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.

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.

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.

Cut Scene: The Original Prologue

Tragedy has an interesting past that I don’t think I’ve shared before. The very first scene was written when I was 15, just after I completed my first (never-to-be-published) novel, 4012. Teveres was originally created as a gray-morals character to be featured in 4012‘s sequel (which I never wrote), a contrast to the story’s heroine. Teveres was someone from another planet, as this was more on the sci-fi side of speculative fiction, and his situation came to me in one picture: a powerful young man with green-and-gold eyes, face-down in the dirt after the brutal murder of his family. He was supposed to end up running away and meeting 4012’s heroine.
Six years later I was inspired to create Aia’s character, and in the process stumbled upon this scene on my hard drive – it just so happened that Teveres was exactly the kind of person the story needed. The life-and-death duo of Aiasjia and Teveres, born out of story fragments. Oddly enough the scene which brought Teveres into this story just didn’t really fit in the final product, and was cut during the editing phase.
It’s not much, but here’s a little blast from the hidden past: the prologue that never was.


When Teveres hit the ground outside his father’s plantation, he stayed there. Like a slave, like a beaten child, like a rodent he dug his hands and knees into the ground, letting the dirt agitate the skin beneath his fingernails. Spittle dropped from his lips to the moistened soil; he could feel his tongue sending a river of blood down his throat that choked him.

Ignorant fools.

The men and women of the city – his city – cackled around him. They were more like animals than people, circling him in his weakest time. He grew up in their presence, helped them educate their children and tend their fields, yet they lacked the basic decency to treat him like a fellow human being. They disgusted him.

In his fury, he caught only fragments of words. “Whore, just like his mother,” “Slimy son of a bitch,” “Dirty,” “Arrogant,” “Blight-touched,” the words just kept dribbling from their unbridled mouths.

Hair dripping from the rain, he began to shiver. “I’m asking you to stop,” his voice was low-pitched and eerily controlled. The undercurrent of rage was lost on the mob.

“And what will you do, my lord?” the farmer called, “your lands have been taken. Your house is in ruins. You are nothing.”

They think it was me. How could they think this was me?

A woman hit him in the head with a farming implement. His ears rang and his vision blurred, drowning out everything but his sense of touch. Someone spat on him.

“Don’t make me do this,” he hissed.

When one of the men kicked him, Teveres didn’t move. He didn’t have to. He breathed in, out, calmed his heartbeat and closed his eyes. When he finally looked up to the chalk-colored skies, the ringing in his ears was gone and everything was still. The townspeople all lay quietly, peacefully deceased. A smile made a hesitant tug at Teveres’s lips.

He fled.


In other news, I am now 108,000 words deep in Forsaken Lands 2… and it’s still not done. Maybe this month, my friends. Maybe this month.

‘The Aftermath,’ an Aia and Elden Cut Scene

I was overwhelmingly inspired this evening, my first totally free evening following the completion of wicked medical licensing examination part 3! Now that my exam is over my fingers are itching. This is a cut scene between Elden and Aia in Forsaken Lands 2 – you can read it here or not at all. 😉 Folks who have already read Broken may find this particularly interesting. There are minimal spoilers, however, if you’re super anti-spoiler you may want to avert your eyes for now.

I will be in touch later this week, you can be sure! More Fae and Folly is on the agenda. Until then…


“This girl you keep dreaming about…”

“Lyda,” when I said her name it came out all crackly, not smooth at all. I threaded my fingers in my hair like it would keep Aia from listening to my thoughts. I couldn’t tell when she was and when she wasn’t, which was about the most unnerving thing I’d ever experienced, let me tell you. Usually when a person unnerved me it made me avoid them, like the dealers on the streets that I wouldn’t even buy from because of their crazy eyes. Aia unnerved me like that, and at the same time made me feel a little better about myself. I couldn’t figure on why.

She shifted a little closer to me, the ocean wind blowing her hair so I couldn’t see her face. It was real dark out here in the middle of the ocean. The water below us was like an abyss, and in it I could almost see Lyda’s face. You could see anything you wanted down there.

“I don’t really mean to pry,” she started pulling her hair back in a bun the way she usually had it, “but sometimes you just… when you’re upset like that I tend to listen in. Makes me worried.”

I guessed if she could really feel and hear things the way she claimed to she would have all kinds of reasons to be concerned. I’d been dreaming about Lyda a lot lately, probably because I’d been half-sober most of the time since hooking up with Garren. Except that one night at the outpost, obviously, but that was just generally a mistake.

“Sorry,” was all I could say to that. I glanced to one side, thinking that maybe I could come up with an excuse to leave.

“No need,” her little smile was kind of cute, if a little sad. A lot of people smiled at me like that over the years. “I… am really curious about who she is. All I get are bits and pieces when you dream. There’s obviously a story there.”

She wasn’t asking for anything directly, which I took to mean that I could disappear right then if I wanted. Fool that I was, I didn’t leave. She kind of deserved an explanation after saving my ass all those times. Three times, I think. I was losing count.

“Lyda and me grew up together,” I said, and felt myself detach from what I was saying. I just went numb. “She was… my best friend. We were really close, till the day I left.”

“When you left home.”

“Yeah, then.” Aia knew most of what happened when I left Chall, or as much as I told anyone about it.

“So what’s the rest of the story?” She didn’t look at me, maybe to make me more comfortable.

I sighed. “I kind of… you know, I loved her.”

I had to shut my mouth, then, because I hadn’t said that out loud in a couple years at least. I’d told some guy once after we were together, cause he was asking about my history. It helped that I was drunk at the time. I wasn’t drunk now, though, so maybe that was why it felt like I’d just stabbed myself in the gut.

Aia just nodded. She had to have already figured that out from the dreams. I didn’t remember them all, but I know at least a couple were about the day I left, when I asked her to forget me. Sometimes I wondered if she really forgot. She would have been better off if she did.

“You keep dreaming about her in Feya,” Aia’s voice got very soft, almost too soft for me to hear. “I thought you grew up on the border.”

“Feya was the last place I saw her,” I reached in my pockets hoping to find some covash, distantly remembering that I’d already traded it away. My fingers fidgeted all around, like maybe if I fidgeted hard enough I would magically summon some of the stuff. I started speaking instead, and the words went way too fast. I didn’t even realize what I was saying as I was saying it. “Bout a year after I went in the wind I ended up in Feya. That was just before I went on my tear up the eastern coast, see, and I wasn’t doing so great. It was almost night…”

My breath hitched, and Aia was looking at me with those serious, piercing eyes, and I don’t think there was any way for me to run at that point. I had to keep going. “I knew where she’d be. Lyda was real smart, had an apprenticeship offer in Feya before I left. Wanted to be an alchemist. I went to lots of shops that day, but I was… well, high. About as high as I usually was back then, which was worse than when you met me, for sure. I had this dumb idea that I would walk up to her and say hello, you know, like nothing happened. So I ended up at this place that was down by the water, and I saw her. She had a basket in her hands, probably from the market, and she looked real good. She had new clothes and her hair was in a braid, which she’d never done before. I got all ready to go up and see her, and…” I shook my head. I wasn’t going to cry, not now in front of Aia, but if I was on anything I probably would have been bawling at that point. Thank the gods I had some restraint left in me. “I looked down and I was just a mess. I couldn’t walk up to her like that, filthy, piece of shit that I am. Then as I was starting to turn around – you know, to leave – this guy walked up to her. I don’t remember anything about the guy. I just remember that she smiled real wide, the way she used to smile with me, and she kissed him.”

I went quiet. It was a boring story, I thought, for anyone but me. Why should anyone get all excited about some girl they never even fucked kissing some guy? Lyda deserved to be happy. She deserved it a lot more than I ever did.

I don’t think Aia found it boring, though, with the way her eyebrows were all knitted together. “Skies, but that must have hurt.”

I shrugged. More than I can say.

“Have you thought about going to look for her again, now that you’re doing better?”

I managed to chuckle. “Sweetheart, I think you might be forgetting the week I’ve had. I’m nobody’s definition of ‘better.’”

“You’re never going to be perfect, especially not in your own head. That doesn’t mean you have to cut her out of your life forever.”

“It’s been four years, and I’m halfway across the world from her. For all I know she died along with everyone else in the earthquake.” I said it like it was a fact, easy, the way a person would talk about some random lurker on the street getting killed. On the inside it made my heart thump so bad I thought it might come out of my chest. I don’t know what I would have done if I knew for certain she’d died. I think I might have lost it again, the way I lost it when I was sixteen, and that could only be worse. I could do a lot more damage now than I could back then.

“Hm,” in her eyes I could see that Aia was coming up with some kind of plan, but I didn’t care to hear what it was. It was probably some high-minded idea that she could go find Lyda when we got back home. I didn’t want to tell her how frightened that idea made me, first because if Lyda was alive I would have to explain what happened to me, and second if Lyda was dead I would have to deal with the fallout of knowing.

“Don’t know why you care so much about all this,” I shook my head, “my problems don’t have to be yours, too.”

“Would it make you feel better to hear some stories about my shitty past?” she grinned, and it made me snort out a laugh. I didn’t know she was one to swear at all, but maybe I was rubbing off on her.

“Maybe,” I said, more than happy to get away from all my own problems. “I wouldn’t guess you made the sort of mistakes I did, though. You’re a good person.”

The grin dissipated, and suddenly she was somebody else, somebody with a totally different story than the one I’d constructed for her in my head. The grin didn’t go away completely, but it changed to a new kind of smile, one that I’d seen on people who knew things that no one should.

“Sometimes,” she said.

To KDP Select or Not to KDP Select

This post is targeted particularly at writers (and even more specifically indie writers). I’m about to get a little technical about things, which will probably be very boring if it does not apply to you… fair warning. 😉

While working up Broken I came to a decision point: did I want to use Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or did I want to just do Kindle publishing + extended distribution on Smashwords? For those who are unfamiliar with the topic (and for those who are coming here specifically looking for a discussion on it), KDP Select is an optional agreement that an indie author can make with Amazon when they publish their ebook. Opting in to KDP Select gives Amazon 90 days of exclusivity on your ebook, meaning that you cannot e-publish your book on any other web-based outlets (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, personal blogs, etc.) during the KDP Select period. During this time you make a 70% royalty on all sales and your book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 – no more and no less (this obviously limits the utility of using Select with shorter works better suited for a $0.99 price range). Once the exclusivity period is over you can either continue with KDP Select (automatic enrollment is selected when you start unless you change it) or choose to go with regular old KDP, the latter of which would allow you to then publish on other outlets as you would normally. It should be noted that none of these agreements affect print books, so you can do KDP Select and publish a paperback copy on Createspace without problems.

Amazon’s exclusivity alone would be rather meaningless if it did not come with some advantages, of course. In exchange for not publishing your ebook in other places, Amazon allows you access to certain promotional tools. You can choose to either list your book as free for 5 days (which can be spread throughout your 30 day enrollment period) or use a relatively new feature called Kindle Countdown Deals. During a countdown deal, you set your book price lower than the usual list price (even as low as $0.99) while retaining the 70% royalty rate for a period of 1 hour to 5 days. During the course of the countdown deal the price slowly goes up. Amazon has a special section where it advertises countdown deals, which gives your book more visibility – some authors have claimed increases of more than 900% in their sales from countdown deals alone without additional advertising, which is pretty hefty. As a caveat, you can only use a countdown period once during your 90 days. In other words, even if you only do a 1-hour countdown, once you use it you cannot use another countdown until your next enrollment period (as opposed to the free days which you can break up and use over time). You also cannot use both free promotions and countdown deals in the same period – you must choose one or the other.

Free days by themselves garner quite a bit of attention. When I had Tragedy in KDP Select I ran some free days, and each time I did I saw more than 100 downloads. Of course, the issue with this is that many readers will just troll for free books to download which they may or may not ever read, and this doesn’t always generate fans. Even if it does generate genuine readers, it doesn’t necessarily help your sales if you don’t have any other books out yet. I think that KDP Select probably helped Tragedy early on, but honestly I feel that the best thing to do to increase sales is to produce more work. This is of course based on what I’ve read from other authors more than anything – I’m still trying to get to where I have multiple novels, novellas, and short stories out there.

As you can see, KDP Select comes with some obvious pros and cons. The promotions can be useful to spring a relatively unknown book into the hands of readers, but you can only choose one kind of promotion to do per period. You cannot sell on other outlets, and you have to price your book at a minimum of $2.99, which may or may not be reasonable for your particular work.

In the case of Broken I’ve been rather torn on the subject. Broken is on the short end for a novella at 18,000 words (20k if you count the bonus material), so $2.99 is a bit of a stretch. However, I am very proud of this particular novella, and I don’t think that $2.99 is wholly unreasonable considering the quality and time spent, it just might be hard in a market where there are so many free and $0.99 books. I’m also already on the other outlets with Tragedy and Fathers and Sons, so it seems a little odd to have this one novella exclusive to Amazon.

In the end it’s only 90 days, though. If I go with a $2.99 pricepoint through KDP Select and it doesn’t work, and even if the promos do not help me whatsoever, I can open things up to other outlets and lower the price after one period. Some other authors have been successful with KDP Select novellas, as well, which has helped nudge me over the edge into trying it. It’s very hard to go with multiple distributors and then condense back to just Amazon, so this is a decision I will only be able to make once – I may as well give it a shot.

There you have a basic rundown of KDP regular vs. KDP Select, and my reasons for going Select with Broken in particular. I hope it was helpful!

In other news, I would like to congratulate Chris B., Julia W., and CJ R. for winning the Broken giveaway! For those who entered and did not win, please do check out the novella which releases on 6/26. Since I have decided on KDP Select there will be some deals ahead, and you will be the first to know. 🙂

Peace and long life.