What’s that?

The last couple of days I have been busy working away on a few things. Today has been the most important. I got the edits back for Dragon’s Flame, put up the pre-order, and started working on the revisions. It is up for pre-order for 99 cents right now, and will be released on the 29th.

The edits are going well, and there are only some minor reworking to do, but over all I’m pretty happy about this novel. Then back to working on Dragon’s Blood.

I’ve also been finishing Costume Shop, my first children’s story. It will be a chapter book, with an R.L. Stine feel to it. And it will be out in time for Halloween.

I’ve also been updating a lot of my covers. A few months ago I did a complete over-hall of my Illicit Gains series, I thought it was about time to redo the text on my Small Bites short stories series. The text just looked so boring next to all the other ones. With the new text I think I’m happier with the covers.

5min – Rutines 

I’m trying to get into a new routine to make editing and writing work for me. 

Edit one chapter in the morning before work. A bit of writing on a different project after work. Another chapter of editing after writing, if I can. Even with one or two chapters edited a day I should get this first book finished and edited by the end of the week, which is when I need to get it to my editor. 

This project has been a lot more challenging than the first trilogy. Partly because I’m building an entire world from scratch, including how the mythos of creation and the magic system works. There are no elves, no dwarves, no other races in this series except humans, dragons, and ifrits. The magic is still elemental based, but works more like alchemy than  it did in my other series. 

It’s been fun to design a whole new world. I can’t wait to share it! 

And that’s my five. 

Review: Marked by Magic by Jasmine Walt

I just finished the fourth book in the Baine Chronicles, Marked by Magic, by Jasmine Walt, and I just had to share it.

I love this series. So many parallels to the real world, and yet still firmly rooted in it’s own magical world. A lot of action, and some romance, with a lot of mystery and political maneuvering. From the ending I think there might be more political intrigue in the next book as certain people try getting in between the main character and her romance. Looking forward to that as well.

This is quickly becoming my favorite series to read this year. Without coming out and saying it directly, Miss Walt manages to talk about difficulties when different races, religions, and political beliefs clash. By using a person that has never quite fit into any of those spaces, and suddenly gets thrust into the world that she has been taught to despise her entire life, Miss Walt is able to show the ugliest parts, while also showing that there are good people out there too, and most of them are just trying to feed their family and get by.

The world, itself, is fascinating, too. Magic, steam power, and the budding influence of technology. They have electricity, but they don’t have automation. Steam cars, and air ships, but guns and minting actual gold coins is illegal. I love the way she builds this world, and balances the three races of human, shifter, and mage.

For this specific book in the series Miss Baine has a target on her back, and has to get to the bottom of the renegades before someone gets to her first. While there is romance, this book is more about Miss Baine learning to control herself, and her actions than it is the romance.

All in all a great book, and series. I’m glad I picked up the whole set.

 

You can pick up the first book in the series, Burned by Magic, for 99 cents!

Dragon’s Flame – Chapter 1

The first chapter of Dragon’s Flame, book 1 in the half blood sorceress series.

****************

Winter descended from the mountains, a cloak of ice wrapped about his shoulders. A living force of nature, his very presences consumed all before him.

A blanket of snow and ice spread out at his feet, the earth crunching beneath his foot falls. A shroud of mist hung with baited breath behind him, waiting for his invitation to slip down into the valley and consume all before it.

Even the sun, once bright and warm in its track, cast a cold glow upon the frozen landscape. Brittle ice caked outstretched tree limbs, weighing them down and snapping off the fragile ends. Dark rich earth and pale green grass gave way to a blanket of cold crystals as he passed.

Silence enshrouded the unnatural winter as birds fell from the sky, and rodents scrambled into dens, never to emerge, their blood frozen. No being could come near to the vision of ice. For miles nothing ventured beyond the grip of winter. No sound. No animal. And no man. Nothing save the wind, and footfalls of the one carrying ice in his very soul.

Word spread of winter’s passage, and villages fled south in terror. But few men lived in the north near the mountains, and fewer in the path of winter’s fury. The great leaders of the cities to the south did not see the danger creeping steadily closer to them. They could not feel the cold of winter, or hear the fury of the winds descending from the mountain.

To the south where men slept peacefully in their beds, ignorant of the danger approaching.

~

C-1 Mother

 

Soft light fell in a dappled pattern across my mother’s bed, like lace made from sunbeams. I hung the lace curtains for her just two summers ago when the sunlight had become too much for her weakening body.
I sat on the edge of her bed, taking her hand in mine. So thin. It was like clutching a skeleton with thin paper wrapped over her birdlike bones.

This was my mother, or what was left of her. Only thirty-eight and she was succumbing to a wasting disease that no cleric could seem to heal. Not that there had been many clerics visiting our small village.
“It won’t be much longer,” she said.

I had to lean forward to hear her words, like crushed leaves on the breeze, cracking and popping as she spoke.

“Don’t say that, mom,” I protested, clutching her hand just a bit tighter. “You can’t go yet. You haven’t even given me away at my wedding. And what will dad do without you? He needs you. We both do.”
She reached up with her other hand and patted me. “You’ll do just fine, Sybel. You’re stronger than you think. You’ll be ruling the world in no time.”

I smiled, I couldn’t help it, even at this stage. Mother always had an odd sense of humor. Ruling the world? From the back of a plow horse? A farmer’s wife didn’t rule much more than her kitchen. I might not have been a wife yet, but I knew it would come soon, and all the stories of mages and dragons mother shared with me would be replaced with babies and laundry.

“And dad?” I asked.

“Don’t be too harsh on him, Sybel. Your dad’s been through a lot more than he’s willing to admit. He’s been there for us, more than I had any right for. He loved me when I couldn’t love myself. Things might get difficult for you after I’m gone, but remember that somewhere inside him there is love.”

I didn’t understand it then, but my mother already knew what would happen when she passed onto the other side. She had been married to my father for twenty years, and knew all too well his temper. I knew it too, and had been on the wrong side of it more often than not. I tried to brush it off, to remind myself that he loved me, but it had gotten harder to do so since mother took ill. He’d been rougher than usual.

I’d done my best to hide the bruise on my arm where he’d gripped it a bit too hard. It wouldn’t do to upset mother on her deathbed.

I didn’t want to admit that it was her deathbed, but there was no denying it anymore. She was dying and there was nothing I could do. No wizard to call. No demon to summon. My mother was going to slip into the next world, and it would be soon.

What would I do afterward?

“I’ll remember, mother,” I said, and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. Her skin was warm beneath my lips, and smelled of sour elderberries. It was the smell of wine, and sleep, something she’d been imbibing in far more lately. I couldn’t even try to be upset with her, I could see how much pain each movement was causing.

The wasting disease had come on two summers before, slowly creeping inside her. First she couldn’t stand for very long, and took to working the farm from a chair that I carted around for her. Then she couldn’t stay awake for long periods of time and started taking naps throughout the day. At the beginning of the spring when others were out sowing the seeds for the next harvest my mother couldn’t rise from her bed. Her muscles had atrophied, leaving behind a husk of the woman I’d known. The strong jaw, and quick smile had been replaced by a skull covered in thin parchment.

The sicker mother became the angry father seemed.

“The garden just hasn’t been the same without you,” I said. It sounded hollow, even to me, but I had to say something. Didn’t I? Tired platitudes about getting well seemed out of place. There was no getting well, not anymore, and we both knew it.

“I’m tired, Sybel. I think it’s time I rest.”

The finality in her words sent a shiver down my spine. But there was a smaller part of me that was glad. Mother had been in pain for so long, I just wanted her pain to end. If that meant letting her go then I would do it. No matter how much it hurt.

I kissed her forehead again, and let go of her hand.

“Did you want father to come in and kiss you goodnight as well?”

The way I said goodnight, it sounded like the end of a long journey to me. Perhaps mother heard it because she sighed and gave me a wan smile before shaking her head. I couldn’t blame her. The way father had been acting it wouldn’t be a good way for her to go into the long sleep. I think she held on as long as she did because of him, but now the wasting disease was too much. She was ready.

I smiled back, and patted her hand.

Then I slowly stood, and turned my back on her, walking away.

It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It felt like I was giving her permission to die. After all the years she had held on for me and my father, it felt like the right thing to do. She was hurting, and staying would do nothing for her but cause her more pain.

I could handle myself, and father if need be. But at that moment we didn’t matter any longer, I could only think of her failing strength, and the relief that seemed to emanate from her at that moment.

I left, knowing it would be the last time I would see my mother alive. And I didn’t look back.

Fire and Ice

I’ve been working on the new cover for the first book in “The Half Blood Sorceress” series. Book one, Dragon’s Flame, is finished. Well, the first draft is. I have a few things to clean up before sending it off to the editor, but I am hoping to have it out soon (in relitive terms).

The back of the book:

A tragedy. A secret. A journey to find the truth.

Sybel watched as her mother burned on a funeral pyre, but she never expected her father to push her into the flames. When Sybel survives the pyre without a single burn she’s banished from the village for reasons she doesn’t understand.
With more questions than answers, Sybil’s only hope is to make a treacherous journey to find the wise mages of Kemoor. As she ventures out beyond the edges of her village she finds a world filled with dangers; massive creatures, vindictive humans, and an ice cold wind blowing from the north. A wind that is far more sinister than anyone suspects.
Now the girl who would not burn must trust in unlikely allies to save her life, and discover the truth…

And the best part is I’ve already written most of book two. I’m hoping to have books one and two out this year, with the third one next year some time. I have at least a five book arc for this series.

The Half Blood Sorceress is not part of the same world as my Witch’s Trilogy. In the Witch’s Trilogy there are many sentient creatures created by the elements. In The Half Blood Sorceress series there are three races; humans, dragons, and ifrits. The world building of these two series was so completely different. Peyllen (the world of Witch’s Trilogy) took years to flesh out. But because of all that world building the mythos of Peyllen is an entire series of it’s own that I’m still writing.

The Half Blood Sorceress is different in a lot of ways, and so is the experience of creating the world, and writing the stories. I honestly can’t wait to get it out and hear what others have to say about it.

Free Books

Just a quick note to let you know that I have two free short stories this weekend.

Twilight Tales has three short stories, and The Camera is about a  young boy that finds a camera with an unusual ability. It’s inspired from an old Stephen King short story.

There will be two more short stories available for free each weekend for the rest of April.

The beginning is often the hardest story to tell.

A few weeks ago I announced on the Bradbury Challenge that I would be finishing, and publishing, Witch’s Sight. I finally finished writing it tonight, now it just needs a bit of an edit. However, I wanted to give everyone here a quick peek behind the scenes. You get to read it before anyone else.

As you probably know, the Witch’s Trilogy is now finished. While finishing up the last book in the series I started thinking about the origin of the Little Mother, and how she made her own escape from the acolytes. That tale is here, in Witch’s Sight.

I love this world, and I’m going to keep coming back to it with new books down the road. It is such a wonderful world to write in. However, the other stories I have planned for the world of Peyllen don’t take place in the Sea of Tears. They are in the far distant realms beyond the edge of the sea. I will eventually be making a website specifically for Peyllen with a timeline, maps, and some more information about the world at large.

For now, I’m off to write in a different direction, taking a short break from Peyllen to see what other mischief I can get into.

And, as promised, here is Witch’s Sight.

***************

~~Witch’s Sight ~~

Katrina sat in a sea of people, all of them moving at once. They were big as trees, towering over her. Though she clung to mama’s hand, Katrina shivered. The big people were screaming at someone, shouting and calling names. Names she’d never heard before. But she didn’t need to know what they were to know they were bad. Just the way they screamed them out told her so.

The bodies pressed in, jostling her against mama, and she clung with all her might as the sea of people tried to sweep her away.

“Mama!” she screamed, but no one could hear her above all the voices, the screaming. The crying.

Mama grabbed her, and pulled her up into her arms. Safer, Katrina sunk down into mama’s embrace, feeling mama tighten her grip, keeping her safe from the crowds.

“Look away, Katrina,” mama cried. “Don’t look!”

It was an order. Mama gave so few orders, and Katrina tried to obey them all. She did now, shutting her eyes tight as she lay her head against mama’s shoulder. But the commotion outside her mother’s embrace was too enticing. Katrina wanted to look, wanted to see what the people were yelling at, and wanted to see what angered them so.

She blinked, catching glimpses of people towering over a small figure at their feet. Another blink, red blood covering the small figures face, hair a mess.

It was a girl with short hair lying on the ground. The girl tried to scramble to her feet, slipping on the wet stones. She wasn’t much bigger then Jamie, Katrina’s neighbor who came to watch Katrina when mama was in the fields. But Jamie was always smiling and happy, this girl was crying. Dirty tear tracks ran down her face, and she pulled herself away from the crowd, clawing at the stone to get away.

“Why are they so mad, mama? Did she do something bad?”

“Look away, Katrina. You’re so young. You shouldn’t see this.”

Mama pushed through the crowd, elbowing people to get out of the way. Katrina watched as the tiny figure got swallowed up by the crowds, and still she could not understand why they were hurting the girl.

****Join the mailing list for the full story.***

Magic Systems

Another FAQ from reddit.

I’m not very experienced in terms of magic systems. So I thought about going sort of Final Fantasy (black, blue, red, white) classification. Can I use latin names for my spells? Is it tacky? I can’t think of imaginative ways to name my spells rather than that. Will it sound too Harry Potter-esque?

Spells have been done in all sorts of unique and interesting ways, from ingesting pieces of metal in the Mistborn series, to land magic in MTG, transmutation alchemy in “Full Metal Alchemist” and energy magic in Krynn.

The most common magic system is based on the mind and/or elemental magic. The red/blue/red of Final Fantasy is one of them.

For a magic system of your own you can borrow from the classics and adjust it, or you can create your own and make up your own names for it. Latin is perfectly fine and has been used before. It is not tacky, though some might think it’s over done. (Besides, “tacky” is in the eye of the beholder and I happen to love several series where the wizard yells out a spell word/name to cast. Like Dresden.)

To create your own magic system I suggest starting with these questions: 
What does it cost to cast?
How is it cast? (words, items, gestures, etc.)
What does it feed on?
What does it effect?
Who can cast?
What is the negative side of the magic?

This should get you on the right track.

Witch’s Curse: Chapter 1

Witch's Curse smIn celebration of the release of my new book, Witch’s Curse, here is the first chapter.

You can get the novel here. It is the sequel to “Witch’s Sacrifice“.

*********

Blood. Sweat. Pain. Hunger.

Each new hurt layered on top of another until Brother Hawk had nothing left in his mind but anger to feed him. How long had he been trapped in the cage? Days? Weeks? Months? After centuries, his perception of time was clouded, and with no window to the outside world he had nothing to go on. He only knew that he hadn’t been fed since being locked in. His feathers were dull and grimy, dragging his skin down with layers of dirt. His tongue rasped along the dry roof of his mouth, trying to find saliva and failing.

“You! Fetch water,” a voice demanded outside the gray bars.

More torture, Brother Hawk thought. Not a new torture, either. Dangle the water, or the choice bit of flesh just outside the bars. Get the bird to scramble, clawing for it. Then take it away. An old torture. The only time he reacted to it now was when he could not claw down the savage hunger burning in his throat.

Today he could. Today he lay listless on the floor, his tongue rolling in dust. His wings spread out as far as they could in the cramped cell. Today they would find no reaction. Not until they brought the pokers, and knives.

The grating of metal on metal roused him enough to look, still moving nothing but his eyes. The door creaked open, the sound tearing into his ears. The door hadn’t been open in so long, but he was too tired to try to do anything about it. Not that a mad dash to freedom would have ended well. The curse saw to that.

A white-robed figure stepped through the door, a blurry shape against the dark background, a blob of brown swinging at his side. The smell of good, clean water, not the festering miasma of rotting slime the acolytes usually brought, made his nostrils flare, but still Brother Hawk would not succumb to the torture. He fought down the urge to drink. The urge to lunge for the pail.

The white shape knelt beside Brother Hawk and slowly lifted the brown blob closer. Water sloshed inside, the sound assaulting his ears with hope.

“Drink, Brother Hawk,” the man said. “You will not be denied this time.”

Brother Hawk blinked, the figuring getting a little less blurry. A mat of thick red hair. A bushy beard. Piercing black eyes. Were they black? They seemed black in his addled state.

Brother Hawk sucked in a deeper breath, his beak clacking together as the chains rattled around him.

“Get these chains off him,” the voice said, harsh and forceful.

“But, sir,” a plaintive voice called. Halbend. The jailer. Putrid slime that he was, Halbend didn’t ever want to let Brother Hawk free. Not as long as he lived.

“What did I say?” the white robe asked, his voice hard as steel.

“Y-yes, sir.”

Another figure entered the room. Keys rattled. Chains moved. The heavy weight lifted from him, then another chain slammed down on his back, a small squawk of surprise exiting his beak.

A sudden rush of movement, and a large weight slammed against the far side of the cell. Brother Hawk blinked again, clearing the fog enough to see the white robe towering over the prone form of Halbend.

“I have been sent to be keeper and master of Brother Hawk, and if any of you filthy swine so much as lay a hand on him or damage a single feather I will make sure that your last days are spent in the same cell he once occupied, carrying the same chains. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Halbend cried, scrambling back against the bars.

“Now get a stretcher in here, and food. Fresh meat, not that filth you swine eat.”

Halbend scrambled up, bowing and scraping as he exited the chamber, leaving the white robe all alone.

Brother Hawk could have attacked then. Tortured and broken he might be, but there was still some kick left in him. The curse saw to that. Never dying, yet always wishing for death.

Something about this young white robe told Brother Hawk to use caution. He wasn’t like the jailers, or even the high priest. Not prone to beat first and ask questions later. How long would that last?

Curiosity more than anything kept Brother Hawk from attacking. He wanted to know what this white robe would do.

“I was chosen to care for you,” the man said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk’s beak. “I mean to do it.”

The man began ladling water from the bucket over Brother Hawk’s beak. Pure water. No taint, or piss, or foul dead thing to be found. Just water. His tongue lapped at the rivulets. He wanted to dive into the bucket. Suck it down.

“Not too quickly,” the man said. “I’m sure it’s been some time since you’ve had decent food and water, but take it slow. You’ll make yourself sick. The curse can only protect you so much.”

Brother Hawk squawked, his beak clacking together as the water was taken away, but it returned, slowly dribbling down his parched throat. He stilled, sucking down the life-giving water.

Something touched Brother Hawk’s head, and he flinched before steeling his nerves. It was never good to flinch in front of the enemy. His moment of weakness could be his undoing. But the gentle pressure returned, stroking his head, accompanied by soothing words and trills.

“You’ve been poorly treated, Brother Hawk,” the voice said. “I’m sorry. They have no excuse for the cruelties leveled on you. Now that I’ve been tasked with your care, that will change.”

Boots tromped down the stairs. The water was taken away only to be replaced with rough hands lifting Brother Hawk onto thick canvas. A stretcher. He was hoisted up then carried out of the jail cell under the watchful eye of the white-robed acolyte. The disdain of the men carrying the stretcher radiated out from them. It ran deeper than blood, but their fear of the white-robed man ran deeper.

The stretcher bounced and jostled, carrying Brother Hawk up the long flight of stairs. The same stairs that once brought him to his prison, a journey he scarcely remembered after years of being locked in the dark. The ride through the darkness gave the curse time to work on his body, using the water he’d been given to hydrate dry muscles, and lubricate joints. His eyesight started to improve, giving him a clearer view of his captors. Figures swam into focus, their angry faces studiously focused ahead while the white robe led the way.

Did the journey down the stairwell seem like such a long walk? He couldn’t remember. Time played tricks with his mind, faded some memories while making other things sharp. He could still recall the dull echoes of boot heels on stone steps, their faint shuffling pinging from every surface around them, as they did now. Still smell the blood of his jailers, ripped apart by beak and talon as they tried to subdue him.

At the top of the stairwell the large wooden door lay open. The faint scent of fresh sea air made his nostrils flair. Dim sunlight cut like a knife through the doorway, dust falling through the still air in little white streams.

As they carried Brother Hawk out of the stairwell and into the upper chambers, the air seemed to lighten around him. A weight being lifted. The air lost the staleness that he had come to find normal. The fetid, rotten odors that assaulted his senses however long he’d been down there were gone.

The white robe did not stop in the antechambers as Brother Hawk thought he might. He kept going, into the courtyard where sunlight brightened the earth and summer winds danced through tree limbs. Brother Hawk could see it through the windows. Smell the leaves, grass, and flowers. Taste the salt in the air. And while he wanted that, wanted the sun on his body and the warmth of the earth around him, wanted freedom, part of him balked. It was so open beyond the door. So vibrant.

The acolytes carried Brother Hawk across the threshold and into the courtyard. Sunlight assaulted his great orbs, the pain lancing through his skull. He screeched, and flailed on the tiny canvas stretcher, causing the men to drop him to the ground.

“You idiot!” the white robe called. “Be more careful with him. It’s a bird, not a demon.”

“They’re one in the same, ain’t they?” one of the acolytes asked.

There was a thump, and Brother Hawk blinked, adjusting to the light, only to see one of the acolytes sprawled on the floor, his hand pressed to a growing bruise on his face.

“Go get him some ice,” he said to one of the men nearby then turned to another acolyte, jabbing at him with a large meaty finger. “You start feeding him. Slowly.”

“But sir,” the plump acolyte cried, “the bird’s dangerous.”

“No more so than I am. Now see to your brother. Go, bring hot water.”

They scrambled off in different directions, leaving the hurt acolyte to crawl to his feet and wander off on his own.

The white-robed acolyte came closer, kneeling beside Brother Hawk to look him in the eye.

“I’ve been told something of you, Brother Hawk. They say you’ve been bound by the blood of the kraken. That you’re a man trapped in a bird’s form. I think we can be of service to one another. As you see, I have some standing among the brothers.”

The acolyte withdrew a leather thong with a single green stone on it.

“As you can see, I hold your bond. The high priest left you to my charge. He’s lost all interest in your plight, but I still think you can be useful. However, I am not a cruel man. No creature deserves to be caged and tortured for years on end. Especially a creature with a gift of the kraken. Like you, Brother Hawk.”

The acolytes returned, burdened with heavy buckets of hot water, towels, soap, and smaller pails of fresh meats cut into small cubes.

Brother Hawk had lost sense of time long ago in the deep dark of the dungeon. Now the sun slowly crossed the sky while the white-robed priest washed each of his feathers in between handfuls of raw meat. Minutes stretched into hours during his careful ministrations.

Brother Hawk stretched, his wings snapping and straining against long disuse. Each joint cracked as he moved, his muscles burning as the curse brought them back to health. Lighter without the years of grime and muck. Deep black feathers, glistening in the last of the sunlight. All the while he could feel the curse working to restore his withered body.

The curse. Any other creature would have died, lost and forgotten in the pitch black of a dungeon. While Brother Hawk felt the gnawing hunger, and his body slowly shut itself down over time, the curse would not allow him the mercy of death. He kept lingering, the hunger gnawing at his bones, unable to move. Unable to seek freedom.

Once clean and fed, the white robe sent the acolytes away again then sat beside Brother Hawk. They contemplated each other, black orbs of the hawk reflecting back from the dark-brown eyes of the acolyte.

“We are not so different, you and I,” the acolyte said.

Brother Hawk snorted but did not move.

“It’s true,” he protested. “We are both bound to the acolytes, bound to serve the kraken. We are both forced to do the will of the high priest, whatever he may ask. It’s true that your curse leaves you no option, but my only option is death if I fail to serve.”

Brother Hawk tilted his head to the side, blinking at the acolyte, unable to disagree but unable to comment with more than a squawk.

“You wonder why I bother with you?”

Brother Hawk nodded.

“I think we can help one another. I think that there is much we could learn from each other. High Priest Nagiz is old; his time grows short, and no one knows who will take his place. But any change in the head leaves an opening for the body to shift, yes? There are things about the acolytes that even the most diehard adherents cannot stomach, like torturing defenseless birds for pleasure. Perhaps, together, we could change at least some of that.”

Brother Hawk blinked.

The white-robed man chuckled. “It is difficult to have a conversation with a bird. Perhaps it is time for us to change that. Brother Hawk, it’s time that you were set free from your prison. Be a man.”

The change grabbed ahold of him before he had time to prepare, rippling through his body like fire ants on the hunt. Muscles spasmed, pulling tight as feathers faded away. Wings shrank into fingers and arms. Legs grew, thickening and lengthening. The beak shriveled back into his skull, replaced by soft skin, pale white and threaded with bright lines where he’d been inflicted with cuts and welts by his captors.

Lying on the ground, panting and shivering, the naked man that was once a hawk gasped for breath.

“Be careful now,” the white robe said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk. “You’ve been locked in the hawk’s form for almost thirty years now. Take some time to find your legs again before straining yourself.”

“Thirty?” Brother Hawk’s voice sounded rusted and dry even to his own ears.

“Yes, thirty years. I only found out about you five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get enough seniority to take you into my care. As far as High Priest Nagiz is concerned, you are my charge from now till the end of time.”

Brother Hawk looked up at him, blinking with two brown eyes larger than any man had a right to have. Being cursed to be a hawk had marred his body over the centuries in more ways than he knew.

“Who…who are you?” the man, once hawk, gasped out.

The white robe smiled as he helped Brother Hawk to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled.

“My name is Alistir.”

The first chapter

As I’m getting close to finishing “Witch’s Curse” (the sequel to Witch’s Sacrifice) I thought I should put up the first chapter in one convenient spot so anyone could read it. This is a bit of a prolog showing how Brother Hawk and Alistir met. You might also want to follow me on Google Plus where I will be adding short snippets from the rest of the book most Saturdays till release.

*** Chapter One ***

Blood. Sweat. Pain. Hunger.

Each new hurt layered on top of another until Brother Hawk had nothing left in his mind but anger to feed him. How long had he been trapped in the cage? Days? Weeks? Months? After centuries his perception of time was clouded, and with no window to the outside world he had nothing to go on. He only knew that he hadn’t been fed since being locked in. His feathers were dull and grimy, dragging his skin down with layers of dirt. His tongue rasped along the dry roof of his mouth, trying to find saliva and failing.

“You, fetch water,” a voice demanded outside the gray bars.

More torture, Brother Hawk thought. Not a new torture, either. Dangle the water, or the choice bit of flesh just outside the bars. Get the bird to scramble, clawing for it. Then take it away. Old. The only time he reacted to it now was when he could not claw down the savage hunger burning in his throat.

Today he could. Today he lay listless on the floor, his tongue rolling in dust. His wings spread out as far as they could in the cramped cell. Today they would find no reaction. Not until they brought the pokers, and knives.

The grating of metal on metal roused him enough to look, still moving nothing but his eyes. The door creaked open, the sound tearing into his ears. The door hadn’t been open in so long, but he was too tired to try to do anything about it. Not that a mad dash to freedom would have ended well. The curse saw to that.

A white robed figure stepped through the door, a blurry shape against the dark background, a blob of brown swinging at his side. The smell of good, clean water, not the festering miasma of rotting slime the acolytes usually brought, made his nostrils flare, but still Brother Hawk would not succumb to the torture. He fought down the urge to drink. The urge to lunge for the pail.

The white shape knelt beside Brother Hawk and slowly lifted the brown blob closer. Water sloshed inside, the sound assaulting his ears with hope.

“Drink, Brother Hawk,” the man said. “You will not be denied this time.”

Brother Hawk blinked, the figuring getting a little less blurry. A mat of thick red hair. A bushy beard. Piercing black eyes. Were they black? They seemed black in his addled state.

Brother Hawk sucked in a deeper breath, his beak clacking together as the chains rattled around him.

“Get these chains off him,” the voice said, harsh and forceful.

“But, sir,” a plaintive voice called. Halbend. The jailer. Putrid slime that he was, Halbend didn’t ever want to let Brother Hawk free. Not as long as he lived.

“What did I say?” the white robe asked, his voice hard as steel.

“Y-yes sir.”

Another figure entered the room. Keys rattled. Chains moved. The heavy weight lifted from him, then another chain slammed down on his back, a small squawk of surprise exiting his beak.

A sudden rush of movement, and a large weight slammed against the far side of the cell. Brother Hawk blinked again, clearing the fog enough to see the white robe towering over the prone form of Halbend.

“I have been sent to be keeper and master of Brother Hawk, and if any of you filthy swine so much as lay a hand on him or damage a single feather I will make sure that your last days are spent in the same cell he once occupied, carrying the same chains. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Halbend cried, scrambling back against the bars.

“Now get a stretcher in here, and food. Fresh meat, not that filth you swine eat.”

Halbend scrambled up, bowing and scraping as he exited the chamber leaving the white robe all alone.

Brother Hawk could have attacked then. Tortured and broken he might be, but there was still some kick left in him. The curse saw to that. Never dying, yet always wishing for death.

Something about this young white robe told Brother Hawk to use caution. He wasn’t like the jailers, or even the high priest. Not prone to beat first and ask questions later. How long would that last?

Curiosity more than anything kept Brother Hawk from attacking. He wanted to know what this white robe would do.

“I was chosen to care for you,” the man said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk’s beak. “I mean to do it.”

The man began ladling water from the bucket over Brother Hawks beak. Pure water. No taint, or piss, or foul dead thing to be found. Just water. His tongue lapped at the rivulets. He wanted to dive into the bucket. Suck it down.

“Not too quickly,” the man said. “I’m sure it’s been some times since you’ve had decent food and water, but take it slow. You’ll make yourself sick. The curse can only protect you so much.”

Brother Hawk squawked, his beak clacking together as the water was taken away, but it returned, slowly dribbling down his parched throat. He stilled, sucking down the life giving water.

Something touched Brother Hawk’s head and he flinched before stealing his nerves. It was never good to flinch in front of the enemy. His moment of weakness could be his undoing. But the pressure returned, stroking his head, accompanied by soothing words and trills.

“You’ve been poorly treated, Brother Hawk,” the voice said. “I’m sorry. They have no excuse for the cruelties leveled on you. Now that I’ve been tasked with your care that will change.”

Boots tromped down the stairs. The water was taken away only to be replaced with rough hands lifting Brother Hawk onto thick canvas. A stretcher. He was hoisted up, then carried out of the jail cell under the watchful eye of the white robed acolyte. The disdain of the men carrying the stretcher radiated out from them. It ran deeper then blood, but their fear of the white robed man ran deeper.

The stretcher bounced and jostled, carrying Brother Hawk up the long flight of stairs. The same stairs that once brought him to his prison, a journey he scarcely remembered after years of being locked in the dark. The ride through the darkness gave the curse time to work on his body, using the water he’d been given to hydrate dry muscles, and lubricate joints. His eyesight started to improve giving him a clearer view of his captors. Figures swam into focus, their angry faces studiously focused ahead while the white robe led the way.

Did the journey down the stairwell seem like such a long walk? He couldn’t remember. Time played tricks with his mind, faded some memories while making other things sharp. He could still recall the dull echoes of boot heels on stone steps, their faint shuffling pinging from every surface around them, just as they did now. Still smell the blood of his jailers, ripped apart by beak and talon as they tried to subdue him.

At the top of the stairwell the large wooden door lay open. The faint scent of fresh sea air made his nostrils flair. Dim sunlight cut like a knife through the doorway, dust falling through the still air in little white streams.

As they carried Brother Hawk out of the stairwell and into the upper chambers the air seemed to lighten around him. A weight being lifted. The air lost the staleness that he had come to find normal. The feted rotten odors that assaulted his senses however long he’d been down there were gone.

The white robe did not stop in the antechambers as Brother Hawk thought he might. He kept going, into the courtyard where sunlight brightened the earth, and summer winds danced through tree limbs. Brother Hawk could see it through the windows. Smell the leaves, grass, and flowers. Taste the salt in the air. And while he wanted that, wanted the sun on his body and the warmth of the earth around him, wanted freedom, part of him balked. It was so open beyond the door. So vibrant.

The acolytes carried Brother Hawk across the threshold into the courtyard. Sunlight assaulted his great orbs, the pain lancing through his skull. He screeched, and flailed on the tiny canvas stretcher, causing the men to drop him to the ground.

“You idiot!” the white robe called. “Be more careful with him. It’s a bird not a demon.”

“They’re one in the same, ain’t they?” one of the acolytes asked.

There was a thump and Brother Hawk blinked, adjusting to the light, only to see one of the acolytes sprawled on the floor, his hand pressed to a growing bruise on his face.

“Go get him some ice,” he said to one of the men nearby, then turned to another acolyte, jabbing at him with a large meaty finger. “You start feeding him. Slowly.”

“But sir,” a plump acolyte cried, “the bird’s dangerous.”

“No more so then I am. Now see to your brother. Go, bring hot water.”

They scrambled off in different directions, leaving the hurt acolyte to crawl to his feet and wander off on his own.

The white robed acolyte came closer, kneeling beside Brother Hawk to look him in the eye.

“I’ve been told something of you, Brother Hawk. They say you’ve been bound by the blood of the kraken. That you’re a man trapped in a birds form. I think we can be of service to one another. As you see, I have some standing among the brothers.”

The acolyte withdrew a leather thong with a single green stone on it.

“As you can see, I hold your bond. The high priest left you to my charge. He’s lost all interest in your plight, but I still think you can be useful. However, I am not a cruel man. No creature deserves to be caged and tortured for years on end. Especially a creature with a gift of the kraken. Like you, Brother Hawk.”

The acolytes returned burdened with heavy buckets of hot water, towels, soap and smaller pails of fresh meats cut into small cubes.

Brother Hawk lost sense of time long ago in the deep dark of the dungeon. Now the sun slowly crossed the sky while the white robed priest washed each of his feathers in between handfuls of raw meat. Minutes stretched into hours during his careful ministrations.

Brother Hawk stretched, his wings snapping and straining against long in use. Each joint cracked as he moved, his muscles burning as the curse brought them back to health. Lighter without the years of grime and muck. Bright black feathers, glistening in the last of the sunlight. All the while he could feel the curse working to restore his withered body.

The curse. Any other creature would have died, lost and forgotten in the pitch black of a dungeon. While Brother Hawk felt the gnawing hunger, and his body slowly shut itself down over time, the curse would not allow him the mercy of death. He kept lingering, the hunger gnawing at his bones, unable to move. Unable to seek freedom.

Once clean and fed the white robe sent the acolytes away again, then sat beside Brother Hawk. They contemplated each other, black orbs of the hawk reflecting back from the dark brown eyes of the acolyte.

“We are not so different, you and I,” the acolyte said.

Brother Hawk snorted, but did not move.

“It’s true,” he protested. “We are both bound to the acolytes, bound to serve the kraken. We are both forced to do the will of the high priest, whatever he may ask. It’s true that your curse leaves you no option, but my only option is death if I fail to serve.”

Brother Hawk tilted his head to the side, blinking at the acolyte, unable to disagree, but unable to comment with more than a squawk.

“You wonder why I bother with you?”

Brother Hawk nodded.

“I think we can help one another. I think that there is much we could learn from each other. High Priest Nagiz is old, his time grows short, and no one knows who will take his place just yet. But any change in the head leaves an opening for the body to shift, yes? There are things about the brotherhood that even the most diehard adherents cannot stomach, like torturing defenseless birds pleasure. Perhaps, together, we could change at least some of that.”

Brother Hawk blinked.

The white robed man chuckled. “It is difficult to have a conversation with a bird. Perhaps it is time for us to change that. Brother Hawk, it’s time that you were set free from your prison. Be a man.”

The change grabbed a hold of him before he had time to prepare, rippling through his body like fire ants on the hunt. Muscles spasmed, pulling tight as feathers faded away. Wings shrank into fingers and arms. Legs grew, thickening and lengthening. The beak shriveled back into his skull replaced by soft skin, pale white and threaded with bright lines where he’d been inflicted with cuts and welts by his captors.

Laying on the ground, panting and shiver, the naked man that was once a hawk, gasped for breath.

“Be careful now,” the white robe said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk. “You’ve been locked in the hawks form for almost thirty years now. Take some time to find your legs again before straining yourself.”

“Thirty?” Brother Hawks voice sounded rusted and dry even to his own ears.

“Yes, thirty years. I only found out about you five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get enough seniority to take you into my care. As far as High Priest Nagiz is concerned you are my charge from now till the end of time.”

Brother Hawk looked up at him blinking with two brown eyes larger than any man had a right to have. Being cursed to be a hawk had marred his body in more ways than he knew over the centuries.

“Who…who are you?” the man, once hawk, gasped out.

The white robe smiled as he helped Brother Hawk to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled.

“My name is Alistir.”