Excerpt: A Good Deed – Conclusion

*** Author’s Note: This excerpt wraps up the ‘Good Deed’ portion of my little tale. The next trio will be posted soon, beginning this coming Sunday. I hope that you’re enjoying these little bits of my creative output!

😎

A small, tidy courtyard of neatly-laid cobblestones and flagstones can be seen from her vantage-point. The path angles sharply from where the gate-door is located, stopping at the wooden steps of a wide porch. Gently curving stones lead to a flat, bare area which invites crafting or training décor. Lush, local foliage of multiple types and species grow here and there along the wall: ferns, deciduous trees, and even an exotic plant with dark leaves glowing with a soft purplish light. The porch is roomy and sturdy, offering space for crates, barrels, and other storage items. The door of the house is sheltered by a high, peaked roof, and the structure looks as if it was carved out of the stone and boulders surrounding it. The thick roots of a tall tree add to the wild, rustic appearance. Thunder peals in the distance, announcing an approaching storm.

Sepultur’a bows her head in gratitude, leaning her forehead against the lattice-work and closing her eyes which are stinging with sudden, unexpected tears of joy. A place of her own, at last. A home to rest and recuperate in while reclaiming her good name and establishing herself in the world. Fumbling through her cloak for the key which surely opens the door, she moves back to it and inserts the key in the door’s keyhole. It fits snugly; when she turns it, she hears the tumblers disengage with a solid thunk. She pushes the door open and steps through, stopping only to close and lock the door behind her. She wants no interruptions or distractions as she takes in the magnitude of the gift.

The courtyard is more spacious than it had appeared from the outside, and she is overjoyed to see the covered structure of a well nestled next to the house. She goes to it and draws up a bucketful of cold, fresh water from the underground aquifer which feeds the outpost. The water smells pure and clean, and she takes out her hip-flask and fills it, drinks deeply and refills it again, then caps it and stows it away for the errands she will have to run later on. Her panther prowls about, sniffing here and there as he examines the corners, nooks and crannies of the courtyard before stretching out on the cobblestones and relaxing.

Sepultur’a mounts the steps and opens the door of the house. The interior is quite uniform on the inside, with a bit more room than the outside suggested. A nicely-sized hearth is centered on the left-side wall of the sole room, . Two cunningly-styled windows provide a bit of natural light during the day. She looks around the cozy quarters, beaming happily. It may not be the luxurious manor in which she grew up, but it is perfect. She walks around, taking notes in her journal, making of list of basic home items that she will need immediately. Other furnishings can be acquired later on. Privacy and security at last! She can rest easy for a good amount of time, now. She has a fair amount of letters home to catch up on…

Monday Montage: Sepultura’s Screen-Shots!

I was putting the finishing touches on my next few excerpts, and that involves a bit of sorting through the many screen-shots I take during my gaming sessions. These help me keep the details of my tale fresh!

😎

Introduction to one of the many dungeons one can explore…

Spiders and a snake – my special little friends!

A mystic ritual…

…riddles in the dark.

A new trophy…

…emergence of a goddess!

The heat of battle

Grabbing a quick nap

A crowded bank – tending to business

Time to sort some parchments!

Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. III)

*** Author’s Note: Part I of this excerpt can be found here; Part II can be found here.

Sepultur’a stands in the darkness, letting her eyes adjust to the dimly-lit tomb. She had made it to the ziggurat as the sun was setting and had to fight her way through a small patrol of lamia. The snake-women were thick in this little-traveled area of the lizard-folk swamps, as were all other forms of reptile and amphibian life. From tiny, brilliantly-hued and highly-toxic frogs, to the massive lightning-spewers, to the snakes of all sizes resting in trees or slithering through the muck.

Water trickles down the walls as she descends the mossy stone steps. Vines hang from the ceiling and trail along the walls, and luminescent fungi glow softly in the darkest corners of the tunnel. She sniffs the air with her highly sensitive nose. The dank, damp air is slightly musty, but there is enough of a draw of air from some unseen, long-unused ventilation system to keep it from being completely toxic. Down below, a flickering light indicates a fire of some sort. The scent of smoke is strong, but not chokingly so. Sepultur’a descends the steps and follows the tunnel until she comes to a bend. Using her sword would be difficult in these close quarters and drawing it would cause unnecessary noise, so she readies her staff before peeking around the bend.

The tunnel appears to widen about twenty feet ahead. Off to the right side of this area a small fire is burning in a sloppily-made pit, and a lone form is sprawled on a pile of furs and straw nearby. Sepultur’a crouches low and moves forward slowly, eyes on the still form. She sees that it is an Orc female: most likely Baghzragh, the one who had stolen from Canthiorn and betrayed Grushtakh. As she gets closer to the area, she hears a soft murmur of voices coming from the left and she stops to listen. Her hearing is now as keen as her nose and she gleans an important, and unexpected, bit of information. A smile crosses her lips and she stands, glad to have worn the subtle badge which fastens her cloak. She has taken to following her instincts more than she used to, after her experience with the Withered Hand and her subsequent rescue and healing. She had put the badge on after leaving Grushtakh and felt far enough away from the city to bear the particular mark safely; wearing it, now, she knew there would be no need for subterfuge or bloodshed.

“Yuh t’ink the wench’ll wake soon? If she be wantin’ more o’ the sweet, she’ll be havin’ to pay up, first!” Coarse, loud laughter follows this statement. The speaker, a tall man with a scarred face and bald head who currently goes by the name of Rokkagan, stands from where he and two others have been drinking and playing cards. He walks over to the unconscious figure on the fur-and-straw bedding, nudging her with the toe of his boot, then folds his arms and shakes his head in mock disappointment. “She’s a mite surly, but sure knows how to cut loose and have a bit o’ fun when…persuaded!” He laughs again, turning back to his mates, and stops short when he sees an unknown figure standing in the entryway to the space. His drinking-companions, a lizard-man named Gore-Scales and a Breton named William Sterone, are kneeling in submission with the fists of their right hands firmly pressed on their chests in a salute, while their left hands are raised with palms out. Their heads are bowed as low as possible in deference to the one who outranks them all; her silent appearance, combined with the badge and sign she flashed at them, had kept them from warning their erstwhile employer.

“Well, well, well…fancy meeting you here,” the unknown person says in a sultry and undeniably feminine voice. She walks over to where Gore-Scales and William still kneel, lightly touching the fingertips on their raised hands with hers and bidding them to their feet. They both stand and then flank her, facing their Rokkagan with crossed arms. He stands stock-still, frozen with an apprehension that he hasn’t felt since leaving his burning home in the dead of night many moons ago. The woman walks towards him, then past him, kneeling near Baghzragh’s lightly snoring form. “I have no dealings with you at the moment, Rokkagan,” the woman says as she rummages through a backpack that has been tossed into the corner and forgotten about by the spelunkers during their drug-fueled debauchery. “This one has some items which don’t belong to her, and I’m returning those items to their proper owners.” She locates a secreted sheaf of papers in a cleverly-sewn pocket of the backpack, skims them quickly and then tucks them into a secure pouch in the folds of her cloak. Standing, she turns to face Rokkagan. Gore-Scale and William are right behind him, waiting for any type of signal from her. “You have nothing to fear from me, unless you don’t pay these fine folk their due,” she continues, staring intently into Rokkagan’s eyes. “Times are hard, indeed, if my good acquaintances need to sell their talents to the likes of you!” she exclaims, looking him up and down, disgust evident in her voice. Rokkagan merely nods stupidly, not daring to say or do anything that might provoke the woman.

She steps closer, hands laced casually behind her back, raising her still-concealed face to his. Her voice drops to a near-whisper. “If I hear that you have shortened them even one penny of coin, I will hunt you down and take the remainder out on your worthless hide.” She smirks with satisfaction at the acrid smell of his bladder letting go. Stepping back, she signals to Gore-Scale and William that they can stand at ease. She shoulders past Rokkagan, exiting with a parting shot: “Oh…you might want to change your breeches before re-entering civilized society. Even the worst ogre-dens I’ve had to crawl through smelled better than your arse does now!” Her derisive laughter echoes down the tunnel. Rokkagan squeezes his eyes shut, trying not to let the humiliation of soiling himself overcome him. William goes to tend the fire while Gore-Scale eyes Rokkagan, appraising him anew. He thinks that a re-negotiation of their contract might be in order, and a small memory-gem secreted on one of his horn-rings would assist with that.

Grushtakh is being violently shaken awake from a sound sleep. “Hey…hey, wake up! Damn your drunken hide…wake up, I say!” Canthiorn’s beaming face comes into view as Grushtak’s vision clears. “Uh…wha’?” he grunts, his head swimming as he tries to sit up, weaving slightly as he props himself up on one elbow. “Wash goin’ on?” he mumbles, wiping bleary eyes and smacking his lips. His mouth tastes as if he’d fallen asleep with it open behind a mammoth with a serious bowel problem. What the hell sort of drink had that Wood-elf conned him into swallowing? Canthiorn shoves some papers in Grushtakh’s face, cackling gleefully. “We’re in business! Gods and goddesses above and below, she did it…we’re in business!” he exclaims, doing the stomp-and-clap dance steps native to his people, waving the papers about. Grushtakh rubs his head and blinks stupidly. “Huh?” he asks again, sitting up in the bed a bit more. The last thing he remembers involved a drinking game between himself, Canthiorn, and a cat-man with pale, striped fur. He grunts softly as his head throbs. “Talk slower…what’re you going on about?” Canthiorn capers around the room, still waving the papers. “Your friend, you thick fool! The one you told me about, remember?” Canthiorn rolls his eyes. “Never mind that, for now…all I can say is, things are turning around for the better – we’re back in business!”

A week later, late in the afternoon, a falcon drops out of the sky over Sepultur’a as she stands on the upper balcony of a lone tavern on the edge of the battle-torn central province. It lands on a rail and settles itself with a fluffing of feathers, panting with exertion. It has flown fast and far with its precious cargo. She feeds it some meat that she had been snacking on and carefully removes the tubular parchment-case from its back. Opening it, she finds a rolled piece of paper and a large key. She unrolls the parchment and reads:

Greetings – I hope this note finds you well and in good health. I don’t know if there is any way to fully and adequately compensate you for the work that you did. You gave me back my livelihood and my reputation, and that is no small feat. Please accept this as a token of my thanks, and know that if there is ever any service that I can provide, you have only to name it. Enclosed are a map and a key. The key will unlock the treasure which this map leads to. It is the least that I can do for your kind gesture. May the gods and goddesses ever watch over your steps, milady.

Cordially and Respectfully,
Canthiorn

Sepultur’a looks at the map on the reverse side of the letter. She is somewhat familiar with the area indicated on it, and sees that the ‘X’ marking the spot isn’t far from a trading outpost deep in the territory of the cat-folk. She notes that one of the crudely-sketched landmarks on the map, as she peers a bit closer with the help of a magnifying crystal, indicates a shrine of transit. Very convenient! She tucks the key and the letter / map in the folds of her cloak to keep them safe for this quick jaunt.

The falcon looks at her expectantly, letting out a high-pitched scree. She chuckles and tosses it the last scrap of meat, re-attaches the scroll-case, then stretches and jumps lightly down from the balcony. The bird takes to the air and settles in a tall tree near the outpost’s main gate. She puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles sharply. Her newest mount, a sleek black panther, stretches languorously from his nap in the shade of the stilted building and pads over to his mistress, emitting a purring, grumbling growl. “I know, pet, I know…I promised that you would get a good, long rest, but we need to head out one more time.” She scratches him lightly under his chin, adjusts the riding-straps and thin, flexible saddle and then climbs on his back. He launches into a loping run with Sepultur’a guiding him with even more subtle body movements than needed on a horse. Within an hour they have reached an out-of-the-way transit shrine and use it to travel to the one she is certain is marked on the map.

She looks around as her vision clears from the magically-assisted teleportation. She only uses these “way-shrines” when time is of the essence, but doesn’t feel the disorienting effects as strongly as she used to. The shrine is right in the center of the trading outpost, circled by the merchant-wagons and stalls. A tavern and inn are located in one building while the guild-hall of mages shares space with the guild-hall of warriors. It has been just over a year since she had last travelled through this area; she had been with the caravan of entertainers and traders, then.

Dismounting, she leads the panther past some of the stalls, exchanging greetings, hugs, and mild pleasantries with some of the merchants whom she recognizes. As she wanders about, she notices a neatly-paved side-road which seems to have been freshly laid. She pulls out the letter and skims the map again, noting that this side-road appears to lead directly to the ‘X’ marking the mysterious treasure. Odd to bury a treasure at the end of a road, she thinks, but shrugs and follows it. She is formidable enough on her own; her mount ensures that only the incredibly foolish would dare to attack.

The road winds gently upward through some trees and ends at a locked door which is set into a stout, stone wall. The wall has an open space guarded with sturdy metal lattice-work, so Sepultur’a moves to this space and peers through, gasping softly at the sight on the other side…

Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. II)

*** Author’s Note: Part I of this excerpt can be found here, in case you missed it. I think I will do a ‘Top 5’ of my personal favourite excerpts or posts, soon!

“I’ll be brief, friend Grush. Do you know, or have you heard talk of, an Orc woman calling herself Baghzragh? The coin here will be yours either way, as you have been honest and true in the past.” Grushtakh’s shoulders slump as he bows his head and looks at the floor dejectedly. “Aye – that I do,” he says, a bit sadly. Sepultur’a cocks an eyebrow questioningly, nodding at him to continue. Grushtakh sighs. “She’s my blood-kin, so I know her all too well – and yet, not well enough – else, I wouldn’t be in this predicament! Being here in this…” he raises his head and looks wearily around, running a hand over his bald, horn-stubbled pate. “…in this den of iniquity was not in my plan.” He meets Sepultur’a’s gaze. “To use the vernacular of you humans, she is both my half-sister and my cousin. My mother is sister to her mother, and both of them are wives of the chieftain in the stronghold of Yol Karzhagum. My mother is the forge-wife; hers is the hearth-wife. I had no hopes of being a chieftain there, as the hunt-wife is mother to the first-born male.” He chuckles ruefully. “Truth be told, I admit that being chieftain wasn’t something that I desired. Part of the reason I ended up here, I’d wager.”

Sepultur’a listens intently, making the coin dance across the backs of her fingers. It’s a small trick she learned during her time with the caravan, which relaxes her. “It sounds as if she played a role in it, as well,” she states, which draws a mirthless chuckle from Grushtakh. “Aye…that she did. She always had a high opinion of herself, solely based on her mother’s place in the stronghold hierarchy, but never availed herself of the tutelage or apprenticeships provided by the others in the clan. You humans pay a fair price to learn valuable skills; we Orcs are born and taught them from the moment we can walk, talk, and pick up a hammer!” He chuckles again, this time with genuine good humour.

“One day, not long after her 19th birthday, she decided to hop aboard a Breton trading-vessel which had been in port for a week. Not a word to anyone! Father said that she’d best not return unless it was on the arm of a respected war-chief, as that would be the only one able to pay a worthy dowry!” He chuckles again, remembering the scene in the dining-hall when Baghzragh’s disappearance was discovered. “At any rate, I was surprised to get a letter from her a couple of months ago, as none of us had heard from her for three years, at least.” He rummages around in a battered satchel at his side, pulling out a folded parchment. Carefully unfolding it and smoothing it out, he hands it to Sepultur’a. She takes it, then presses the coin into his palm and folds his fingers around it. “Wait a moment,” she says and then quickly reads the letter. Once she’s digested the contents, she re-folds it and hands it back. “She promised you a lucrative business deal, using a lot of flowery language which gave no details,” Sepultur’a states, folding her arms and leaning back against the wall. Grushtakh hangs his head again. “Aye,” he sighs miserably. “I was a bit in my cups when I got the letter, and didn’t read it as carefully as I should have. I came here believing a lie, and feel quite the fool at being duped. Bad enough to be deceived at all; even worse to have it done by your own kin.” Sepultur’a nods in agreement. She knows all too well the pain caused by deception, especially when done by one who was trusted.

Grushtakh looks glumly at the coin given him by Sepultur’a, brightening a bit at the way it glints in the light of various candles and torches flickering here and there throughout the refuge. “This, at least, will get me a decent meal and a room at the inn! It will be nice to sleep in a cot, at the very least.” Sepultur’a smiles. “Indeed,” she says, glad to be able to offer payment of some sort. She knows that he is too proud to ask for help or take any charitable offer; it is almost an insult to his race to do so, and she doesn’t want to add to his wounded pride. “I think that you’ll find that coin worth quite a bit. Take it up to the banking-house and see what exchange you get, why don’t you?” She moves away from the wall and pulls her cowl over her face again. “Thanks again for your help, my friend. There might be another reward in this for you if all goes well. Even if it doesn’t, you will be able to return home with your head held high and reputation intact and unsullied. If you choose to return, that is!” She clasps his hand briefly and exits the refuge.

Grushtakh inspects the coin closely. On one side is the diamond-shaped emblem of the imperial army, while the other shows an image of the three alliance banners ablaze from the fires of war. He lets out a soft whistle of admiration. What she gave him was part of her earnings from the battlefield, and a generous one at that. He knows enough about currency to see that she gave him a war-chit worth 5,000 pieces of the universal gold coin exchangeable throughout the different lands and provinces. This would be more than enough to get a fresh start, right here in this city, if he so desired…

To Be Continued…

Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. I)

“Here it is, milady – the receipt for the bank deposit, and the sum total of your current balance. Always a pleasure to see you, although it’s been some time!” the lizard-woman moneylender is saying as she stacks the paperwork. “Aye,” Sepultur’a acknowledges. “I appreciate you keeping such orderly and precise records, especially during my long absence!” She thanks the moneylender and tucks the receipt into her journal after jotting down the sizable number indicating her personal bank balance. She is pleased with what she has earned on her own recently, as there is much coin to be earned in many places – both on and off the battlefield. Her savior had taught her a few things that dusty books on shelves could not, and she is grateful for the knowledge imparted.

Stepping out of the banking-house, she stops on the steps, stretching in the light of the setting sun. It has been some time since she last visited the bustling city of the Dark Elves, as she had joined the caravan here not long after leaving home. The cobbled streets are clean, as usual, and townsfolk stroll along the overpasses and walkways. The small inn and tavern are just across the way from the banking-house, and she finds herself walking through the front door without really giving it much thought. She nods to the innkeeper and enters the dining area, taking a spot at the counter where she can watch everyone who comes and goes. A bottle of wine and a glass are slid over to her by the chef, who drops a sly wink as he goes back to basting a haunch of venison. Sepultur’a smiles and toasts his health after filling the glass, and leaves a few coins on the counter as a tip for his generosity. Sipping her wine, she looks around at the other patrons. One in particular gets her notice: a wood-elf wearing the garb of a merchant, sitting alone at a table with his head in his hands and an air of defeat hanging heavily over him. He heaves a sigh and shakes his head in abject misery. Curious. Taking up the bottle and an extra wine glass, she strolls over and sits at his table, pouring a generous amount into the glass and sliding it in front of him. He looks at her incredulously, removes his hands from his face and takes up the glass, smells the bouquet and sips lightly.

“I thank you for your kindness,” he says, “but I cannot pay you for the drink, and drink will not help me with my problem. When the drink is gone, the problem will still remain!” He laughs a bit too loudly, with the edge of hysteria making the laugh mirthless and shrill. Sepultur’a leans back in her chair and sips her wine. “What is your problem?” she asks simply and directly. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.” He looks at her cautiously and a bit more closely. She is young, but her eyes hold much worldly knowledge. She sits in a relaxed and easy manner, but her movements as she seated herself and poured the wine make him think of the great reptiles in the swamps to the south and in his homeland. He shakes his head in negation, stating: “You might be able to assist me, but I hold no hope that anyone other than a magister or the king himself would be able to do so successfully.” He drains his glass and puts his head in his hands again. “I’ve been approached by too many mercenaries already, and they have all demanded a far higher price to ‘solve my problem’ than it requires.” He heaves another deep sigh. “I came to these lands to start my business, but the dishonesty of my partner is ending it before it can begin. I have no money to pay anyone unless I recover some necessary items from that…piece of troll dung, and nobody will help me unless I pay them first!”

Sepultur’a refills his glass, leaning forward and staying his hand before he can pick it up again. This movement causes him to start and look up, forced to meet her gaze squarely. “I can be of assistance,” she states firmly, “and it will cost you nothing. If you choose to reward me, it shall be your choice. My services are free when I make the offer.” She releases his hand and leans back again. “If you had approached me, then I would have asked for recompense. As it is…” she trails off and sips her wine, a secretive smile playing across her lips. “Oh, well – I suppose I have nothing to lose, then!” he bursts out, taking a healthy drink. “I’ll try to be brief – my name is Canthiorn, by the by – and I came here with my business partner last week. Her name is Baghzragh – an Orc wench, obviously – and she was supposedly going to meet with some Breton to buy the building that was to be our storefront. Foolish me, I let her walk off with the coin and didn’t even think to send along a bodyguard to hold it and keep an eye on her, as I was busy with many different negotiations. That was two days ago, and here I am with no money, no partner…and, no business!” He drains the glass again, filling himself up as fast as he empties himself of words. Sepultur’a finishes her drink as she listens to his tale, refills both of their glasses, then sets the empty wine-bottle aside.

She appraises Canthiorn’s appearance. On closer inspection, he does seem to be a bit worse for wear. His clothes, while well-made and of high quality, are slightly dingy and look wrinkled, as if they haven’t been changed for two days. His face seems leaner than usual, for one of his race, and his eyes are tired and full of despair. She would wager that he is just as hungry as he is tired, as the wine has made him quite talkative in short order. The few wood-elves she has met in her travels usually hold their liquor quite well, and the standard brews of humans and the other elven races aren’t known to intoxicate them at all. A serving-girl walks past with a tray of appetizers for patrons drinking in the entry-hall, and Canthiorn’s eyes follow helplessly. Sepultur’a stands. “Wait here a moment,” she says. After a few quiet words with the chef and the inn-keeper, she returns to his table. “You have a place here for the night, as well as a hot meal tonight and a hearty breakfast in the morning.” He stares at the young woman, speechless at her generosity. She smiles, donning a cloak and pulling the cowl low over her face. “I will help you regain what has been stolen from you. Put worry out of your mind, good Canthiorn. Eat and sleep – your mind, body and soul are weary.” She turns to leave as the serving-girl places a heaping plate of wood-elf delicacies in front of Canthiorn. He is so ravenous that he doesn’t even think to ask the name of his mysterious benefactress.

Sepultur’a exits the inn and walks back towards the banking-house, but bypasses the building and enters a small gazebo behind it. There are many of these secluded seating areas and various locations around the town, but this one holds a secret known only to a few. The statue honouring the god of finance is also the doorway to an underground refuge which provides shelter for the indigent and a hiding place for those of ill-repute.

Grushtakh gro-Karzhagum starts awake at the feel of a booted toe nudging his nethers, and he scrambles out of his bedroll, ready to shred someone’s face over the indignity. The angry roar that was building in his throat fades to a squealing whisper as he sees who was doing the nudging. “Um…uh, er…I…” he stammers, realizing at the same time that he wears nothing but a thin loincloth. As he turns slightly sideways to hide his dream-excitement from the unexpected visitor, he is certain that he had at least a pair of breeches on when he had gone to sleep. Damn this so-called refuge for outlaws! The other residents would steal the clothes off of your back or arse given the opportunity and the experienced thief or cutpurse could literally do so even if their target was awake. “Uh…” he starts again, and the visitor’s throaty chuckle builds to hearty laughter. “Ah, Grush – you sleep too soundly for your own good!” Sepultur’a turns her back, tossing his breeches over her shoulder for him to catch. “Cover yourself! I have am in need of information, and you have proved to be a good source of it.”

Grushtakh hastily pulls on his breeches and a simple tunic for good measure, returning to his bedroll and sitting comfortably. “So, the Flame-Serpent returns!” He spreads his hands, gesturing for her to sit in the sole chair that he owns. “I’ll do what I can and tell you anything I know – if I’m able to, o’ course,” he finishes as she declines the chair and leans against the damp stone of the underground refuge. She takes a coin from a hidden pocket and begins to flip it idly, casually, as she frames her next question.

To Be Continued…

Excerpt: Festivities

*** Author’s Note: Just a small reminder that my excerpts are not in chronological order. Some chapters are taking longer to revise and edit than others! ***

Dusk. The party is in full swing; family and close friends are attending the small, lavish gathering and the celebrants are all in high spirits. Lord Yazim, her father, had given a brief speech, and her mother, Lady Zaiher, had presented Sepultur’a with a gift: a leather-bound journal to record the events of her journey.

Sepultur’a’s glum mood of earlier has lifted completely, as she is engrossed in conversation with her brother Ad-hir’s mysterious, last-minute guest – he brought a woman along! He introduced her as Sonja, stating only that he met her in some remote area of a battlefield and had recently asked for her hand in marriage. The family is a bit surprised, as they had all thought that the only son of the family would spend a number of years sowing some wild oats before settling down. Ad-hir is engaged in quiet conversation with Yazim, while Ildris and Zaiher sit close with her and Sonja, laughing and chatting. The table is laden with fare both local and exotic; there are familiar dishes which are favourites of the family, and unfamiliar ones which seem to appeal to Sonja’s palate. Sonja has a hearty appetite and seems to eat a bit of everything. Sepultur’a is in awe of her new sister-to-be and hangs on her every word. The woman’s hair is an interesting shade of deep auburn, braided into long rows which hang down the center of her back. Her head is shaved on the sides in a fashion that Sepultur’a has only seen in books. Her skin is dark, like Sepultur’a and Ildris, but her eyes are a pale blue that is unusual to their people. Her face bears patterned scars, but the scars seem to accentuate her beauty, not detract from it. She is also very tall, and more muscular than the other women in the room – but her figure is noticeably feminine. She wears a form-fitting, stitched top and breeches with an attached “tail” – a skirt that is slit up the front to allow a lady to ride comfortably and modestly.

Sepultur’a excuses herself from the table and moves around the room, chatting with the other guests. She is radiantly beautiful in the dress she wears: red, silken material is gathered at the bodice; clever slits in the fabric reveal white gleaming velvet insets. A black leather corset accentuates her slender figure, and the full skirt flares out and down, just brushing the floors with an elegant ruffle. Her shoulders are bare, but short, puffed sleeves cover her upper arms. She will hate to leave the dress behind, but it won’t be practical on a long trip. It will be a while before she has the time or inclination to wear such finery again, after this day. Tomorrow she will be garbed in her own set of armor and choose two weapons to take with her. She will start out with virtually nothing; just what will fit into the saddle-bags.

She gets her glass of wine refilled, then wanders out onto the veranda. The two moons hang high in the sky, one smaller than the other. She stands there, looking up at them, thinking. Sipping her wine, she walks down a small flight of stairs and follows the narrow path down towards the beach. The harbor is quiet and serene, and she removes her slippers to walk barefoot in the sand. Water laps softly at the docks; she wanders to the end of one of the boat-slips and stands quietly, enjoying a bit of solitude. After a moment, she turns and leaves the harbor, heading back towards the manse. Her footsteps take her past the garden-maze; she pauses for a moment, then enters.

The soft light of lanterns guides her along, although she is so familiar with this route that she could navigate it blindfolded. She soon stands at the fountain with the magnificent statue, and stares at it longingly. “Oh, Mother,” she whispers softly. “I hope that I find a great love the way that you and Father have. To have a man look at me with such devotion…I cannot imagine.” She sits on the edge of the fountain and places her slippers on the stone bench where she and Ildris had sat earlier. Her fingers trace patterns on the surface of the water as she finishes her wine. Setting the empty glass near her slippers, she draws her legs up, carefully tucking the long skirt up so that it doesn’t get wet, then resumes trailing her fingers in the water of the fountain. She gets lost in deep thought and doesn’t hear quiet footsteps approaching.

Endymion, the smith’s apprentice, enters the fountain area. He doesn’t see Sepultur’a sitting in the dark shadow thrown by the fountain. He isn’t forbidden from this area; all who work at the manse are allowed access to most of the grounds, but if the family is present, the help gives them leeway. He is certain that he is alone, as he knows that the family is celebrating the youngest daughter’s birthday. He likes sitting here some evenings, especially when the moons are full, but those times are rare due to his work schedule.

Endymion stands for a moment, limned in the moonlight, looking appreciatively at the statue. The merchant-master, powerfully depicted in this carving, spared no expense in this declaration of love for his wife, the mother of his daughters. Endymion can fully understand why this particular pose was chosen, and why it is displayed where it is. To see this sculpture in full daylight, where many could see it, would be scandalous and create undue envy amongst the townspeople.

He stretches out on one of the benches and clasps his hands behind his head, looking up at the moons and appreciating how their light plays over the statue. His eyes close as he relaxes, letting the stress of the day’s work ebb from his body. The forge-master had been stern with him after he’d muffed the repair of a sword, and he despaired of mastering working with metal. His uncle had been certain that the family talent of blacksmithing would run in his veins, but after a year of apprenticeship, he could barely craft a decent dagger. He isn’t sure how he can tell his uncle that working a forge isn’t his natural talent. A soft gasp interrupts his train of thought and his eyes open, startled out of his reverie.

The youngest daughter is standing there, staring at him, eyes wide in the darkness. He tries to think of her name as he sits up, resting his arms on his knees as he regards her. She looks beautiful under the moonlight, he thinks, eyeing her bare shoulders and trim form.

She, in turn, is captivated by his stature now that she sees him up close. She has seen him from a distance in the marketplace, or when she has accompanied Yazim or Ad-hir to the forge to get fitted for her own pieces or armor, but seeing him up close has her seeing him as if for the first time. His face is intriguing: intense blue eyes, a sensuous mouth, a fine, straight nose, and strong chin. His head is shaved on the sides; the remaining hair is neatly combed and pulled back in a tight queue. He rises from his supine position, stands, and moves towards her. It takes her a moment to realize that he is speaking to her, and shakes her head to clear it and focus on his words.

“I’m sorry,” he is saying, “I didn’t think that anyone would be here. I can leave if you wish to be alone; I don’t want to intrude.” He bows respectfully, and moves as if to leave, but she shakes her head. “No, please…don’t go,” she says softly. “You may stay. I didn’t know that anyone was here. It was crowded inside, and I just wanted to come out, look at the moons, and catch a breath of air.” She looks up at them, a soft smile curving her lips. “They are full and bright tonight, aren’t they?” He looks up as well, nodding in agreement. “Indeed,” he replies, looking back at her. “I’m not the best with names,” he continues, feeling a bit bold. “If you please, I had a question. What is your name? I don’t know that I could pronounce it.” She laughs lightly “Sepultur’a,” she says, sounding it out slowly and carefully. “…and, you are Endymion, the apprentice to the smith,” she finishes, smiling at his surprise. “You know my name and who I am?” he asks, somewhat flattered. “Why, of course,” she says. “You are hard to miss,” she says, then stops before she says too much. She lowers her gaze, turning to face the fountain again. He cocks an eyebrow at her words. “Hard to miss? How do you mean?” he asks. She turns to face him. “Well, I just meant that…you aren’t from these lands, originally, so you do stand out from the crowds. Not in a bad way, of course…I just happen to notice you when you’re at the forge, when I’m at the market running errands.” Her voice drops to a near-whisper. “I…like watching you work,” she finishes, nervously playing with her hair.

He is silent with surprise. “Oh, I’ve offended you now, I just know it!” she bursts out. “I always talk too much and say the wrong thing at the wrong time…” she trails off, sounding near tears. “Wait – what? No, no, no…no offense taken at all,” he says, standing and stepping closer to her. “I didn’t think that either of the daughters of the wealthiest man in town would take notice of a lowly blacksmith’s apprentice,” he says. “I always figured that you and your sister had been betrothed to some merchant’s son from birth, or something…” he stops speaking, unsure of what to say next. She looks up at him. He is tall and broad-shouldered, with well-muscled arms and large, strong hands from daily work at the forge. He wears a simple, rough tunic and breeches that smell of smoke. He is standing so close…her mind whirls. Perhaps it is the full moons, or the scent of the flowers in the garden that cause her to act so boldly. She reaches out impulsively and touches his face, caressing his cheek for a moment. She starts to pull her hand away, but he reaches up and presses his hand over hers, closing his eyes and savoring her touch…

Excerpt: Comeuppance

The tavern is exceptionally boisterous this night. Evesori sits at the vanity in the private room she usually shares with Lord Draven, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her calm façade belies the anger and jealousy roiling inside. Her emotions, however, do have a detrimental effect on the glamour that she normally uses to conceal her true appearance. Dark, angry bruises mottle her cheeks and neck; her smooth-looking skin is wrinkled and hangs in loose wattles, her breasts are flat, sagging dugs drooping under her robe and her face is sallow, aged and haggard. Damn him, she thinks. He let the other, more powerful, fresh meat get away before the ceremony could be finished – now I have to suffer this insult!

Even now, she hears the tinkling laughter of his latest conquest drift up from the main room. Naviri, the young chamber-maid, had suddenly become a favoured member of the guild; even Theo was less enthralled by Evesori’s charms than he’d initially been, although Draven made it clear that Naviri was his alone. Evesori had brought Naviri to share their bed, in hopes that he would allow her to perform the ceremony, but Draven seemed unconcerned about Evesori’s need. Now she was suffering and desperate to rejuvenate her rapidly-declining looks. The blood of the girl was sorely needed, but Draven had stayed her hand. Enthralled to him, she had no choice but to acquiesce.

She yanks open a drawer and digs around, pulling out a small envelope. Only a tiny bit of the magick-infused powder remained, just enough to stave off the impending decay. She would have one week to acquire a fresh infusion – she doesn’t want to think of what will happen if she can’t.

She taps the last bit of the precious powder into a golden goblet, takes a small teakettle from a trivet-heater, and pours a bit of warm water over the powder. It hisses and bubbles momentarily, emitting a slightly sulfurous odor. When the bubbling ceases, Evesori takes up the goblet, hesitates for a moment, and downs the bitter concoction. The results are immediate: the bruises disappear, her skin becomes taut and youthful in appearance, and her cold, pale beauty is restored. That’s it, then, she thinks. If I’m unable to find a new thrall of my own, without milord’s assistance… She shakes her head, banishing the unpleasant thought. Standing, she drops her robe to the floor and moves to the tall wardrobe. She removes her usual tavern-clothes from their hangers and squeezes herself into the tight, form-fitting garments. She gives herself a final, appraising look before heading downstairs into the din.

Draven sits at his table in the corner with a giggling Naviri on his lap. He is stroking her hair and cheek in a way that enrages Evesori anew, but she forces a pleasant smile as she grabs a tankard of ale from the counter near the stairs and moves towards the table. An inebriated Theo notices her and staggers over, glad to see that she is looking like her old self again. “Evie! I wash…I wanted…hey, join the party!” He puts an arm around her shoulders, casually grabbing her right breast and squeezing firmly. He knows that Naviri is off-limits, so Evesori will have to do for the time being. At least she doesn’t smell of rancid, week-old meat like the last time, he thinks, and still wonders if that had been some unpleasant nightmare.

Evesori laughs and shrugs off his drunken groping, gently pushing him aside. “I’ll deal with you in a moment, dear Theo – I just needed to speak with our liege lord about a pressing matter. I won’t be long, if you want to wait for me?” She tilts her head engagingly, flicking her eyes upward to her room before fixing them on Theo, letting the suggestion sink into his addled brain. He grins foolishly, turning towards the stairs and reeling off of the edge of the fireplace mantel. He trips and stumbles on the steps, stifling an embarrassed chuckle as a noxious, wet-sounding fart explodes from his nether regions. A dark stain spreads across the backside of his breeches as he crawls up the steps. Draven roars with laughter, while Naviri hides a smile behind one small, delicate hand. Evesori sighs internally, even as she directs Skips-Over-Water, the lizard-man, to attend to Theo and make certain that he doesn’t get any filth on her silken sheets. Skips hurries up the stairs while Evesori turns back to Draven’s table, still wearing her inscrutable smile.

Her mouth tightens slightly as she sees the mocking look on Naviri’s elfin face. Draven is playing with her tiny horn-nubs, unconcerned with Evesori’s emotions. In her mind, she crosses the room in a flash, tearing out the girl’s throat with a vicious swipe of ragged talons, bathing in gouts of refreshing, life-giving blood. In reality, she steps forward slowly and respectfully, nodding at Naviri politely as she addresses Draven.

“Milord? There is an…urgent matter which I must speak with you about. A moment of your time, please?” She takes a calming swig of ale from the tankard as she waits for him to stand and accompany her outside. Draven looks at her for a long moment. When he finally speaks, his voice is as frigid as an ice-bolt from the staff of a cryo-mage. “Evie, please…you do see that I’m busy, do you not? I’m sure that whatever is troubling you can wait until morning. In fact, it will have to wait. I’m being entertained at the moment.” He looks upstairs, where a loud thud rattles the floor. “Besides, your…lover is waiting for you. Surely you will be busy for the rest of the evening, as will I.” He smiles at Naviri as he pulls her tighter onto his lap. He traces a long, pale finger along her jawline and narrow, pointed chin, then lightly touches the girl’s lips. Evesori is filled with rage as she sees the girl’s slight frame shudder with pleasure. Why is he doing this? Why now? Her thoughts roil in confusion; for the first time in an eternity her confidence is shaken, yet still she tries to hide it and save face. She drains the tankard and slams it on the table a bit harder than she intended, then turns to leave the tavern. Draven ignores her as she walks out of the door, busily nuzzling Naviri’s neck and lightly suckling on her right ear. Naviri doesn’t notice the tiny bite on her earlobe…

Once outside, Evesori picks up one of the chairs and smashes it into one of the stout porch-timbers, feeling slightly better as splintered wood flies. A couple walking past the tavern hasten their steps as they see the violent outburst, heading instead towards the quiet inn near the city gates. Evesori’s eyes are wild, her face twisted in hate. All semblance of calm has vanished, and her anger makes her careless. She is completely unaware of the cloaked figure shrouded in the darkest corner of the porch until it is too late. A slender but strong arm is around her throat before she knows it; a hand smothers her mouth and nose in a powerful grip. She struggles in futility as she is dragged off of the porch and into the darkness behind the tavern. There is a brief burst of flame, then silence.

A young city guard stands at ease under a nearby streetlamp, fully aware of what just took place behind him. He was there to ensure that none would interrupt. The heavy sack of coin in his pocket is comforting – he was paid well for his duty. If the sell-sword can rid his fair city of the blood-vermin, he is more than willing to turn a blind eye. “Well done, lad,” he hears a husky voice say. “Remember – when you identify more of these parasites, send the falcon to me. Otherwise, I will return at the next cycle of the new moons. Together, we shall exterminate these filthy creatures and return this city to its full glory.” A hand rests momentarily on his shoulder. “Your family will be free to sit at lakeside again…and your infant son’s murder shall be avenged.” He doesn’t turn as he whispers, “Thank you.”

The quiet presence vanishes. The young guard smiles…

Excerpt: Metamorphosis

*** Author’s Note: Here is another excerpt of my fiction, edited to keep this post short and sweet. ***

The moons shine softly in the glade, casting their light on the statue of the Forest Lord. Behind her, the portal flares brightly, then fades and winks out. Barefoot, she walks towards the statue, which seems to gleam with an inner luminescence of its own. This statue is identical to the one that she saw in the grove before entering the portal, but looks to have been freshly-carved in comparison to its slightly weathered, moss-and-lichen-encrusted twin.

Of course, she thinks to herself. This is the realm of the Forest Lord, under his control and timeline. I am…between worlds.

She stands before the stag-headed stone effigy and gazes for a long moment, taking in the primal grandeur. The powerful build of the demigod as he brandishes his spear; his wolf companions savaging a boar at his feet.

The words of her savior echo in her mind: Pay due respect, child. The God of the Hunt suffers no foolishness.

Her hand pulses slightly where the mark was placed. She clenches that hand into a fist, momentarily, then presses her palms together and kneels before the statue. She bows her head, closes her eyes, and waits as she was instructed.

Her thoughts clear. Her mind is filled with the bright moons and the softly gleaming statue. The eyes of the demigod open, blazing as they fix on her form. A voice like distant thunder echoes in the labyrinth of her brain: Hmph. Another whelp bows in supplication to me.

Silence falls, yet she doesn’t speak – not yet. She feels that fiery gaze on her, penetrating, analyzing her from head to toe. She lets her thoughts flow freely, hiding nothing, including her recent shame and despair. The probing continues for a moment. Then, the presence exits her mind as swiftly as it entered. She waits.

Well, pup – you have been marked. It seems that my prodigal offspring has deemed you worthy of this gift. You must undertake the trial. But, first…

A tone of amusement is detected as the voice continues: First, remove your wretched rags. This trial requires your skills as a huntress and a warrior. Your sword and shield will not avail you.

She nods a brief assent and stands, slowly removing her armour and placing each piece carefully and reverently at the base of the statue as an offering.

She now stands nude, limned in moonlight. It is time, the voice says. Prepare yourself! With those words, a stabbing pain rips up and down her spine. She drops to her knees again, throwing her head back, mouth opening wide to scream. The sound strangles in her throat as a multitude of changes occur.

Her body twists, her back arches. Her shoulders broaden, muscles rippling and writhing like coiled snakes. Her fingers and toes lengthen as claws extend from those appendages. Her legs become the crooked, powerful hindquarters of a wolf. A thick brush of a tail touches the forest floor. Her gaping mouth stretches into a muzzle with strong, sharp, white fangs. Black fur sprouts from every pore; her ears become triangular and move nearer to the top of her head, and her breasts diminish to vestigial nubs hidden under the newly-grown, shaggy coat. A howl erupts from her throat, announcing her primal arrival. She stands, slightly hunched, snarling in surprise.

She still knows who she is…but her awareness of everything is magnified one hundred-fold. The light breeze which flutters the leaves and rustles the grass carries many scents, which she identifies without a thought. The pungent scent of large cats. The slightly dusty smell of feathers – harpies are near. The moist, dank essence of reptiles, hiding in mud. She detects the sap rising in the nearby trees; the blood pumping through the veins of the plentiful prey.

The voice of the Forest Lord thunders in her mind once more: Heed me well, pup. The prey is yours for the taking. Find the largest and bring it down, then sound the call of the hunt. You will know when you have succeeded. Now – go! Hunt well.

She doesn’t hesitate. Turning away from the statue, she lopes down the hillside and jumps to the top of a boulder to survey the area. A tiger prowls in the grasses below, it’s back to her. Silently, she creeps down and hides in the rock’s shadow, inching closer to the large feline. Before it realizes the danger, she has leapt upon it and severed its spine with a savage bite to the back of the neck. Blood-lust descends and she tears out the great cat’s heart, gulping it down in two swift bites. Strength fills her; she races onward, seeking out the trophy prey.

There. Just over that ridge: a mammoth lumbers about, quietly munching grass. It is a double-tusked behemoth with mottled grey fur, blind in one eye. Its handicap will make it doubly dangerous; even as the thought crosses her feral mind, it raises its head and lifts its trunk, scenting the air. She carefully moves downwind of it and crouches in the tall grass, waiting. The mammoth stands stock-still, the tip of its trunk twitching back and forth, seeking out the predator. The old beast is canny, she notes. This will take some time. She hunkers down low and backs away a bit, stopping as one of her paws touches the muddy banks of the river which cuts through this realm. An idea forms in her mind: mud will mask her smell and confuse the beast; if it is unable to tell her apart from the river-dwelling reptiles, then she might be able to take it by surprise. Slowly, she submerges herself in the murky waters, stopping short of immersing her head completely. Only her ears, eyes, and nose remain above the surface. Concealed in this fashion, she waits…

Tuesday Tidbits: That Happy Medium

I think that I have finally found the happy medium with my blogging schedule! Some things require a bit of fine-tuning, and I had to push the envelope of writing and posting my own original content, and re-blogging posts of others whom I read and / or follow. I finally found what is ideal for me, and what fits into my schedule more easily.

I find that publishing no less than one, and no more than five, posts on any given day is a fair number. Not too much and not too little, and spacing the time between posts is definitely helpful. I discovered this while using my back-up computer, which would direct me to the “Reader” portion of my blog instead of right to my Dashboard – I can safely say that I prefer the “Dashboard” view! Why? Well, on the “Reader” view, there would be literally 10 or more posts from one blogger, published three minutes apart, making it virtually impossible for me to read all of the blog-posts of those that I follow. These blogs have been organized into different categories in my bookmarked websites for ease of viewing, since different blogs have different schedules.

Another thing that I’ve discovered during these six years of WordPress blogging: a daily blogging / writing habit is a good thing to have, but missing a day here or there isn’t bad or something to feel guilty about. Taking a break from any work-schedule or fun hobby is a necessity, at times! Just as the weekends are a break from work (not for everyone, of course), or a “rest day” between workouts is a break for your muscles, having a day where you post nothing at all is a break for both yourself and your readers – especially if they follow too many blogs to reasonably keep up with! Also, sometimes there are those days where it’s just impossible to get online for whatever reason: travel, power outages, exploding computers, or any other unexpected life events that happen because…that’s life!

Anyway, I will do two or three re-blogs per week, and focus a bit more on my own posts and projects. I’m the only one promoting myself, so I need to get a bit more serious about it! Getting distracted by people who offer no help, advice, or assistance isn’t doing me or my manuscript much good, so it’s time to change things up a bit.

The changing of the seasons and the approaching full moon have inspired me positively, it would seem! Time to separate the wheat from the chaff and cull the herd, once again…I think that it’s long overdue.

Ready for some music? I know that I am!

😎

Excerpt: The Wild Hunt

*** Author’s Note: This is one of many chapters which has been considerably condensed, for the purpose of posting this excerpt. For the full story, you will have to read the book! ***

😎

They walk in silence to the secluded grove. He has been here many times; for her, it will be her first visit…but not her last. Her thoughts drift back as she follows him through the dense forest, recalling the events that led her here…

She is brought quickly back to the present as they emerge in the small clearing. The statue of the Forest Lord stands tall before them, brandishing a spear. His antlered aspect is fierce; his human torso well-formed and muscular. His two wolf companions snarl in stone effigy at his feet, worrying a boar.

The tall, broad-shouldered, wild-haired man turns to face her, his ice-blue eyes blazing in the moonlight that filters through the thick branches. “I ask you one final time, youngling – is this what you truly wish? Once this gift is given, it cannot be undone. You will be forever changed. For good or ill, none will ever be able to deceive you again. You will also never be able to speak a lie, no matter how small or insignificant. The truths that many wish to conceal will be laid bare…including your own.” She meets his gaze as he speaks, heeding his words and taking them into her heart and soul. This is the first time in…days? Months? in which her thoughts have been clear. If the curse laid upon her by the foul, wretched vampires can be lifted, she is willing to pay any price. Deceit is what laid her low and brought her here. She intends to see the cure through, and live with the blessings and the curse that it brings. Anything, other than death, is better than that disgusting affliction.

He finishes his short speech: “You will also be more susceptible to poisons, but immune to any and all diseases – including that of the blood-fever. You will be able to sense infections in others, even the unseen ills of the mind, and cure some of them – but, be mindful that you don’t deplete yourself in doing so.” He smiles and lays a large hand gently on her shoulder. “Not all are deserving of this blessing, and not all are capable of shouldering the responsibility that goes with it. You are one of the chosen few. Remember this.” She bows her head in acknowledgement. She has felt low and unworthy of anything as of late. Her whispered and shrieked, feverish prayers had been answered. She was not going to question this man’s reappearance in her life. Their paths had crossed, briefly, nearly a year ago. He was now her savior.

She raises her head, meeting his gaze again. “I’m ready,” she says softly. She extends her hand, palm up, and waits. He takes it – and, with a quick motion, bites into the flesh at the base of her thumb, just hard enough to draw blood. He licks at the red ooze briefly, then kisses her wrist, pats her hand gently and lowers it. “There – you have been marked.” He gazes at a blazing portal that is materializing in mid-air, just in front of the statue of the Forest Lord. “That is the entrance to the trial-grounds. Succeed or fail – there is no other option. Either way, you will be free of the blood-fever. This is your test alone.” He turns away and walks back the way they had come.

She calls after him. “Wait…please, I need to know your name. The one who saved my life must be given due honour.” He stops for a moment. He doesn’t turn around as he speaks. “Your life is your own to save – I only gave you my assistance. Still, if it must be known…return to me if you pass the trials. You will earn the right to know my name, if it is that important to you.” He half-turns then, a smile curving his beard and lifting the corners of his thick, salt-and-pepper mustache. “You will know that, and more, if you wish. The choice will be yours.” He tosses off a smart salute and vanishes into the dense forest.

She turns back to the portal, facing its blazing light. Giving a final glance up at the moons peeping through the thick branches overhead, she strides purposefully forward and enters the portal. The Wild Hunt begins…

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: