Nivenea’s Shield Part III

Check out Part I and Part II to read Les’s short from the beginning.


The camp didn’t have much going for it, that was certain. It was getting colder by the day, snowing overnight sometimes but not enough to stick in the daytime. Seldat’s little village was struggling enough before the so-called “Fall” a few weeks ago that there were several empty homes for us to use. Dirt floors and holes for latrines – there was a time when I never dreamed of living in such conditions. It occurred to me that Aia had lived in this place years ago, and the respect I felt for her was more like a knife than a flower blooming, knowing I respected a woman who was dragged away from me while I watched, helpless.

I swore internally for thinking about my friends again, the thousandth time in the day, and stood up from the fire in the center of my hut. Kyren, one of my two hut-mates, looked up from the floor where he lay.

“You look mad again,” he commented. His words came out in puffs of fog.

I shook my head and forced myself to smirk. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you.” I turned to walk out the door. I needed to go somewhere, anywhere – a walk around the woods again, perhaps. There was talk of moving the camp soon. Adreth had a surprising number of confidants around the whole of the world; in the first week after arriving at Seldat word spread that we were here, and people started showing up with information in tow. They told us about work camps and horrors in the countryside. Some had news from Nivenea herself, none of it good. Adreth and Adria were working on some kind of plan, the nature of which I was only glancingly privvy to. They needed me as a symbol and a name. They did not need me to make decisions.

Not that I wanted to make decisions. I had nothing to give. I was getting frustrated at having to be here at all, but Adreth kept telling me he needed me, and would need me more in the future. I thought he’d lost touch around the whole issue – his judgment with everything else seemed sound enough, yet when it came to me, he had no grasp on reality.

All the thoughts swimming through me traveled faster than my senses, and it took more than two seconds for me to notice a woman on a horse un-horsing herself to walk into Adreth and Adria’s hut. The woman looked sufficiently weathered to be called a messenger. The realization jolted me, and suddenly I was on a mission to find out where this mysterious messenger had come from. Every newcomer in the camp was another chance at finding out more about Cadde.

“Les,” Kyren called after me, “do you see something?”

“Messenger I think. I’ll let you know.” I wasn’t sure if he heard me in my walk-away, and much as I’d hate to admit it, I didn’t much care if he heard me or not. I jogged across the camp to Adreth and Adria’s door and knocked. I wanted to barge in, but something kept me from doing so. “A moment,” Adreth shouted out at me.

I waited and listened. They spoke in hushed voices. A creeping feeling of dread raised every hair on my body; I couldn’t follow those anxious thoughts, not yet. They could be talking about anything. Troop movements, negotiations with the Celet forces…things that didn’t really concern me.

It seemed like forever before Adreth peeled open the flimsy door and beckoned me in. When I entered the messenger looked at me, then back at Adreth. She was shorter than me but sturdier even so. In a fight I’d place bets on her, not me, though to be fair there aren’t many people against which I’d have much of a chance. This strange fear only added to my concern that this woman looked afraid of me. That couldn’t be right. Either I was misinterpretting the situation or she thought I was someone of more consequence than I was.

Adreth didn’t flinch. I wasn’t convinced he was capable of such a thing. Adria kept her eyes on her brother, just like the messenger.

“Baron, there is something you should know,” Adreth’s eyebrows quirked just slightly, as if to say, Are you ready to hear me say this?

The look on his face tightened something in my gut. I think I knew immediately that there was something going on about Cadde – something very bad. None of the thoughts were concrete, though, as my vision and hearing shifted, and the words from my mouth sounded as if they came from someone else.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” Was my voice always that wispy?

“I-” the messenger tried to speak and was cut off with the flick of Adreth’s hand in her direction.

“Les, I am very sorry to tell you that Cadde has been lost,” his voice was measured and slow. “Our messenger, Emm, was told by the survivors from Pelle that your wife was blight-touched soon after you left. They were not able to find her when they evacuated your home.”

Emptiness, just then, throughout my body. All I felt was cold, disconnected. I wanted to burn down the encampment and burst into tears all at once, and instead the only thing I did…was stand still.

It would be so much better if she were dead. She probably was. This wasn’t happening.

Adreth dismissed the messenger, people moving around me while I stood outside of time. He spoke to me. “Les,” he looked me straight in the eye, “I’m sorry.”

I swallowed. Should I have laughed? “No,” I must have said, because it certainly seemed like I was talking. Shit. “I have to…I should go. I should go.”

“Baron-“

“No,” my voice rose, anger flying past my lips even while I couldn’t quite feel the heat of the emotion at the time. “I shouldn’t be here. I should never have been here – if I hadn’t been here then-“

“Sh,” Adreth inched between me and the door. If he’d been a smaller man I think I would have tried to push him out of the way, but even with half my brain working properly it was obvious that he was a large man, much larger than me. If he wanted me to stay he could make me stay. “I’m not going to pretend this is nothing to you, but I’m also going to need you to keep this contained.”

“Contained?” At that I did laugh. There were tears on my cheeks – they must have been mine. “I don’t think you understand. Cadde is blight-touched and it is my fault.”

“The hell it was,” Adria spoke up, looking altogether uncomfortable with the whole situation, yet unwilling to leave. “What could you have done if you were there?”

“She would have known me. She…maybe she wouldn’t have run. She would be alive.”

“Would you?” Adria’s puzzled gaze saw much clearer than my own. “Pelle was evacuated. It was destroyed. Everyone left was killed or captured. If your wife is alive it’s because she ran off, and if you’d been there, you would be just as dead as any of them.”

“Dead and better off,” I choked.

“You’ll keep that to yourself,” Adreth loomed closer, and with him the idea that he could smash me to bits. I had never met a man who wielded charisma and intimidation in such equal measure. I envied that. “You’re here. You’re with us. You are not alone.”

Because you need me for something, you mean? I didn’t say that. I wasn’t sure if it was true. The way he expressed caring felt real when everything else in the world didn’t. As much as I wanted to blame someone for something, it was clear that Adreth wasn’t pretending.

“I can’t do this,” the words spilled out too soft and too quick. I wasn’t sure they could even understand them. I turned away from Adreth, towards a wall. I pressed my knuckles to my forehead just to feel the pain.

There was silence for a long time. I could hear Adria shifting uncomfortably while Adreth stayed still enough that it was almost like he’d disappeared. It was getting dark outside, I was pretty sure. Kyren would wonder where I went.

“Adria,” Adreth’s voice was smooth and low, even soothing. “I think you should find Kyren. Have him come in here, see if you or he can find something for the baron to eat.” It was as if he was Aia with her mind-reading ability.

“Here?” He must have given her some kind of gesture or look, because the next thing I heard was Adria clearing her throat. “Not a problem.” She left.

“Please, Baron, have a seat,” Adreth moved to take a place on one of the sitting-pillows near the fire circle. It gave me pause, but I eventually obliged to take a seat across from him.

I didn’t look at him. There was a crystalline quality to everything I saw, blurred by tears. The part of me that was still supposed to be a “leader” – whatever that meant – lamented Adreth watching me in such a state. Another part of me, the larger, growing part, didn’t care what happened to me or anyone else. That thought was almost comforting.

We sat quietly for a while. I wondered where the hell Adria got off to, looking for Kyren. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted her to come back.

“I’ve never lost a mate,” Adreth’s voice startled me to attention. He sat forward, elbows on his knees, gazing into the fire rather than me. “I have lost many friends, family…people you can’t replace. It’s never easy and it doesn’t get easier.”

I guffawed – almost laughed – and at once felt sick. How could I laugh at a time like this? Was I really so hollow to think…? “Lieutenant, never easy is as far as I can imagine from what this is. This whole thing…” the image of the broken spire flashed in my mind, and I squeezed my eyes shut as if it would drive the image away. It didn’t. My parents, my friends, my wife…like as not, they were all dead, and I should have been dead with them. The laughter grew in my chest. “What kind of god,” I choked through laughter and tears, “left me alive through all this? Whose joke is that, Lieutneant? Explain that to me.”

His dark eyes flashed up to meet my gaze, something haunted hidden behind them, a thing I didn’t expect to see. “I’m not going to try to explain the universe to you, Baron, but let me tell you this much-” Adria peeked through the door with Kyren behind her, both of them pausing in the doorway, no doubt feeling the weight of Adreth’s talk with me. He continued, barely pausing. “What I do – what we all do – we can’t do it hoping that some deity will protect us. Reason or not, you’re alive and they’re gone. We’re all we’ve got.”

I didn’t understand it in that moment, feeling the raw, penetrating pain of grief. Looking back, that may have been the wisest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

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Nivenea’s Shield Part II

I told you I had more of the story on my hard drive didn’t I? Sure I did. I wasn’t even lying! Here I give you the continuation of Les’s short story, in the immediate aftermath of Forsaken Lands Book I: Tragedy.


It seemed that all at once that everyone, myself included, sought out Adreth. Only he and those placating the horses stood amidst a sea of crouched and fallen Justices, prisoners, and civilians. We waited.

Shouldn’t that be me up there, standing for everyone to see? If I am a leader, too, shouldn’t I be there with him?

He scanned the faces of the fallen in such a way that it felt like he looked at each of us individually, if only for a second. He could have kept us waiting for years, just like that.

“I have no answers,” he started, his voice clear, unshaken. I couldn’t help but envy his resolve. “I only know that each of you here today are my comrades – my brothers and sisters in arms – and none of you will be alone. Stand,” he motioned widely with his arms, “collect your things and ready yourselves. Wherever we go, it will be far from here.”

It was perfect. He made a point to try to unite everyone, the prisoners and guards alike. I could never be sure how much of that was evident to other people – I have to assume that often the public does not realize what the words are supposed to be doing to them, yet at the same time it is so very painfully obvious to me. On a deeper level, I wanted to believe him, too. I suppose that would be the whole point; even if you know it’s a trick, you still want to play into it.

Many people rose, as Adreth requested. I just made myself more comfortable on the ground. Everything I traveled with from Pelle was in my bag already. I had very little to gather.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the damned spire. It shouldn’t have hurt me as much as it did – just like Adreth’s speech, the spire was built with the intention of making people care about it. It was a trick. A symbol. Artificial.

I loved that damned spire.

Wherever we go, it will be far from here; that’s what Adreth said. It seemed unlikely that he was planning to go towards Pelle. Feya was the only major city out that direction, and it had also been decimated by a quake just recently. No, he wouldn’t be headed east. He was much more likely to go north or west.

I wondered if my wife, Cadde, had any inkling about the unrest in Nivenea. She was taking care of business matters in my stead. I needed to be back with her, needed to know she was safe. My friends, my mother and father, all of them were out there in the wilderness, too. Finding Aia and Teveres…I wanted to do that, as well.

Damn it.

“Les?” Kyren looked at me, puzzled. “Are you alright?”

I half-snorted-half-chuckled. Alright. How long had it been since I was alright? “I assume you’re asking that question but looking for another answer entirely,” I answered dryly. I just couldn’t help myself.

The remark hardly miffed him. We might yet become good friends. “You look like you’re thinking about something. I was going to go see if I could help the others…” he hesitated, “but you look…”

“Go,” I told him. I didn’t turn my head, didn’t look him in the eye. “Nevermind me. Do what you need to do.”

Kyren waited a few more seconds, and seeing that I was not volunteering anything else, walked back towards the farmhouse. He had things on his mind too, I was sure – grief over Aia among them. Like any good Healer, he was drawn to his duty first.

I had no purpose here, just like I had no purpose with Aia, Teveres, and Garren. Looking back on the past few weeks I had to wonder why I bothered to go with them at all – and why they tolerated me for so long. I was a drain on resources and not fast enough to make pace. So why…?

“Baron Les?” I didn’t hear Adreth approach me from behind. His deep bass voice seemed to rattle in my chest, startling me. Instinctively, I scrambled to stand.

“Don’t,” Adreth said, his voice lowered. Perhaps he noticed how startled I really was. I watched in some measure of awe as the man (who was something like two stories taller than me) sat on the grass beside me, one knee bent on which to rest his arm. He stared out at the spire just as I did.

Slowly, I resumed my position. I didn’t look at him – seemed fitting, since he wasn’t looking at me. I might be slow to run, but I liked to think I was quick to pick up on cues. In that moment I wished I had Aia’s power of mind-reading, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with a reason why the Lieutenant had come to sit beside me when there were more important tasks at hand.

“Wouldn’t object to knowing your intentions,” I said, casual, like I wasn’t concerned or interested at all. “Also wouldn’t mind helping you and the others out, if there’s something that needs doing.”

“I have a favor to ask,” he told the spire, “but first I’d like to know that you are coming with us.”

I smirked and shook my head. Adreth, too? Surely he noticed how little I brought to a good fight. “I wasn’t thinking you wanted me.”

“I don’t know you,” he spoke quickly, like he hadn’t even heard me. “What I know is that I have fifty-seven men and women who followed me out of a prison, and more promised to gather their friends and meet us in Seldat. Half of these fine people are civilian criminals.”

Reasons started clicking in my head. I eyed him sidelong. “So you’re saying…”

“Over the years I’ve found that prisoners rarely get along with the people making the arrests.”

“And you think I’m the solution to that problem, somehow.”

“You’re a Baron, aren’t you? You represented your citizens when they were brought to trial in Nivenea.”

“Twice,” I found myself sounding much more defensive than I would have planned. “I’ve been Baron for little over 8 months.”

“They don’t know that,” Adreth finally turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised. “All they see is a Baron who was elected to protect citizens. You might not be as good as one of them, but you have a hell of a lot more credibility that I do.”

“Even though you were locked up with them for – what was it, a year? Longer than I’ve been in office. Surely that bought you some trust.”

Adreth stretched out his left arm. It was smudged with sweat-caked dirt, but the bright red triple diamond tattoo still stood out, spanning his inner forearm from elbow to wrist. The mark of Justice-hood was branded on all of the Justices.

“Old divisions,” I reflected.

“You see my problem.”

“I see it, but I don’t know that I’m the right man for your job. Once you get to Seldat there will most likely be a Baron of a larger city, or even one from a guild somewhere. They will outrank me any day.”

“I’m not willing to put my faith in a person I can’t even confirm is alive.”

I shut my mouth, pressed my lips together. The man had a point.

“Can I count on you?” Adreth pressed.

“I should go back to Pelle,” I said slowly. “My wife and my people need me. I don’t belong out here.”

He took a moment to process the words before he began again. “I don’t think you’d make it out there on your own, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I think you and I could both get what we want.”

I hadn’t even begun to think about what it would be like to try to navigate myself all the way back to Pelle with no one to help me. Adreth was right – I’d be dead within a week. “I’m listening.”

“I can promise you that when we reach a safe base of operations I will see that a messenger is sent back to Pelle. They can find out what has happened to your town and bring your wife back with them.”

“You really want this, don’t you?”

He stared me down. A man like him wasn’t likely to expound on his needs for others.

“I…will do whatever I can. I won’t promise that it will help.”

“It will help,” Adreth rose, dusting off his pants. “Mareth wouldn’t send just anyone to find me.”

Gods, not that again. Mareth and his predictions. Mareth was a fair part of the reason I came to Nivenea in the first place. If we Deldri were supposed to be so blessed by the gods, how could something like this happen with us present?

“See here,” Adreth called out, stepping up on the fence to gain height on everyone. Eyes drew up on him automatically at his command – maybe because we all needed to believe in something with all of this going on. I scrambled to standing next to him, sensing an introduction coming on. I was getting the impression that Adreth was the kind to take action without warning. “We have Baron among us who has volunteered to follow us to Seldat.”

I caught his rhythm in time to follow it. I didn’t bother standing up on the fence as he did – I was fine with Adreth standing above me in more ways than one. “My name is Les, of Pelle. I don’t have any answers for you yet – if I had them, I’d give them. I want to help in any way I can.”

Feeble. Dull. Basic. The blankness staring back at me from the crowd mirrored my own internal blankness, and threatened to turn my face blood-red.

Adreth terminated the scrutiny by jumping off the fence. He almost smiled at me.

“Thank you,” he said, and by the way it sounded he didn’t often thank people for anything.

“Thank fate,” I parried, the words unsaid: Don’t thank me for something that wasn’t my choice.

Adreth struck me as a man of strategy and intelligence – like as not, he got that extra meaning. He didn’t look back at me when he walked away. I didn’t look back at the spire, not once, before we started on our journey to Seldat.

Nivenea’s Shield Part I – A Les Short Story

For a long while I’ve been writing in relative obscurity – there have been a number of short stories floating around unpublished on my hard drive, and it was only today that it occurred to me… why not share them as I go along?

This particular year in training at my day-job has been difficult. I’ve had little energy or inspiration to devote to my work, and when I have managed to get words on the page, I’ve lacked any ideas of what to do with them. Only recently this has started to change, as my experience of this year has become more bearable and I have started to see a real end to this stage. In six months’ time I will be back at something I actually like to do, after a year away from what I feel is my place in the world. That… that is hopeful. Somehow this hope translated into a renewed interest in blogging and sharing my creative life, hence this post.

The following short story, Nivenea’s Shield, takes place immediately after the events in Forsaken Lands Book I: Tragedy. The story is from the perspective of Les, who becomes infinitely more important during books two and (per the plan) three. Forsaken Lands III: Redemption is in very early stages… but hope remains that a finished copy will miraculously appear before the end of my residency training. We shall see.

Without further adieu I give you Nivenea’s Shield, Part I (if it’s any comfort, parts II and III already exist, I just need to format and post them in the next couple of weeks).


My name is Les, Baron of the village called Pelle in what I know as Elseth’s Land. People say a lot of things about me, not all of them entirely true; they say I’m smart enough, well-spoken, and I make people feel at ease. Some people called me a child prodigy back when I was younger; at 23 I still feel like I’m 16, and I’m not sure I can agree with that part of it. The rest of that, though, might be true.

No one ever said I was a runner, however, including me…least of all me.

“Hurry up!” The woman running behind me was short with frazzled, curly black hair, warm brown skin and as sharp a tongue as I’d ever encountered. She punctuated her command with a shove. Her name was Adria – Lieutenant Adria, a Justice, ranking member of the law and military force of my people. I’d known her for all of three hours and she’d already made up her mind about me: I was the weak link who was going to get her killed.

The shove knocked the little breath I had going for me straight from my lungs. My hand hit the dried grass on the hill we were foolishly trying to use as an escape route. Adreth (who I learned was Adria’s same-ranking twin brother) was leading our rag-tag band of escaped fugitives away from our capitol city, Nivenea, towards some ranch in the hills. The line went that if we could get to this gods-beloved ranch we could rest and meet up with the other fugitives. Then…

Well, I hoped he had a plan for the afterwards part of that story. I surely didn’t.

“It’s not much further,” Adria was out of breath, too, but when I glanced back at her she didn’t look to be as sweat-soaked and exhausted as I was. The woman was in better shape than me – she always would be, given our relative positions in the world. Baronry wasn’t supposed to include any measure of physical fighting or long-distance traveling.

Of course, I was stuck in some outdated world from three hours ago when I thought I would return to Pelle before the year was out. No time to correct that, not yet.

“Easy-” I huffed, my heart pounding so hard in my throat that I could swear it was making my head bob, “for…you to say…” I trembled and paused in my tracks, which caused my disgruntled running companion to slam her body into mine. I was dizzy with fatigue and lack of oxygen. I could still hear the shots of pistolets – the apparently magical weapons of our heretofore unknown enemies – ringing out in Nivenea, beyond her city walls. We were at least a kilometer or two into the hills, Nivenea’s circular footprint sunken into the valley behind us.

They called these the God’s Hills – formally Layvin’s Embrace. As the sweat cascaded over my eyebrows and my skull throbbed, I said a silent prayer asking whatever gods may exist to save my sorry, slow ass.

“We have to go,” Adria hissed. The dozen-or-so others, including her brother, were already over the top of this particular hill and out of sight.

“You…” I tried to yell and failed rather miserably, “don’t…have to…wait for me.”

Adria’s brow furrowed. I had my hands on my thighs halfway bent over, and she saw fit to put both hands on my shoulders and shove me again. I’ve never been the kind of person to lash out with rage or anything like it, but my nerves were frayed all to hell and I felt helpless… I threw all my strength into it (which wasn’t much) and shoved her right back.

She barely swayed. “Adreth put me in charge of you,” she seethed, a finger pointing up the hill. “I don’t know why, but I’m going to get you up that damn hill, Baron, so MOVE.”

I didn’t see the point in running since it was just the two of us and I couldn’t see any more people in blue uniforms anywhere near us, but then I didn’t think it was quite the time to get into a battle of wills with a woman who could probably break my neck in a lot less time. When she grabbed my arm and hauled me along beside her I didn’t protest or fight it. I just went. If I died of exertion, well, that might be an improvement.

It was an eternity and a half (or approximately ten minutes) before we crested the last hill and faced an old barnhouse. There were a number of horses in the stable and several dozen escaped prisoners walking around inside the expansive fence, looking as defeated and lost as I felt. Lots of them were bloody and bruised from the conflict in the capitol.

I scanned the crowd and saw only two faces I knew by name. The first and most obvious was Adria’s brother Adreth, a tall, dark man with shoulders twice my width and a presence that put even my best stage performance to shame. He was the leader of this fiasco, whatever that meant. The man’s size and demeanor reminded me of Garren, which was at least in part a comfort.

Garren, the Kaldari mercenary who picked me up in Pelle not three months ago; a man who I was afraid of, at first, and whom I now called a friend. One who betrayed his own people in favor of mine, gave me a bow and taught me to use it.

Garren, a man likely dead. The Celet shot him once in the hand and once in the leg, Garren’s blood as red as my own when it flowed from his wounds. He stayed behind to save Teveres…

I found myself shivering, though I was not cold. The hairs on my arms stood up, prickly and painful against my sweat-slick shirt. My ears were buzzing and I was exhausted. I leaned on the fence with both hands, trying to remember to breathe.

“Well done, kid,” Adria tapped my shoulder, this time with some measure of kindness.

When I jerked up to look at her she was already hopping the fence, shouting something at her brother. Part of me wanted to know what she was shouting, but the more pressing part didn’t have the energy to care.

I didn’t have the energy to do anything. It was a struggle just to stay upright, shaking, feeling…fear? Anger? Grief?

I couldn’t even tell what it was. It was something like the flat nothing feeling before entering a debate; knowledge and words were present in my brain, but they were locked away beneath a blank slate. Usually anxiety of that sort gave me some comfort – it was predictable, even necessary to boost my abilities.

Nothing about this was predictable.

“Baron?” It took me a moment to place the voice with an identity. Slowly I turned toward the only other face I recognized in the crowd. The young Healer was tall and thin, with warm brown skin, close-cropped black hair and a welcoming, easy energy about him.

I swallowed hard, struggling with the distinct lack of moisture on my tongue. “Kyren,” I croaked, trying to speak as normally as I could.

Kyren’s dark eyes were hooded, serious. We’d met the day before when Aia, Teveres, Garren, and I came into Nivenea to stay at Aia’s home in Layvin’s Embrace. Kyren was a divinely gifted Healer, Aia’s best friend from her time at the University. She trusted him implicitly, and given that Aia was a mind-reader, I had plenty of reason to trust him, too.
My guts clenched. He’s Aia’s best friend. How could I tell him? My eyes swelled with the burden of tears. I was either too scared or too dehydrated to let them fall.

It took Kyren less than a second of silence to see what I could not say. His jaw clenched.

“What happened to her?” he asked – demanded.

“I…” I shook my head. The look on her face when they dragged her away… “She’s gone, Kyren.”

“Gone?” He stepped closer to me, and the handful of centimeters’ difference in our relative heights was ever more apparent. “Gone where? And where was Teveres when this happened?”

Kyren had it out for Teveres from the moment they met, I knew. Something about both of them being invested in the same girl, though I think Aia was telling the truth when she said there was nothing romantic between she and Kyren. Her and Teveres, however – that was a hot topic. They might never have the chance to let that turn into something.

Probably wouldn’t. Definitely wouldn’t. There was no way Teveres survived.

“Gone,” I said. The hills spun around me. “They’re all gone. Garren too.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know,” I tried to straighten up, a hip cocked on the fence to keep me from falling over. “The Celet have them. There was…nothing I could do. Nothing he could do. Teveres was shot before Aia was taken. Probably dead.” Probably dead. The thought of it made me sick – of seeing Teveres on his knees with a hole in his chest. If Teveres had been there when they came for Aia he could have kept her safe. It was just me, and because I was so damned useless…

Skies above, I could hardly finish my thoughts. It wasn’t like me. I was supposed to be a leader. What kind of leader was this, shaking and bumbling through his explanations? What sort of leader would want to curl up and cry in the face of conflict?

I was a fake. Anyone could see that.

Kyren clenched and unclenched his fists, angrily pacing in a circle like he wanted to hurt someone. I couldn’t blame him. I wanted to kill the bastards who took them, too. Pity I lacked the necessary skills.

“You could hit me if you like,” even when I was halfway to a panic attack I tried to be witty. Fucking pitiful is what it was, and I couldn’t stop. “Better than hitting one of the useful people.”

Kyren glared at me. He had an admirable ferocity to him, that one. He was anything but a meek, mere Healer.

“I took an oath,” he spat, “the gods say people like me shouldn’t hurt others, then they put me here, in this. What kind of justice is that, Baron?”

“Les,” I corrected. I couldn’t take being addressed by my title, let alone by a man in every way my equal. “The good Baron wouldn’t allow you to see him like this. He’s on vacation.”

Kyren almost smiled before reality took hold. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” his voice was small. “You said they’re all ‘gone,’ but you know the truth.”

I couldn’t stand to look at him, to feel his pain. What I felt – the sting of losing my sudden and newly-acquired friends – was still a pale reflection of Kyren’s loss. Aia was special. All three of them were.

Instead I studied Nivenea’s spire from afar. The spire stood upon the top of the university pyramid, tall and smooth, wide at the bottom tapering up to a glorious tip, a message of hope and pride. The spire was my peoples’ crowning monument, the highest man-made peak in the whole world… or, I supposed, the world as I knew it. These Celet came from somewhere else, and I could not speak to what they might be hiding.

“I won’t believe she’s dead until I see it myself,” I said, partly to Kyren and partly to the spire.

Kyren said nothing. The Justices and prisoners (some of whom were probably murderers and rapists, but I didn’t have much time to think on that) murmured in the background, making plans. I stood still and plan-less.

As I stood silent the ground began to shake. At first I thought it was just me – my own shakiness translating to my feet, making me feel unsteady. The hush that came over the farmstead implied otherwise. Kyren and I locked gazes.

“TO GROUND!” Adreth used his large, loud voice to his advantage, commanding those inside the barn to come out. The horses shrieked and whinnied, refusing to be calmed.
“Earthquake,” I breathed. I’d experienced small earthquakes once or twice on the coast – this was not stopping. Kyren and I crouched to the ground. There was nothing near us which could fall, save for the fenceposts.

The rumbling reached a crescendo, and the sound…

The screams from Nivenea echoed through her little valley up to our ears. I clenched the dried grass in my hands, and under my breath I muttered, “Radath the honored, god of stone, god of earth, I call you; Radath the honored, god of stone, god of earth, I call you…”I couldn’t say it fast enough, couldn’t throw enough of my energy into the dirt, begging Radath – begging any god – to show us mercy.

Mercy, mercy, mercy. Haven’t I shown mercy to my enemies? Why couldn’t the gods show us the same kindness? What had we done to deserve this?

Wood cracked, the barn losing integrity – I watched in terrified awe when half the structure came crashing down, the barn pushing up against the farmhouse, distorting it to one side. My throat tightened when a horse was caught underneath the boards, surely seriously injured, maybe dead. For all that I was terrified of horses, I never wished a living thing to suffer.

Our gods had surely forsaken us. It was the only explanation. That, or Teveres was right – perhaps there were no gods after all.

The moving of the earth stopped, though not soon enough. Every last person was frozen, and for a moment they were as scared as I was. We were all victims of the same tragedy. Our home had been assaulted not just by our hidden enemies, but by the very earth itself. I glanced back at Nivenea, and what I saw could be no coincidence.

The spire I’d admired all my life was cracked, its perfect tip now a wounded, jagged edge. Parts of Nivenea’s wall had tumbled to dust. Buildings were collapsed and collapsing.

Anger built in my chest. This couldn’t be happening – shouldn’t be happening. It didn’t seem possible that the Celet people could have dominion over the earth and the weather, and yet I had to wonder if it was them behind this, too.

A Time for Superheroes

The past few days have been harrowing for many of us, myself included. The fear in my community is palpable, an anxiety-inducing energy that would cause palpitations in the dead. I could go into all the reasons why people I work with and work for are unsettled, but that’s not the point of this post – no, dear reader, I have something much more powerful to talk about. Tonight I was rescued by Dr. Strange.

The lady is ill! I imagine you thinking. She’s hallucinating about comic book characters and such. This can’t be healthy. Please, hear me out.

The Dr. Strange movie was good. The writing was decent, the visuals stunning, and it always helps to have a special fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch. The movie took me away from the things I was feeling – powerlessness, grief, anger – and reminded me of something I had apparently forgotten… stories are important.

This is about more than just distraction through escapism, though that has its own valid purpose. At any point in history, in any culture, you will find stories. We humans can’t seem to stop telling them. We use them to communicate experiences and provide each other with amusement, but more than that, stories remind of us of values greater than ourselves, especially in times where we’ve lost sight of those values. Dr. Strange did not fly through a window and bend space and time to fix my problems (not that I’d mind all that); the story of Dr. Strange brought to mind the important things in life that will never change. The power of fantasy, connection, a desire to do good, the mind’s ability to influence reality – those concepts exist no matter who our leaders are or how our personal circumstances change. As a character-driven writer it struck me that it’s not about the setting; twists of plot are interesting to me only insofar as the plot guides the reactions of the characters. Events happen, many of which the characters had little or no control over, but how the characters respond is what matters.

We, too, play parts in real-life stories. Our roles shift depending on the day and the perspective, one day the hero, the next the helper, later the antihero. What’s true of stories is just as true of real life. It may not seem like the time for fantasy, reading, writing, and movie-going, but I would argue that now is exactly the time for these things. We need the experiences of story-telling and story-receiving as a means of centering ourselves; ancient human experience, a higher power of sorts, connecting us to ideals and each other. Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop watching. Don’t stop creating.

Don’t stop believing in what matters most.

 

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.