they know the and, and—” The messenger licked his lips, casting a glance at the lords to either side. Or maybe at Johannus’s guards lining the walls. “Pardon, my lord. Reports say your son, Lordling Arkaen, rides at their head.”

Gods damn it all. Johannus clenched his fist on the arm of his throne. The boy should have been handled by now. He would have been if Emperor Laisia’s men had brought him home as intended, instead of trying to interrogate him. They’d nearly broken the boy with their tactics, and now there was no telling where his loyalties might lie.

“Have you any reports on his intentions?” Johannus sat forward as he spoke, scanning the assembled lords for any potential spies. The wrong ears in this room could damn the entire province.

“None, my lord,” the messenger said. “But the soldiers are outfitted for war.”

“Then we must assume he plans an assault,” Johannus replied. And Arkaen would know how to weave his army through the province to avoid any positions where they might catch him off guard. “Ready the guards and call conscripts from the villages. We’ll also need—”

“Father, no!” His daughter, Saylina, shrieked the protest as she burst through the hidden door behind his throne. Skulking where she shouldn’t be, as usual.

“Silence, child.” He flashed a glare at her, noting the servant he’d hired to watch her hiding in the shadows of the doorway. Useless, just like Arkaen’s guard had been. Johannus waved her away. “Your sentiment won’t change our status. Your brother is lost to us now.”

“Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people!” Saylina insisted, reaching a hand forward as though she could sway the entire court by sheer force of will. Her plea almost worked and a whisper of uncertainty swept through the gathered courtiers.

“I said silence!” Johannus slammed a fist onto the arm of his throne and fought the urge to stare the girl down. A high lord didn’t answer to children before the entire court.

Examining the now-silent crowd, his eyes settled on the messenger, still kneeling at the foot of the throne as though nothing had interrupted him. Waiting for orders. Thank the gods he had at least one loyalist.

Johannus rose, facing his lower lords with stately focus. “Our prince has overstepped his place.” He should disown the boy here and now, but Saylina was too naive to take his place as heir. “Ready the guards. Call conscripts from the villages. And send word to the nobility to ready their elites for combat.” He spared a glance back at Saylina’s pale face. “First we’ll bring my son home, then we’ll decide what to do with him.”

Saylina frowned, her shoulders trembling with fear in contrast to the frustrated crinkle of her forehead that so nearly echoed her mother’s fury he almost relented. But there was nothing to be done. She was just a child and could never understand the danger of misplaced trust. Perhaps she could be of use, though.

“You.” Johannus thrust a finger at a servant. “Bring Lady Saylina paper and a writing table. She has a message to send to her brother.”


The lower lords’ council cowered under his gaze, every eye turned away from the crumpled note in the center of the table. As if ignoring the insolent response Arkaen had sent would somehow turn this into anything other than a war council planning combat against their own prince. And through it all, Saylina’s plea hung in his mind. Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people. Johannus snatched the note up and read the words again.

To High Lord Johannus Sentarsin—

You are ordered to submit to judgment by High Emperor Deyvan Corliann, such judgment to be administered by the emperor’s appointed arbiter. Said arbiter will arrive at your capital in five days’ time. Any attempt to delay his arrival or inhibit his review will be considered an act of treason.

—Signed and penned by hand of Arkaen Sentarsin

As if a runaway noble boy had any authority to speak for the emperor. But then, rumors from the north claimed any number of absurdities. Arkaen pandering to the imperial heir to get his way was hardly the most preposterous rumor he’d heard.

“My lord…” The tentative voice of his Lord Chancellor faded at his sudden focus.

“What?”

The Lord Chancellor dropped his gaze, falling silent again, but Baron Oskari Weydert stood.

“You know, my lord, what must be done.” Oskari gestured at the message. “This cannot be tolerated.”

“He’s still my son, Baron Weydert,” Johannus said, fixing Oskari with a glare. “He’s still your prince.”

“Is he, my lord?” Oskari asked. “He’s claiming a role in the imperial council. We both know this empire has seen its best days long past. This is our only chance to act.”

Johannus shook his head, leaning back in his chair. Too impulsive, as Oskari had always been. Even when they were children together making plans to conquer their teachers’ classrooms. But for all the recklessness of Oskari’s comments, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Any plans to break free of imperial oversight would die in the grip of a secure imperial succession. And the newly-crowned emperor was young enough with enough respect that even without a wife he’d no doubt solidify his power in short order.

“My son has chosen his side.” Johannus pushed up from the table.

None of the other lower lords would meet his eyes. No doubt too frightened of Arkaen’s empty threats to admit the truth of the situation.

“We’ll need another method of bringing him to heel without bloodshed. Lord Chancellor, send word to my personal guard. I need to speak with my guest in the high lady’s parlor.” Johannus waved at Oskari. “Attend me, Baron Weydert.”

Johannus stepped around the table, leading Oskari into the hall beyond. They strode down the hall, bare stone interspersed with the elaborate—and now painfully worn—tapestries that Johannus had bought for his wife decades ago. Anger simmered in his thoughts as he walked, Oskari silent but too obviously tense beside him.

“You’ve no standing to challenge me before the council,” Johannus said at last. “I’ve long known your counsel on my son, but the choice is my own.”

“Then I encourage you to honor the plans we made,” Oskari said. After several breaths, he added, “My lord.”

“Don’t test me, Oskari. I’ve enough ire to vent already.”

“Vent on your wayward boy.” Oskari paused, crossing his arms and glaring to the north. “He’s the source of these complications.”

“Arkaen’s a brat.” Johannus scowled. “Spoiled by his mother. But he still has value. Without a proper heir, we can’t bring any change but chaos.”

Oskari turned back to him. “You’ve another child for an heir.”

Johannus looked away, running a hand along the edge of one of his wife’s tapestries. Fifteen years dead and he couldn’t bring himself to take them down, but he stood before them discussing the sale of his only daughter. How could he value his wife’s ornaments more than the daughter she’d given him? But Saylina needed a proper rein if she was to serve the province, and she was the last of his line able to do so.

“Write the contract, then,” Johannus said. “Saylina’s to young to wed as yet, but you can set a date a few years out. Let her settle into her woman’s moons before she takes to a bed. The contract should be enough to secure my legacy.”

“I’ll have my clerk draft the papers.” Oskari bowed. “Are you certain of the other matter? I don’t know that your… guest is to be trusted.”

“It’s the only option if we’re to avoid open war.” Johannus cringed at the thought. That Arkaen could be susceptible to the charm of such a man always made his skin crawl. “Keep your men ready in case the louse fails again.”

“Yes, my lord,” Oskari said. “I hope your boy comes home, for your sake, but beware. By rumor…” Oskari hesitated. “Well, they say he may be as like to use you as follow you.”

Johannus waved the concern away and walked toward the parlor where he’d set his meeting. Down a long-disused set of corridors he hadn’t been able to reclaim after his wife’s death. No servant would let dust collect in the high lord’s palace, but the silence spoke volumes of the ghosts that lived in this wing. A place no one dared lurk lest Johannus find them there defiling his wife’s memory. The twists of his keep felt like a maze here, all corridors he’d known forever but hadn’t seen for almost two decades. He’d courted his wife in that study, securing an alliance with the tumultuous Istalli bloodline. Another turn. There was the servant’s common where Arkaen had hidden as a boy after lashings. He wouldn’t have endured so many if he’d taken his lessons to heart. At least Saylina hadn’t followed her brother into those flaws as she had so many others.

Finally, he reached the carved wood door that led into his wife’s private parlor. The low table inside had already been set for tea, the polished wood gleaming in the soft light from a distant window. No candles lighting the room, but he didn’t need much. Johannus inspected the twin sofas on either side of the table, worn fabric still elegant despite the age. He settled into one and poured a cup of tea savoring the blend of herbs and spices that he’d imported from the southern hills. A slight knock announced the arrival of his guest, escorted into the room by a pair of guards, each holding one end of the heavy chains. Matted brown hair hung around his face and from his unkempt beard. Young enough to be Johannus’s child, the man looked almost ten years older than he truly was. Lines on his face hinted at wisdom he had yet to show.

“Vaiyen.” Johannus gestured at a seat across from him. Sit and have a respectable drink. Let’s talk.”

Vaiyen collapsed into a seat with a rattle of chains and the guards took up positions on either side.

“Yes, my lord.”

His voice was raspy with disuse. What would he use it for in an empty cell among an empty dungeon, anyway? Johannus waited for him to pour a cup of the tea, drop a cube of sugar in, and take several sips. When Vaiyen had settled into his seat and replaced his cup—after the heavy sigh of relief from the warm liquid escaped his lips—Johannus leaned forward.

have a task for you, Vaiyen,” Johannus said. “One which you alone have ever managed, and I hope you can do so again.”

Vaiyen froze, his eyes going wide. “Me?” His gaze swept through the room, realizing, perhaps for the first time, the peculiarity of their meeting. “You can’t mean… My lord, I can’t. Even if he were he, he won’t listen to me.”

“He will be here,” Johannus said. “In five days. You will meet his forces before they try to enter the city and you will gain an audience with my son. Bring him home—peacefully—without his army.”

“I said, my lord, he won’t—” Vaiyen hesitated, looking up at the guards on either side of him. “How would I even convince him to see me?”

“You’ve been quite adept at managing his decisions in the past.” Johannus steepled his hands, hiding the grimace of distaste the admission elicited from him. “One might say you were something of an expert in that task. Until your mistake.”

“I could have done nothing more, my lord,” Vaiyen said. “Lordling Arkaen had already decided a course. The only question he brought to me was the choice of whether to betray my own oath, as well.”

Johannus smirked at him. “So you’ve said. Consider this an opportunity to prove your claims.”

“But—”

“If he asked you to join him, then he will surely welcome your return to his side. Use that and bring my son home.”

Vaiyen scowled, staring into his tea, but nodded. “I will try, my lord.”

“You will succeed,” Johannus snapped. “Or you will watch your family flayed before joining them in Eiliin’s hell.”

Vaiyen paled, taking a deep breath. “Yes, my lord.”

Release Day!


Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s release day for Wake of the Phoenix!

I’ll admit this feels like a day that both came way too soon and took way too long. I’m very excited to share this world with other readers and find the audience that loves it as much as I do. A very special thanks to all the ARC reviewers who have already given this book a shot and shared their comments. Special bonus for anyone in the Colorado Springs area: I have a couple in-person events coming up over the next couple weeks! Here’s the initial list:

  • Mile Hi Con–Denver, October 1 through October 3. Vendor table on author’s row
  • Book signing–Colorado Springs, Barnes and Noble at (on Briargate near Academy), October 9 from 12-2

I’ll make sure to announce any other events I schedule. I’m hoping to be able to attend more events (when it’s safe) throughout the next few months, possibly outside of Colorado.

The Demon and the Thief


Kìlashà san Draego de Mìtaran paced the elegant confines of his assigned room, a snarl of frustration on his lips. The quiet murmur of the city drifting through his window grated on his patience. Five years in this place and still he’d found nothing of what his gods wanted him to cultivate here among these… humans. Always complacent in the face of danger and joyous at the destruction of plausible dissent. And he sat here among them, wasting time trying to mold the humans into a usable ally when he could have been preparing his clan for the threats whispered by his seeker’s power.

A sharp knock at his door broke into his thoughts and Kìlashà spun toward the sound, a hiss escaping his lips. An instant later, a voice spoke through the door.

“Pardon the interruption, Lord Kìlashà. May I enter?”

Kìlashà let the tension drain from him. Kaen, his gods-chosen kai’shien and lord of these lands, was the one balm to this cursed pursuit. He crossed the room and threw the door open just as a younger male rounded a corner.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda—” The male froze, his eyes focused on Kìlashà.

Anger rushed through Kìlashà, his lips pulling back in another silent snarl. As if he would harm this human for simply speaking to his liege lord. The slightest tingle of his hair brushing the nape of his own neck reminded him of the real reason for their fear. Kìlashà had no people any longer. Not since his sacrifice to save Kaen years before had turned his skin the palest white and left his veins glowing in rivers of magic patterned across his skin.

Kaen stepped forward—between Kìlashà and the younger human—and cast a reassuring smile at the boy. His slender body and slightly shorter stature hid nothing from Kìlashà’s vision. But Kaen would never try to hide events from him.

“Count Skianda needed what?” Kaen asked.

The messenger stuttered, eyes still locked on Kìlashà despite Kaen’s attempt to interject himself. Kìlashà dipped a mental thought into his seeker’s power, twisting the gods’ gift to his will. A minor shift of the timelines and he could see the moment that would have occurred had he waited to open the door.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda demands your presence.” The young human bowed, his palms clench in the folds of his tunic. A sign of his fear at the response he might receive. They had never learned how to trust Kaen.

“Demands, does he?” Kaen replied, smirking at the boy. He stepped away from Kìlashà’s door. “By what authority does my count makes demands on my time?”

“I—Apologies, my lord. He said—”

Kaen chuckled, striding down the hall to lay a hand on the messenger’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, lad. I’m sure he just wanted to impress upon me the importance of his concerns. I’ll see to him shortly.”

Kìlashà let the vision go, focusing on the hallway before him again.

Kaen reached a hand out in entreaty. “You did say—”

“Your human lord desires an audience, kai’shien,” Kìlashà said. The messenger would likely never get the words out.

Kaen glanced back, a flicker of a frown indicating his frustration, before turning back to the messenger. “Count Skianda needs to speak with me in person?”

The messenger nodded, still mute. After a moment of silence between them, he found his voice. “The count said… He needs you n—” Another glance at Kìlashà and froze. Took a deep breath. “Count Skianda said to tell you, my lord, that his need was immediate.”

Definitely not what the human lord had said. Kìlashà could hear the lie this human messenger used to avoid a confrontation. But Kaen nodded as if he couldn’t hear the deception as clearly as Kìlashà. More so, likely. He understood humans far better.

“Please inform the count that I have heard his request and will attend him as soon as I’ve finished matters here,” Kaen replied.

He turned away, gesturing for Kìlashà to follow as he strode into Kìlashà’s room. A ploy to avoid any follow up and give them a few moments to speak alone. Kìlashà stalked back into his room, the messenger’s fear still irritating his volatile temper. He’d never harmed Kaen’s people since they’d declared the war ended. Not even when they’d deserved it.

“Could you manage to not terrify every new servant I hire?” Kaen asked, pushing the door closed behind him. “That’s a perfectly decent lad from a family struggling to get their feet back under them. If he leaves for fear the high lord’s terrifying demon might eat him, the entire family will starve.”

Kìlashà shrugged, crossing the room to collapse into a chair set by his reading table. “And what, precisely, did I do to frighten the child?”

“You…” Kaen slumped against the wall, drumming his fingers against the adorned stone in thought. “Gods. You answered your door too forcefully.” He let out a humorless chuckle. “What are we going to do with them?”

“Forge them into the tool my people need to face their coming adversity, to protect the lives of as many Drae’gon as can be saved.”

“And protect their lives.” Kaen pushed off the wall, gesturing toward the window. “You swore to me that my return was needed to protect my people as much as yours.”

Kìlashà scowled. The humans would have been back at war already had they not returned. And yet…

He was no longer certain that Kaen’s people were worth their efforts. Not that Kìlashà could ever choose to leave, with the visions granted by Ancient Spirits nagging at his conscience. These humans held some value to the gods of his people and none of the Drae’gon had seen it before Kìlashà. He was starting to understand why.

“Kìlashà.” Kaen took a step forward, crossing his arms and glaring. “You swore it. To me.”

“And I did not lie. These humans need your guidance.” What little of it they chose to follow.

“So what…” Kaen trailed off, turning away to stare out the window.

But the accusation flared from Kìlashà’s power.

“What are we supposed to do next?” Kaen demanded. “I’m no good at these half-truths and manipulations. Everything I do here seems to make the province worse. More poverty, more theft, more division.”

“I should see to Brayden,” Kaen said. “The Skianda family has always supported mine. His request may give us some hint of what’s coming.”

He meant something more for Kìlashà’s seeker’s power to use, allowing him to finally identify what they needed to accomplish in these lands. Unspoken, but they both heard the implication. They both chafed at the obscurity of the visions that had sent them here.

“You came for a reason, kai’shien.”

“I just—” Kaen hesitated, sweeping his gaze over the rich furnishings of the room he’d designated as Kìlashà’s haven.

Kìlashà could see the room as Kaen saw it without the aid of his power. Rich furnishings, magnificently broad bed, gilded decorations. All of it crammed into a space barely half the size of the entry room of Kaen’s high lord’s suite. More than either had during the war, and a pittance by the standards of Kaen’s nobility. A slight toward Kaen’s strange, foreign comrade that he hadn’t been able to prevent without revealing too much. But Kìlashà cared nothing for the opulence of the room and Kaen’s anger burned over the insult, not the result.

“I’m not helping them.” Kaen slumped back against the wall, his words an echo of the frustration in Kìlashà’s vision. “It’s been—” He sighed, pacing across the room and back like a caged beast. Like Kìlashà had only moments before. “Too long. You brought us here to unite them, and I’m not able to do that. Are we failing?”

“They are further from war than when we returned,” Kìlashà replied. But they hadn’t accomplished what he’d expected when he’d convinced Kaen to return. Still… “The Spirits do not speak in absolutes. Should we fail to serve Their purpose, it will not be the result of any choice now past.”

Kaen laughed. “So I haven’t completely dismantled the plans of the all knowing gods who grant the ability to see the future just yet? How reassuring.”

“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà hesitated as Kaen focused on him. But he deserved to know. Pushing up from his chair, Kìlashà strode over to where Kaen stood. “I did not foresee this path. Not precisely. But you have done only what you believed best and thus cannot have forsaken the path the Spirits desired you to take. The Ancient Spirits knew of your skill in these matters when They chose you.”

“They chose you for this, Kìlashà.” Kaen scowled, leaning against the wall again. “They chose me for a far different purpose, and I doubt it has anything to do with my political acumen.”

“The Ancient Spirits are immortal gods seeking to protect Their followers,” Kìlashà said. “You think that spent a great deal of time locating the correct person to warm my bed at night?” Kìlashà smiled at the flush that tinted Kaen’s cheeks. “Even that would be a sign of your unique qualities. They have never before expressed an opinion on a Drae’gon’s choice of mate.”

“All right, They have a plan for me, too.” Kaen shook his head. “I’m not entirely certain that’s a good thing.”

“It is a truth. Beyond that—”

Kìlashà froze, the surge of his seeker’s power flowing through him in a sudden flash of vision. Staggering, Kìlashà caught himself on the wall as the moment overtook his senses.

The young female slipped through the crowd, adept at avoiding notice in all the right ways. People saw her, but they’d never remember the grubby form hunched to mimic an older child more than the young adult she truly was. Her hands acquired meaningless trinkets as she strolled, the last swipe catching the attention of Kaen’s guards.

“Hey, you there!”

This was one of the gaudy guardsmen, left over from Kaen’s father but not immediately corrupt. Or not enough to justify banishment, Kaen said. The guard ran toward the female and she dodged past a pair of shoppers huddled over a stall. The crowd seemed to freeze, the young female and her guard weaving through a sea of shocked faces and angry shouts.

Finally, she broke free of the crowd and hurried toward an alley, the guard close on her heels. Both seemed ignorant of the figure shoving through the crowd on the other side. Baron Oskari Weydert reined his war horse to a halt a scant few steps shy of trampling Niamsha, and she fell back. Oskari’s boots hit the ground an instant later, his boot flying into her gut. Niamsha puked on the ground as he stepped back for another blow. The guard stopped behind her, a flash of uncertainty on his face.

“Kìlashà?” Kaen’s hand on his shoulder, the cool feel of stone beneath him. He’d fallen when the vision took hold. “Do you need anything?”

“I am well.” Kìlashà pushed up from the floor, head still spinning with the vision. Too clear. Every color held the sharp precision of a certainty, every action felt like a truth he’d always known. A vile, horrific truth. This would happen, and the Ancient Spirits desired it changed. “I must go to the city. To the market where the merchants built your statue.”

Kaen nodded. “Then I’ll go with you.”

For an instant, Kìlashà hesitated. The human noble would be angry. But Kaen would argue if he tried to refuse the company and the human female did not have that much time.

“Swiftly. Come.” Kìlashà strode from the room with Kaen in his wake. Finally, the Spirits had given him something to do.

Sample Pages!

2021-09-28T07:00:00

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

Wake of the Phoenix Release Day!

My debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix, has finished distributing ARC copies and early reviews are coming in. While the book is not for everyone (and no book is, really), you can tell from early comments on Goodreads that a number of readers are connection well with characters and are intrigued by the political conundrums. If you missed getting an early copy, take a look at the sample chapters below or go pre-order your copy!

More traditional blog posts will be back next week, including part 4 of my Self-Publishing Guide, this time discussing the challenges of Marketing, as well as potentially a new fiction story the same week.

Desperate Times


Saylina strode down the hall, her eyes trained on the wall just above her escort’s head and fingers rubbing gently on the grip of her fan in tension. Just enough decorum to look in control while her nerves ran wild. Her father, High Lord Johannus Sentarsin, hadn’t summoned her for nearly a year now, leaving her to the care of her tutors instead. Had he found the notes she’d been exchanging with Lady Arianne Skianda and her brother? Or maybe he’d heard about Saylina’s vigorous search for a malleable husband. The southern trade lord’s youngest looked promising, but without a favorable contract to go with it, her father would never agree.

The servant pushed aside the wide double doors, revealing that smallest court gathering Saylina had ever seen. Her father standing on the dais. his long time friend, Baron Oskari Weydert, loitering near the steps where the herald should have been. But only five other lords graced the chamber. Too few for even a facade of formality to feel reasonable. She crossed the floor, newly bought marble that must have drained the province coffers to scraps. But her father had more concern for image than frugality these days. Not that she could blame him, when his image as a loyal servant to the bloodthirsty emperor was all that had saved her from the dangers of imperial court.

Saylina paused several feet from the group and bowed her head. “You summoned me, Father?”

“Saylina.” Her father gestured to the chair by his side. By his left side, where tradition sat his blood heir. “It’s time we discussed your future, girl.”

“Of course, Father.”

She stepped onto the dais, each step seeming to grow as she crossed the distance from common courtier to province heir. The chair felt too hard under her hands, her narrow, girlish frame of not quite fifteen years too small to fill the place intended for her brother, Arkaen. Saylina eased onto the seat and lifted her chin, meeting the eyes of the few courtiers her father had allowed to attend. Only the most notable of the lower lords. Not even the Skianda family, although he might have simply refused to allow Lordling Brayden Skianda to fill his father’s shoes. But Baron Oskari Weydert was here, along with a handful of others her father had known for decades. Everyone, she realized, who had voiced fears over Arkaen’s loyalties.

“What did you want to discuss?” Saylina pushed an innocent smile onto her lips, turning away from the lower lords to meet her father’s gaze.

Her father scowled. “You’re not a halfwit, girl. You know what that chair means.” He cast a glance at the other lords and sighed. “We can’t trust him any longer. It’s more than rumors, now. Our own scouts saw your brother at the head of a rebel army.”

A chill ran through her. Rumors of treason had been enough to tear the lower lords’ council apart, some defending Arkaen’s honor while others demanded he be removed from the registry of Sentarsin kin. If there was real proof…

“How many saw him?” The calculations circled her mind. If it was only a couple scouts they could cover it up. Prevent High Emperor Laisia from blaming the entire family for her brother’s treasons.

“That’s not the point,” her father replied. “Your brother is lost to us. We need to find you a proper husband to rule—”

“Gods damn your pride, Father.”

She leaped from the chair, her formal skirts swirling in a flash of temper she rarely showed. A flash of temper that drew her father’s fury to the surface and she could see his rage brewing under the calm facade of his mild frown. Her heart pounded against her chest, the danger of her insolence leaving her entire body shaking. But this was bigger than her or her father.

Saylina turned to meet his eyes again, fighting for some semblance of reason in her tone. “Emperor Laisia won’t care who’s to blame or who you plan to succeed you. Can we hide Arkaen’s actions and protect our home?” Her throat clogged at the next thought. But it might be the only way. “If we send assassins…” Her eyes burned. Arkie, her beloved brother, who used to sneak sugary treats into her bed after the cook had banished them both. “We can claim he was coerced.”

“Emperor Laisia has no reason to doubt my loyalty,” her father replied. But she could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “I have served his needs since he confirmed my seat when he was still a boy.”

“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, my lord,” Baron Weydert said. “Better to protect the province first. I did warn you of these actions when he first left.”

Not someone she wanted to agree with, and certainly not on the proper way to depose her own brother. But if these reports were true, Arkaen had damned himself.

Her father spun to face Baron Weydert. “I don’t need your lectures any more than I need strategies from a barely weaned girl, Oskari. I’ve seen to the boy, of course. No one who saw him will tell any tales, and Arkie won’t be sighted anywhere else. Not living, at least.” He fixed a narrow-eyed stare on Saylina as her heart skipped and her eyes burned. “I called my council to name an heir.”

Saylina stepped back, the back of her legs rubbing against her brother’s chair. A chair he’d never sit in again.

“Your lords serve.” Baron Weydert bowed low, his cloak falling to one side and dragging the floor. “I only thought it prudent to discuss the matter, my lord. My guards reported these measures have only just begun. Surely additional caution only serves the needs of our subjects.”

Baron Weydert cast Saylina a guarded smile. And winked. Almost a conspiratorial, friendly gesture, as though he were a peer trying to impress a crush. Gods above. He’d tried to marry his daughter to Arkaen. His son was betrothed to a lady serving at the imperial court. And his wife was long dead. Surely the baron couldn’t mean to take her hand.

“Then do what you will, Oskari.”

Saylina’s focus snapped back to her father, the casual dismissal of Baron Weydert’s challenge impossible to ignore. A lower lord did not spy on his liege. Or at least, he didn’t admit to doing so and the reigning high lord pretended not to notice that everyone did. It was a matter of etiquette. To treat such a breach as meaningless could only mean that her father had been in confidence with Baron Weydert on this already.

“Thank you, Father.” Saylina straightened. Gods, let her be mistaken. If only she could be sure she’d read the situation wrong. “I feel better knowing our council is monitoring the situation.” She licked her lips, casting a hopeful glance at the other lords. All silent and most bored. They had no intention of challenging Baron Weydert for whatever he’d planned with her father. “I’ve given thought to my marriage. There’s a southern trade-lord’s son—”

“No.” Her father shook his head. “When you were just a daughter, maybe, but not as my heir. We need to solidify the province.” He turned toward Baron Weydert and Saylina knew she hadn’t been wrong.

“Brayden.” She nearly shouted the word in a rush to speak before he suggested his childhood friend for her husband. Her father froze. “Brayden Skianda. The family is old but his father has taken to focus on his own lands more than the province. Brayden is more than a little frustrated with his own impotence. An ally for your heir and a chance to honor one of our valuable but less prominent allies with a gift of Brayden’s sister as a bride.”

Except Brayden was halfway through a very complex negotiation for his own wedding to another woman. But at least it was a name her father couldn’t immediately reject. He turned back, the endless pause hinting that he wanted to dismiss her suggestion. Finally, her father sighed.

“I’ll talk to Count Skianda, but that’s a complicated suggestion. Don’t get your heart set on him, girl.”

And just like that she had a reprieve. Time to find a husband that her father wouldn’t reject. If such a man existed. Saylina rose and curtsied.

“Shall I retire, then, to write the invitation?”

Her father considered her for a moment before nodding. “See to your lessons. I’ll write the invitation. Province business is none of yours.”

As though he hadn’t just named her heir in her brother’s place. But she’d expected it. Saylina straightened and crossed the room, refusing to meet the eyes of any of the other lords. A high lady did not beg for approval from her subjects. Stepping out the door, she counted out twenty steps before she let herself run through the halls, her finely held control finally on the edge of breaking. She’d better warn Lady Arianne that her brother was about to get a marriage proposal before her plans fell apart before she got them started. And hope she hadn’t just chosen an ally of someone about to betray her.

Family Ties


“Father, we don’t have a choice.” Deyvan Corliann reached out a hand, pleading with his father to understand. “Uncle Caildenn won’t let this go.”

“And that is exactly why I cannot agree,” High Lord Mikkal Corliann replied. “Surely you see that. I’ve relinquished the management of my holdings to you and accepted your appointment as his heir. Nothing I’ve done since hints at rebellion. If he won’t trust my word, how can I trust his?”

Deyvan collapsed into the heavily padded chair beside his father’s desk, his hand falling on a pile of ignored papers. Papers that Deyvan should have answered weeks before, but for his uncle’s demands. The entire office overflowed with bits of work Deyvan had yet to examine. Requests for his blessing on new trade agreements, demands he resolve disputes between minor lords, adjustments in laws and regulations that he’d never realized needed the high lord’s approval at all. And more than a dozen contracts with marriage clauses attached, each hinting not so subtly that an alliance with that family might aid him should his uncle remarry and father another heir. No one trusted Uncle Caildenn’s word. Not even Deyvan.

“This isn’t about trusting my uncle,” Deyvan said. “It’s about showing the empire that the provinces remain united. The northern rebellion has been growing for almost six years now and any day they might break out from skirmishes and ambushes into a real war. Uncle Caildenn is our emperor and he needs the show his enemies that our nation is not to be dismissed. What if Mindaine decides the rebellion is a distraction they can use to take back Sentar Province? Or Osuvia wants to rebuild the former country on their lower border as a puppet state?”

“Then the imperial army will rally to our nation’s defense regardless of home province, as they always have.” High Lord Mikkal shook his head, as if the answer were obvious. “Caildenn knows that as well as I. My abandonment of an empty title does nothing but force me into subservience. It’s not about unity, Deyvan. It’s about cruelty.”

“That’s—” But Deyvan couldn’t really argue. Uncle Caildenn had a bad reputation, and nothing could make Deyvan forget the look in his uncle’s eyes when Deyvan had sworn his father’s loyalty. After the province high lords had forced Uncle Caildenn to marry into the Corliann bloodline much too young, he would never trust the brother-by-law he’d gained in High Lord Mikkal. “Uncle Caildenn has his flaws, but he only needs a proper family. The high lords took one chance of that from him by selecting my aunt as his bride, the Serr-Nyen took another with their assassins. Give him a chance, father. Uncle cares about me. I can help him and our empire.”

A sharp knock at the door interrupted their discussion and both Deyvan and his father spun in their chairs to face the entry. If anyone had overheard this discussion it could too easily find its way back to Uncle Caildenn’s ears. One hint that Deyvan or his father disapproved of Caildenn’s actions could tear the fragile truce between their families apart. After a few breaths, the knock came again. A servant poked his head in at Deyvan’s call.

“Pardon, my lords, but there’s a visitor for Prince Deyvan.” At Deyvan’s blank look, the servant pointed toward the formal study. “From up north.”

“Oh, yes.” He’d never get used to being Prince Deyvan. His cousins had been the princes, murdered in their beds by foreign warmongers hoping to disrupt the treaty Uncle Caildenn planned with the now-conquered nation of Sernyii. “Thank you. I’ll be down in a moment.” Deyvan waved a hand to dismiss the servant and turned back to his father. “I’ve a foreign trade discussion. But I promise, Father, I can turn Uncle Caildenn into a decent ruler if you’ll help me.”

High Lord Mikkal sighed. “I know you aren’t that naive, but I can see I won’t convince you. Let’s table this discussion for this evening.” He pushed up from the desk, offering a resigned smile. “May I join your discussion? I’ve missed the dance of negotiations between equal powers.”

Deyvan hesitated. He knew that tone from too many forays into the sweets cupboards as a child. High Lord Mikkal thought he knew something Deyvan shouldn’t be doing. And if he had found out about Deyvan’s communications with Mistress Varela of Serni Province he could wreak havoc on Deyvan’s carefully laid plans. But if no loyal-born imperial could trust a Sernien merchant-lord’s daughter after the massacre they’d made of Uncle Caildenn’s sons. Deyvan’s eyes settled on a piece of paper on his father’s desk. Innocuous but for the seal in a bottom corner. Uncolored wax as any commoner might use, but with a gryphon head pressed into the center.

“I’d be pleased to have you join me, Father,” Deyvan said, a weight lifting from his shoulders. This was the answer to his frustrations. If Deyvan’s father had plans with the Varela family, he could use that to find them a middle ground.

“I’m not certain you’ll feel the same in a few moments.” High Lord Mikkal gave him a knowing smirk. “But it’s better we have these things in the open.”

The warning gave Deyvan only a moment’s pause. For all his worries, he did trust his father. Even if it meant revealing a secret that most would use to control him. Family could be trusted.

Rising, Deyvan motioned for his father to follow and led the way through his keep—his father’s keep. High Lord Mikkal needed no guide through these corridors. Deyvan’s skin prickled under his father’s scrutiny like a child playing at adulthood under a critical gaze. Any moment he could misstep—greet a foreign dignitary with the wrong honorific or offer too much information at the opening of a trade deal—and his father would see. He’d pause, raise one hand and stop himself, smile, and politely comment on the difficulty of keeping etiquette up to date. A reminder that High Lord Mikkal had taught Deyvan everything he knew about politics and could still run circles around him. Deyvan swept his gaze along the hall, looking for anything to distract himself from his nerves, and settled on examining the tapestries adorning the walls. Each was a symbol of some great conquest or treaty that broadened the family holding. Priceless work that could have fed hundreds of refugees for years if his family had spent the money more wisely. Uncle Caildenn’s excesses weren’t so different from those his high lords and their vassals had indulged for generations.

Before Deyvan could sink too far into that train of thought he arrived at the door to his father’s—his formal study. He tapped quickly on the door to warn his guest and opened the door, smiling at the pretty blond woman seated by his crackling fireplace.

“Mistress Varela.” Deyvan crossed the room, waving a hand behind him to indicate his father. “Thank you for coming so far. Allow me to introduce—”

“Lord Sphinx!” Mistress Varela sprang to her feet, dropping immediately into a curtsy. “I hadn’t realized you had connections here, my lord.”

Deyvan froze, staring at her shocked face. Mistress Varela had been barely sixteen when her family came to reside at Deyvan’s home in the upheaval over the death of his cousins, but surely she knew High Lord Mikkal was Deyvan’s father. Except Deyvan’s father had been away at court, he realized. Dealing with the aftermath of the betrayal while some of the suspected perpetrators sheltered among his family. Mistress Varela’s mother and younger brother were dead now, leaving no one to tell her who High Lord Mikkal was. And yet…

“Lord Sphinx?” Deyvan asked, casting a glance at his father. No one had reason to call his father anything of the sort. Their family crest was a fox and High Lord Mikkal was known among all the high lords as the most direct and honest.

“Please pardon the secrecy, High Lord,” Deyvan’s father replied, offering a nod as if greeting an unknown but respected rival. “I consider a man’s identity his greatest commodity and the mistress had recently advised me of a Serr-Nyen tradition I quite like. To choose the name of a mythical creature as a war title for the protection of those you hold dear. She named me Sphinx for my refusal to reveal any details of my status.”

And there it was, buried amongst the casual explanation that would have satisfied any other. A hint of frustration, a nudge to follow his example, and a hidden—exasperated—statement. You knew better, Deyvan. As if his father had shouted the criticism in his ear. Deyvan bit back a curse and nodded.

“Of course. Lord Sphinx.” And Deyvan had better come up with his own title before he took any further steps toward joining Mistress Varela’s cause. If his father feared her knowledge he didn’t dare question that wisdom. He’d already given Mistress Varela enough power by letting her know his true name at all. Ymari’s face swam before his eyes, her strange culture a mystery in itself. A place where Deyvan could learn tricks even his own father didn’t know. “I do think I’ll follow suit. Among your allies, mistress, please refer to me as Kumiho.”


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Novel Update


I’m posting a little bit of a different format today because I want to share some exciting updates on my upcoming novel, Wake of the Phoenix. Over the past few months I’ve been going through the process of preparing my book for publication and I have hit several milestones.

  1. Edits are complete. This is a huge milestone. Some self-published authors make edits even after they’ve released a version of their novel and every author releases their book and then wishes they could make one last change. Despite those constant insecurities, my editing is complete. This is not to say that no changes will be made to any of the content between now and my release date. After receiving my professional edits back, applying the changes, and calling my manuscript “done but for the formatting,” the first thing I did was see it in a different format and find typos. There will no doubt be more typos. Nonetheless, this does mean that all substantive changes to the novel have been made.
  2. Maps are finalized for first book status. The maps released a couple weeks ago are now confirmed as the final maps depicting the status of this world at the beginning of Wake of the Phoenix. These maps were created on Inkarnate using their premium subscription. I initially made sketches on the free version and figured those would be okay, but I do have to plug the premium version now. Aside from more complexity, it allows you to make more traditional styles of internal maps and I greatly enjoyed playing with the expanded tools and stamp options. Those maps will be present in the opening pages of my novel, but they can also be used as reference material for events recorded in the fiction posts on my blog.
  3. Interior formatting is in its final stages. This is exciting news, in no small part because I have spent years working at a legal publishing company where my job was to skim PDF documents of official court cases looking for formatting errors. These included everything from weird hyphenations to misspelled words to backwards quote marks. It has been a genuinely surreal experience applying those same skills to making my own book look professional and complete.
  4. Cover design has progressed from concept into detailing. Many authors walk into their books with a concept of their cover art or with an image that represents the story to them. I’ve never been that person. As a result, gathering visual ideas and trying to craft those into something to represent the book I worked so hard on was a daunting task. Thankfully, I had a skilled cover artist who sketched a rough concept in 20 minutes on the phone with me. While the initial concept was exciting, he has had two weeks to work on building that concept into a solid cover design and I am expecting a second draft in the next day or two. From there I will discuss any concerns and suggest and specific changes and wait for the final draft, in 1-2 weeks. I can’t wait to share the result with everyone. I’ll be revealing my final cover in early July both here and on Twitter. Keep an eye out. I’m pretty excited by my artist’s work.
  5. Advance Review Copies will be available to request in 2-3 weeks. I’ve been saying for some time that my book, Wake of the Phoenix, will be released this fall. That means it’s time for ARC readers! I’m still waiting on my cover to send any copies, but I’ll begin collecting information for anyone interested in a free copy of my novel soon. I hope to be able to send e-book ARCs starting in early to mid July and physical ARCs by the first week of August. Keep an eye out here and on Twitter for a form to request an ARC if you’re interested. My only request is that if you accept an ARC you write me an honest review on Amazon. I am a firm believer that truth brings the right readers and unreasonably inflated ratings just piss people off.
  6. A release date has been selected. This is a bit of a funny announcement, since I’ve been saying my book is coming out “this fall” for months. As well, anyone who has ever self-published knows that you pick a release date much earlier than this. The exciting news here is that my plans are coming together, my tasks are getting completed, and the book is ready. This means that my release date (which will be announced when I reveal the cover in a couple weeks), will be the same one I’ve been targeting for several months now.

Here’s a couple sneak peaks of formatted pages from the book: