Muse, You are indeed Inconvenient

I believe I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again – the muse is a fickle beast, in particular mine.

Everyone has a different tact for dealing with the problem of “writer’s block,” or as I see it at the moment, absent muses. Some would say that you should just muscle through it and make it work, write whether you feel like it or not; others would offer various techniques to awaken the creative beast, or advise watchful waiting, hoping it comes back into view. I’m not necessarily here offering advice, because I think I would be a poor choice for advice-giving in this case. I went for at least five years without writing any amount of fiction worth mentioning before busting out two novels and two short stories over the course of three years. It’s nothing compared to the likes of Stephen King or indie authors like Lindsay Buroker, but it is something that I was able to do those things in the midst of med school and everything that adventure entailed. Now…

What is most frustrating lately is that I have more free time than usual (I’m not sure that’s saying much), and yet I cannot find it in me to do what I want to do with my stories. There are words in a document (around 500, I believe) intended to be the beginning of Forsaken Lands III: Redemption, and several thousand more words spread between short stories for Les, Aia, Dmiri, Adria, and Teveres. Plenty of beginnings to work with… and no creative energy to put into them (nevermind the serial Fae and Folly, which has been sitting untouched for over a year).

Clearly this is not me offering solutions. This is me breaking silence and trying to get words in a computer – trying to rationalize what I see as a necessary break, at least for now. Writing is something I genuinely love to do when the energy is there. It’s adventure, thrill, relationships with people just in my head almost as deep as any “real” relationship I’ve ever had. Just now, though, that energy has disappeared into long-term career decisions, ending old relationships, starting new relationships, financial finagling, and trying to figure out what exactly I want my every-day to look like.

Everyone faces transition periods in life, and I would venture to say that while last year was in an epic state of flux, so far 2016 has cranked up the stakes. Things are better in the sense that good stuff has been coming my way, but more complex in that I have no freaking idea what to do with all of it. Just now, this moment, figuring out what I’m doing is all I can be held responsible for. The stories aren’t over and the ending, I promise, will present itself in time.

Then again, what is an ending but the mark of a new beginning, anyhow?


“Sacrifice” Playlist – Just for Fun

First off, I have been extremely pleased with the reception of Sacrifice. Sales of both the sequel and the first book have been way better than ever, and folks seem to be enjoying it.🙂 It is absolutely thrilling to have the story out in the hands of readers. Go-go 21st century freedom of information!

Seriously, it’s awesome. I’m downright stoked.

As with the previous novel, I’m doing a brief post about the music which inspired Sacrifice. I will never cease to marvel at the interconnectedness of creative people – painters inspired by writers, musicians inspired by story, writers inspired by music – it’s a phenomenon of cosmic proportions, if you ask me. We all have so much to share with one another, and that is the beauty of all that is art.

For me, no words reach the page without music. I cannot write in silence. Some of my work has been inspired directly by songs – Fathers and Sons came to me while listening to Say When by The Fray (specifically the lyrics, “you’re coming to but you’re slow in waking/you start to shake/you still haven’t spoken, what happened?” “maybe god can be on both sides of a gun,” and “my own two hands will comfort you tonight/say when/my own two arms will carry you tonight”). I can’t tell you how powerfully I’ve felt those lyrics through Garren’s story.

Thus I give you the following songs that inspired Sacrifice (among others I listened to along the way). As I pulled them from my playlist I realized that I don’t listen to many female artists. Huh.

End Chapters (most characters)

You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid by The Offspring

Teveres Songs

Through Glass by Stone Sour

What I’ve Done by Linkin Park

This is Gospel by Panic! At the Disco

Les Songs

Get Out Alive by Three Days Grace

Oh Glory by Panic! At the Disco

Elden Songs

Animal I Have Become by Three Days Grace

Pain by Three Days Grace

Aia Songs

Take Me to Church by Hozier

How You Remind Me cover by Avril Lavigne

All In by Lifehouse

NOW AVAILABLE – Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Trust is everything.

The world lies in pieces in the aftermath of Nivenea’s Fall. Captured and held against their will, Teveres and Aia’s only hope is that their friends may have survived a deadly battle, while Les, the lowly Baron of Pelle, finds himself thrown in with a ragtag militia on the losing side of a war. Separated from all they once knew, the Deldri must learn to trust not only their former enemies, but also themselves…or risk the destruction of their nation.

You can now find the ebook edition on Amazon here. Tragedy (Book I) is free for release day (11/6) here!

I am SO happy to have this thing out! It took 2 years and much angst, and…I hope you like it. Reviews are so important for indie authors, so if you like it (or even if you don’t) please review on Amazon or GoodReads. Giveaways and more material to come.🙂 The print-edition always takes more formatting work and will be available in the next couple of weeks barring unforeseen complications.

For now I’m going to slip away into the morning, drink my hot cocoa, and hang out with one of my favorite people and her little one. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from early in the piece –

A hard object hit glass on the other side of the concrete, loud enough to be heard in the control room. Kali rushed to look through the spyglass. Her mouth dropped.

“Guards, now!” Kali shouted. She hit a button on her station.

“Let me see.” With a grunt, Zhe pushed Kali out of the way to get her own assessment of the situation. She felt the crack in her cool facade when she registered what was going on. Her eyebrows raised.

Through the fisheye lens she saw the Eastern man – this Teveres person – slumped with his back against the two-way mirror. The muscles in his neck were strained from fury and pain; he gasped for breath, his words punctuated by sobs.

<Just make it stop!> Zhe heard him say in Leyvada. Defiant, he turned and slammed his body face-on against the mirror again, letting his skull take the force of the impact. Zhe prized her desensitization to the pain of others, but the impact of a body thrown against a wall still made her stomach lurch.

Way back in her private musings, she admired the dedication. Self-injury on such a scale required quite a bit of willpower.

Behind her she heard the guards running to meet them. Kali went after them with a medi bag in hand, as if she’d been waiting for exactly this kind of event. Zhe had a moment of hesitation considering that the prisoner was one of the single most dangerous individuals on the planet – going into the room meant sacrificing the protective shielding that separated the cell from the control room.

The pause was overridden by her training. She experienced no fear, only excitement at the thought of the challenge. She caught up with the group just as they began putting on the gas masks hanging on the wall outside the prison door. Zhe gave Kali an inquisitive eye.

“I released anesthetic gas,” Kali explained quickly, situating her own mask. “He’s usually a lot easier to control than this…never tries to hurt himself…I never thought he’d actually…” The scientist spoke of the prisoner fondly again. It just wouldn’t do.

Zhe selected a mask for herself, covering her face and eyes with the ghastly-looking apparatus. She hated the things. They made the air taste like industrial plastic.

When the guards crowded the doorway, Zhe shouldered into the middle of them. Two of the guards were women about her height (which wasn’t saying much), while the third guard, a male, seemed to double her in size.

Teveres was mid-launch with his back to the mirror when the guards rushed him.

<Let me pay…> Teveres grit his teeth, anticipating the pain. When he slammed into mirror again, a spiderweb crack dripping with blood haloed around his head. His eyes went glazed and unfocused. <…for what I’ve done.>

One guard each took hold of his arms while the third, the largest man in the group, dove for Teveres’s legs. He did not struggle, his body limp in their arms.

“Be careful with him,” Kali urged, motioning the guards to bring the prisoner back to his steel table.

Zhe edged towards the prisoner. He was actively bleeding from the back of his head, his eyes fixed up at the ceiling. Whatever his motivations, they were strong enough to keep him fighting the anesthetic gas. When his eyelids began to drift closed his whole body tensed as if in convulsion, rattling down against the table with fists clenched.

“Don’t let him do that!” Kali snapped, examining the prisoner’s laceration.

Teveres went still, visibly fighting the pull towards unconsciousness. His eyes were pretty, Zhe had to admit. They were a kind of gilded green, deep and dark. If she were to fuck a man, as unlikely as that might be, she’d like it to be a man with the same eyes.

<What did you think you were doing?> Zhe addressed Teveres in perfect Leyvada. She supposed that reassurance might have some kind of place in this situation, but she wasn’t a reassuring kind of person. Instead she cleared her throat. <You’ll have to do a lot better than that if you’re trying to kill yourself.>

<Just…let me go…don’t know…what you want…> His voice was hoarse.

He was at the breaking point. Zhe could see it on his features, the same barely-collected expression she wore when she was sent to train at The Facility. Had this one never been broken before? She knew his history at least in brief, how he’d witnessed the death of his family and killed a dozen people out of pure fury. Reports said that not even half a year ago he had terminated his ex-partner’s fetus to save the lives of his friends. She assumed that a man who endured so much loss would have been broken and callused over long ago.

Zhe thought to speak again, but was too late. The very pretty eyes closed, the muscles unclenched. He finally succumbed to the sedation.

“I shouldn’t have let him up so much,” Kali said distantly, folding her arms as if suddenly chilled. The prisoner’s breaths came slow and steady. “I started to trust him too much. I knew he was under stress but I didn’t expect…I should’ve told Sat that I just wouldn’t do it…I…”

Zhe considered her words carefully before speaking, a pretense she rarely had to employ. Usually the right words came out easily – the right words in her business were usually lies. “These people can’t be trusted with their own choices. That’s why the consultants decided on manipulation strategy rather than coercion. I was there,” Zhe paused, realizing that her matter-of-fact report could hardly be seen as friendly. “I’m sure you won’t let that happen again.” Well, that wasn’t very friendly either. It would just have to do.

COVER REVEAL: “Forsaken Lands II – Sacrifice”

As I sit here with my soup (which I highly recommend, by the way – Zoup is awesome if you have one nearby) I am about to embark on a several-hours-long endeavor to complete editing on the digital version of Sacrifice. My goal: publishing the sequel by the 5th of November.

I’m not sure I’ll meet that measure, but nonetheless, I am going to make the effort. Before I lock myself into the formatting/editing zen state, I want to show off the cover. Without further adieu I give you… Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice. Just to make it interesting, I’m willing to give away a copy to anyone who can correctly identify the male on the cover in the comments.🙂

Forsaken Lands II: Sacrifice

Trust is everything.

The world lies in pieces in the aftermath of Nivenea’s Fall. Captured and held against their will, Teveres and Aia’s only hope is that their friends may have survived a deadly battle, while Les, the lowly Baron of Pelle, finds himself thrown in with a ragtag militia on the losing side of a war. Separated from all they once knew, the Deldri must learn to trust not only their former enemies, but also themselves…or risk the destruction of their nation.

I would also like to note that I am flattered and overjoyed that Forsaken Lands I: Tragedy is officially a finalist for the Speculative Fiction Cygnus Awards. I can think of few things more motivating than that!

Alright then. Back to the word mines. I shall return with news in the coming days, one way or another.

Introducing Dmiri

Summer is upon us and I am no longer an intern! Slowly but surely things are starting to get polished up and put together for Forsaken Lands 2. To keep the new words flowing, I have been working on a short story featuring a new character named Dmiri – I thought I’d share a clip from the rough draft in the absence of inspiration to blog anything else recently. I hope you like him as much as I do.😉

I’m not a nervous person – at least, that’s what I tell myself. I’ve been a part of the Celet military since I was eight years old – 24 years. Absent gods, does that make me feel old.

I pride myself on being calm and well-conducted under pressure, but with the way I was wearing a four-finger dent in my desk with my incessant rap, rap, rap on the wood, any bystander would assume I was plagued with the mental disease. I was starting to wonder that about myself. Perhaps I misjudged my vices all these years.

I was grateful when there was a knock at the door to my quarters. I laced my fingers together in the hope that they would calm themselves. “Come in,” I called.

The door clicked open to reveal my visitor, Second Eling-Mai Nyugen. Fully clad in the Celet officer blues with her dark hair pulled back in a severe-looking bun, Mai was totally within aesthetic regulations. Her pistolet hung at her side practically halfway down her leg – though Mai was small even among the Celet people, she carried with her an imposing presence. Her thin fingers rested on the grip of her weapon, a sure sign of her own apprehension. She had nothing to fear inside this room; it was what waited for us outside on the previously-unknown outpost called ‘Zhyra’ which set her nerves on edge.

True to protocol, Mai closed the door and stood just beyond its threshold, waiting for my instructions.

I waved at her inelegantly. “I think we’re well beyond rules by now, don’t you?”

Mai’s shoulders remained stiff and strong when she approached my desk and sat down. I imagined I looked a wreck in my rumpled two-day-old uniform with sleeves pulled up over my elbows. I hadn’t properly slept in as much time, of course. The mess of classified documents I’d managed to procure from one of the shipments we dropped off two weeks ago were sprawled out in front of me, marked up by my own hand so haphazardly that even I couldn’t read it.

Mai’s sharp eyes took all of it in with one sweep. Her cheek twitched.

“The watchers are reporting land,” she told me. “We’ll be there by sundown, unless you’d like to postpone.”

“Is that what you want to do? Postpone?”

“I…” Mai trailed off uncharacteristically. She shook her head. “I just thought I should ask before we proceed.”

I couldn’t fight the smile. I tried to straighten up, pulling the wrinkles out of my uniform jacket. “This is still a voluntary mission. You can still go belowdeck. I will happily call you my prisoner.”

I might have been hallucinating, but I thought I saw her fight off a smile. Instead she just blinked. “And you can still turn this ship around.”

Non-answer. “Mai, I’m asking you as your friend – are you sure you want to go down for this?”

“If I wanted to abandon the Resolute I would have jumped off at Tayk like everyone else,” she caught herself just in time, “sir.”

“In as many years as we’ve known each other you still can’t call me Dmiri,” I mused. Ever since we’d graduated from the academy together she used my rank or title when speaking to me. I supposed that was partly my fault for keeping people at a comfortable distance. My reputation amongst the fleet was a good one – I was trusted, even liked by most, yet I could count on one hand the number of people who might really know me.

Mai would be one of those people. She knew me all too well. She pressed her lips together – clearly my attempts at distraction were not appreciated.

“Dmiri,” her voice lowered, the use of my name so surprising that I jumped and hit my knee against my desk. She acted as if she didn’t notice. “Are you sure you want to go down for this?”

I couldn’t hold her gaze; instead I rested my eyes on the papers. The sting of fatigue jabbed me with each blink. She asked a question I’d been asking myself constantly since I saw that cage.

I swallowed. Damn and hell, this anxiety issue would kill me. I tried to grin. “They cannot court martial a legend.”

Mai replied with a grunt of disapproval. “Not all of us are legends.”

“They will be reasonable,” I told her, and impressed myself with how confident I sounded. It was a skill I’d had since I was too young – I could convince and charm people by making them think I knew what I was doing. What I’d learned by practicing this skill was that I was not the only one pretending; in reality, no one knows that they are right. Leadership is a costume, nothing more. “We’re just asking questions.”

Mai, of course, knew this secret too. Her dark eyes sparkled silent understanding. “You should change,” she remarked, standing and folding her arms behind her back. “I will bring us in.”

She half-bowed to me, as was custom, and turned to leave. “Mai?” my voice crackled. I would need to exorcise my uncertainty before I showed my face to the rest of the crew, let alone to my adversaries.

Mai looked at me over one shoulder. “Yes, Dmiri?” her own voice was soft.

“Thank you.”

The silence between us felt warm, if just for that moment.

“Captain,” she said curtly, then disappeared beyond the door.

Friendly interactions over. Time to get back to business. When I stood my muscles ached, and not with good reason – they ached  from sitting, keeping my spine jammed vertical in a chair for much too long. I traced a finger along one piece of paper, despairing at how little my work had won me.

Codewords and cooked numbers. The ledgers were full of shipments marked as if they were simple supplies – food, water, containers, bandages. Deep in the paperwork was much darker stuff: thousands of bullets, hundreds of weapons, and medical equipment I wasn’t qualified to judge. Jamming devices – a few dozen of them – more than the entire continent had produced in a decade. The military hadn’t employed jamming devices since the Rice-Wheat Uprising nearly fifty years ago.

Goods befitting a peaceful mission of resource-gathering they were not.

I strode across the room, fussing with the buttons on my jacket. One of them popped off, clattering on the floor. I didn’t bother to hunt after it. The jacket, undershirt, and pants hit the deck just before I reached my bathing suite.

A cool shower would focus my mind. The light clicked on in the cramped space, and I was greeted with my reflection, inescapable from the position of the showerhead.

I could deceive myself into believing I was less vain than the masses, but this would be folly. For all I felt like a jaded old man, I was still young, particularly for my position. The bits of gray peeking out from my slightly-too-long-for-regulations black hair were my penance. I was the youngest captain of a Class 1 naval vessel in Celet history, a journey requiring a level of physical training and academic rigor which most people would find unreasonable. I could have saved the stress and accepted the usual course in life, and I would have arrived in the very same position just five years in the future. No one would have been disappointed.

No one, that is, except me.

I turned the knobs, tensing when the frigid water coursed over my forehead, my chest, my back, a procession of shivers jolting me from my anxious fog. Ideas of what would or would not happen when I set foot on the Zhyra outpost fled from me. Speculation wasted energy, anyway.

For all I would tell anyone who asked otherwise, I still wished I could have achieved what I did without inviting the gray in my hair.

Now You See Me

I am a bad writer.

Not in the sense that I am bad at writing – I’m no goddess among authors, but I do fancy myself to be at least alright. The writing itself is all well enough. The problem, in this case, is the volume of my writing lately. If one were to average my non-medical writing over the past six months I don’t think it would even amount to ½ a word per day (this from the girl who had a 500-word minimum back in the good ol’ days… a year ago).

That’s bad.

I finished the first-pass edit of Forsaken Lands 2 in February while working the night admissions team in the hospital, and was so unable to write new words that I didn’t even update the blog about it. The book has since been reviewed by two beta readers and an editor person, and I’ve had their comments available to me for… weeks.

See? That’s just ridiculous. It’s not only unfair to people who would probably like to read the sequel (FL1 did have a pretty cruel cliff hanger, after all), but it’s also unfair to me. All through medical school this world was the thing that kept my inner self alive. I knew when I first started this journey that medicine will eat you alive if you let it – it will eat your health, friends, and hobbies. It will decimate your free time.

In some ways I knowingly let the writing slide. I’ve been away from my specialty doing more of the dreaded medicine-medicine which tortures my soul. Soul-torture, I’ve found, is not especially conducive to creativity, and I needed my spare mental energy to use towards things like eating, exercising, sleeping, and staying sane (the latter of which I may or may not have managed). In addition to the soul-sucking medicine-medicine experience, I’ve been going through a series of personal transformations which are difficult to quantify.

Four weeks ago I started a brand-new chapter in my life. The days of thinking to myself, Just get through this next day/rotation/year, have mostly passed. I am no longer required to engage in tasks I did not explicitly sign up for. I am on to the realm of my specialty, which I happen to love, and that… is very, very weird.

When you’ve lived for years just trying to get by, get through until you can do what you really want, arriving at your goal feels less like winning a gold medal and more like ramming your skull directly into a wall (at least it does for me). You spent years running full-bore, busting tail… and then you come to a sudden, teeth-jolting stop.

What now?

That’s where I am, just this moment. I am in a place I never thought I’d be. Deep down, I’ve been expecting to fail this entire time – expected to get rejected from med school admissions, fail the boards, fail clinical rotations, fail to get into residency. It seemed more likely at every juncture that I would die before getting to the end of intern year, and yet here I am – I’m doing well at my job and enjoying the work, looking out at a future where I will continue to be a doctor and I will make a difference. I was not prepared for the possibilities which would open up and the people whose lives would touch mine in new, unexpected ways – patients and fellow clinicians alike. You would think that in 25 years I might have figured out that the universe is infinite in its capacity for surprises, but… well, I guess I didn’t. I think I’m getting there, though.

Just as soul-suck-dom is bad for a writing, apparently existential confusion is also bad for writing. I’m over here trying to figure out what happens now that I’m not slated to die a failed almost-doctor, and the words… well, they’re just now starting to show up again. Look! There are words right here on this page!

This is my lengthy, information-overloaded way of saying… hi again. I’m back, or at least I’m on my way back. Perhaps you’d like some proof? Read on, reader (spoilers ahead).

Preview: Forsaken Lands 2


Blackness. Nothing but the feel of her – skin smooth, muscles tensing beneath a layer of lush softness. A mouth covered his, and hands found their way up over his shoulders to wrap around his neck. The length of her –and sweet gods above, the way she molded to him – pressed against every inch of him. They were bare flesh on flesh, tantalizing and wonderful; everything he ever imagined.

They kissed: long, hard, and passionate; the way he’d always imagined. His heart thudded in his ears, the heat of pleasure and pure want spread to the tips of his fingers. His grip tightened.

He gasped when Aia’s hands fanned over his chest, pushing him down onto the steel table. When he opened his eyes he saw only her face, wide cheekbones framing a mischievous smile. Lavender eyes locked onto his.

“Skies,” he growled, reaching to pull her down on top of him. Ringlets of maroon hair brushed his face, tumbling from her shoulders. He wanted to be with her, in her, around her, beyond anything-

Teveres awoke to an intense burning sensation deep in his right hand. Pain shattered the fragile gift of sleep. Though he wanted nothing more than to drown out his existence with unconsciousness, sleep came all too seldom. His sole companion in this strange place, The Cold Steel Table, was not very welcoming of his fantasies; its unyielding angles drove them far away.

He wished that he could go far away – anywhere.

Pain was becoming his constant master. As awareness drifted back to his body, physical sensations returned in sequence. First was the new pain – the burning in his hand where the needle-ended tube entered his skin. There was sharpness like a knife in his upper back and a lancing pain in his side that raged every time he took a deep breath. His naked skin was always freezing against Cold Steel. Blankets, apparently, were of low priority in this prison. A machine whirred softly in the background, along with the sound of bubbles…

The sound of bubbles that followed him for these past weeks – months? – was conspicuously missing. Slowly, slowly his head was clearing, and he realized that Cold Steel was folded into a chair-like configuration. Straps pressed tight against his chest and abdomen, holding his arms to his sides. Something has changed.

The next step – opening his eyes – came with a great cost. Seeing the inside of his cell, three walls of cement and a fourth made of a mirror, was a serial disappointment. The outline of the door in the mirror taunted him, absent of hinges or handles. As near as he could tell, his captors were ghosts. They never showed their faces; items appeared and disappeared, whatever they drugged him with changed to suit their liking, and not once had he seen their faces.

Today he faced the mirror. He hated to look at himself anymore, but from his position it was hard to avoid. The man in the mirror was a grim sight indeed, hardly resembling the man he was when he left his home in Ilvan nearly a year ago. His travels leading up to his imprisonment made him thin, but not emaciated; when he saw himself now he was skeletal. His skin was pale and his cheeks sunken. While his muscle mass had not disappeared – he had not been here quite that long – his collarbones, wrists and ribs were much easier to trace beneath the skin.

Examining his own image more closely he noticed a small, stitched-over wound on his right side where a tube used to be. His chest ached with each breath. There was a new item behind him, a small box with dials and buttons similar to some of the devices he had seen the engineers working with in Nivenea. Metal wires from the box snaked up to stick painlessly to his forehead.

Two facts about his situation were particularly unnerving: first, that the tube-and-bubble-machine with no apparent purpose but to torture him was missing for no apparent reason – and second, that someone had made several significant additions to his surroundings. He loathed being kept in the dark, fearing what would come next. He racked his brain, searching for clues.

Thinking back to the last time he was awake, he recalled nothing out of the ordinary. He spent that day (or night, or whatever it was) doing what he normally did. When he was first brought to the cell he was unable to get up from pain and labored breathing, but as he recovered he began trying to carry on functioning. He didn’t know much about medicine, but he did know that walking was important, so he did just that. He ate the food that appeared on the table, showered under the pitiful spigot in the other corner, utilized the humiliatingly open-to-the-air facilities, and sat on the table. He hummed songs he barely remembered and tried not to give in to the temptation to bash his skull against the wall.

As far as he knew, he hadn’t done anything objectionable lately. This didn’t seem likely to be a punishment. Whatever reason they had for sedating him and changing his surroundings, it wasn’t a reaction to what he’d done.

Who “they” were was still unclear. He gathered that they were these Celet people and that they were watching him. He hated them very much. They kept him in a constant low-level state of capping, a state of mild pain which rendered his powers useless, which made it impossible for him to turn against them. The headache from the weaponized kelspar used to cap him was as constant a companion as Cold Steel, a dull throb at the base of his skull.

Teveres sighed loudly. With the bubbles gone his own breath was the only sound in the room. He would give anything to talk to anyone else – Celet, Kaldari, or otherwise. The last time he saw or spoke to another soul was the day he was shot…

His chest tightened at the memory. Focus on something else, damn it. He had enough nightmares about it; no need to dwell on it during waking times, as well.

Groaning, he writhed against the restraints. His half-hearted escape attempt was all in vain. The leather straps were unyielding. Stuck – but why?

“What do you want from me?” he called out into the solitude.

He waited, but no reply came. They were watching him, for certain, somewhere out there – watching, but never talking.

“We’re all waiting,” he continued anyway. His words were louder and clearer than usual with the tube removed. The improvement was mildly encouraging. “I love these conversations we have, you know. It’s been a while. Maybe you could contribute?” he looked up at the slab ceiling. Part of him worried about becoming a mad man; the other part was convinced he already was. “I try not to complain, but I would like it if you’d take the needle out next time. Fucking burns, if you didn’t know.” The burning was getting worse, it seemed, and as it did the headache started to go away for the first time in what felt like forever.

The silence dragged on. His eyes fluttered closed. Perhaps if he tried, he could push the pain away and go back to sleep. It was a much better alternative than staring at the mirror.

CLANG. The sound that echoed through the room reminded him of a shot from the pistolet. He cried out in surprise, his heart racing. His eyes snapped open to darkness as the dull high of adrenaline consumed him.

He scoured the blackness for an answer. The only source of light came from the mirror… which was no longer a mirror. It had transformed into a window, the work of some dark magic. Suddenly he was not alone.

A woman sat opposite him through the glass, strapped down to a very familiar table. Short-cropped black hair framed a young face, her features small and delicate. She was perhaps 18, wearing only underthings; her coffee-colored skin was bathed in bright white light.

When Teveres’s gaze met hers he couldn’t look away. Her eyes were decidedly gray, the color of summer storms, too large for her small face. Tears glimmered in the light and trailed over her cheeks. Her eyes were pleading with him as her body shook. Her lips mouthed silent words: ‘Don’t do it.”

Panting, Teveres struggled harder against his own restraints. The straps squealed against his skin and jabbed into his ribs. The initial joy of seeing another human being was replaced by dread. Something bad was about to happen. He felt fear, but the fear was not his own. He was feeling her fear. The capping was starting to lift in earnest.

A second figure stepped out from the darkness to stand next to the girl. The figure wore a black, eyeless mask, and dark clothing. Gloved hands wrapped around a pistolet, leveled at the young woman’s skull. The girl hung her head.

Teveres broke out in a sweat. There was so much fear and rage around him and within him that he couldn’t sort it. He wished that he could share in Aia’s divinity long enough to get a better picture of what was happening. His mind-reading abilities were sadly insufficient. He looked skyward again.

“What do you want?” he bellowed up at the nebulous Them. “What is this supposed to be?” This time his cries were met with an answer of sorts. If Cold Steel had not been bolted down, Teveres would have toppled backwards at the sudden, sharp physical pain that emanated from beyond the glass. The young woman began screaming loud enough that the sounds seeped through to his cell. Teveres’s heart flew to his throat trying to block it out. Nothing touched her and the pistolet had not gone off… yet her agony was unmatched. His skin prickled as the lost flame of his divinity began to warm him, a slow kindle building to a raging fire.

Her pain consumed him, threatening to break him. A sound between a roar and a scream built in his gut until it exploded from his lips.

Do you want a fight?” he shouted, his voice cracking. “Is that what you fucking want? Come down here and take me!”

His mind stuttered when the masked figure advanced to press the pistolet against her head. The barrel of the weapon touching her temple destroyed his last vestige of his control. Teveres let go of the leash, the fire within blazing through the masked figure’s life energy.

He didn’t need to see the evidence of his work. His eyes rolled back in his head and a blissful wave of pleasure soaked him. The pain, the fear, the rage all went away. The high of killing always disgusted him, but this time he let it take over, even as the guilt clawed at him, panic threatening to shatter his reprieve.

Gods, demons, anyone, please…take me away from here. In his ecstasy, he wept.