Tag Archives: Fantasy

On the Spotlight: THE DEAD LETTER, by Finley Martin

THE DEAD LETTER SYNOPSIS
It is 2001 and the police constable’s girlfriend is murdered in a fit of jealous rage. When the constable realizes what he has done, he manages an elaborate cover-up. Only one person knows the truth. Flash forward to 2012. Anne Brown is still running her late uncle, Bill Darby’s, detective agency after spending four or five years as his assistant. One day, the postman delivers an eleven year-old letter. The letter is addressed to her uncle from a woman named Carolyn Jollimore. She says she has evidence about a murder and begs for help from Darby. But Bill Darby is dead. And when Anne looks up the letter’s author, she finds that Jollimare too is now dead. Troubled with the evidence at hand, Anne must decide if she should investigate this eleven-year old murder.
PURCHASE
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 
Finley’s  Website / Facebook / LinkedIn / Goodreads

Finley Martin was born in Binghamton, New York and grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  He received a B.A. degree in English at the University of Scranton, and during the 1960’s he served as an officer with the United States Marine Corps at posts in America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

After he returned to civilian life, he worked as a free-lance writer, p.r. consultant, and photographer and became public relations director at International Correspondence Schools. In the 70’s he received an M.A. from the University of Ottawa and a B.Ed. from the University of Prince Edward Island.  For many years he taught English literature at high school and writing courses at university.  He has also worked as a truck driver, labourer, carpenter, boat builder, and deckhand aboard commercial fishing vessels and passenger ferries.

During his writing career he published numerous magazine and newspaper articles, poetry, and short stories in Canada and the U.S.  He produced a mini-series for CBC Radio and has given numerous poetry readings.
He authored three books: New Maritime Writing, Square Deal Pub., Charlottetown, PE; A View from the Bridge, Montague, PE; and The Reluctant Detective, The Acorn Press, Charlottetown, PE.


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Interview with Andrew Cratsley, author of Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows

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A native of Honeoye, New York, Andrew Cratsley lives in North Carolina. Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows is his debut novel. Cratsley is a lifelong fan of fantasy books, films, and RPG-style gaming.  A champion of literacy issues and proud supporter of the World Literacy Foundation, Cratsley will donate a portion of the proceeds from Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows to the World Literacy Foundation’s fight against illiteracy.

Twitter: @Mortiscet / www.keeperofrunes.com

https://www.facebook.com/andy.cratsley?fref=ts

Interview

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows. What was your inspiration for it?

A: I can’t point to specifics, but I would blame a life long obsession with fantasy in the form of movies, books, and RPG’s.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: Corinth is a young elf who obsesses with righting the injustices of the world, but like many so young; he must learn himself and the full reality of the world around him. His 3 companions share his depth and face similar transformations throughout the series.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

A: The road is treacherous and painful, but is equally rewarding to complete. It’s an exciting journey interrupted by many writer’s blockades.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: Concise writing and appropriate word choice is what I value most. Adding unnecessary content makes a work read like a weather forecast.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: Not at all. I’m excited and eager to see what my efforts will create. Not all days are fruitful, but the good ones are amazing.

frontcover_444x664Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I’m still figuring all of that out, but the vampire in me releases my creativity after sunset. I don’t why I was born with this internal clock, but it works.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Success is a state of mind, not a list of assets.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: Life should be about achieving happiness and our first step is to figure out what is truly important. This is often difficult to figure out, but you should realize your passions and cultivate them.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: It does take a certain obsession to follow through with such a task. I think something unique drives each of us authors, and the desire to finish what I started is fueling my obsession.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Thank you for taking the time to get to know me, and of course my work. I hope you enjoy, because the story has only begun!

About the Book

An extraordinary coming-of-age fantasy tale written by a dynamic new voice in the world of fantasy, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows has garnered high advance praise.  Kirkus Reviews notes that Cratsley “believably and authentically develop[s] his characters” and calls the book a “promising debut.”  In a Clarion Review, ForeWord Reviews reports that Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows“has all the color, imagination, and drama one might expect from the genre as well as emotional depth.”  Moreover, the review states that the book’s “fast pace and gaming-style characteristics may appeal to more reluctant readers and inspire future fantasy enthusiasts.”

About Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows:  At 120 years old, Corinth is young by elf standards.  But even as a young elf, Corinth is haunted by his sordid past. When he emerges from his solitude within the eternal forest around Enzlintine, Corinth is sent away to quell the troubled region plagued by Khalid, the Lord of Conquest.  But this will be a journey like no other. Corinth bands together with two curious companions—the human ranger Aventis and the oh-so-spirited Nadine—until the trio is captured by an insidious necromancer, Mortiscet. A vile dark elf who forces the group to help his daughter Rieka find a mysterious object, Mortiscet thrusts the group into increasingly dangerous circumstances. Can Rieka escape the clutches of her wicked and overbearing patriarch?  And what will happen when the group launches towards a frigid wasteland in search of the bane of the evil that stalks them?  On this perilous journey, they’ll have to battle assassins, ominous creatures and the forces of Khalid. Expect the unexpected—because sometimes, the best intentions come from the darkest recesses of the heart…

A splendid and magical tale with a captivating storyline, extraordinary characters and a plot brimming with action, intrigue and adventure, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows is a fascinating read that captivates from page one. Resplendent with characters that come to life within the novel’s pages, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows is a beautifully-written, imaginative, and inventive tale.  With its strong central female characters, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows offers a refreshing diversion from fantasy tales that focus largely on male protagonists and male supporting characters.

A mesmerizing work of fantasy geared towards young adults, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows will also appeal to adult readers of fantasy, as well as fans of such fantasy classics such as The Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series.  According to Pacific Book Review, Keepers of Runes and the Tower of Shadows has aspects to entice most any reader, whether lover of fantasy or not…. readers of fantasy will delight in Cratsley’s work.”

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On the Spotlight: Shiloh’s True Nature, by D.W. Raleigh


shilo
Title
: Shiloh’s True Nature

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Author: D.W. Raleigh

Pages: 260

Publisher: Hobbes End Publishing

Purchase at Amazon 

When 12 year-old farm boy Shiloh Williams is sent to stay with his estranged grandfather, he discovers a mysterious new world inhabited by ‘Movers’. The Movers live in symbiotic harmony with one another, except one extremely powerful Mover who has stolen the town’s most precious artifact, the Eternal Flame. Shiloh investigates his supernatural surroundings, makes new friends, and begins to think of the town as home. However, just as soon as he starts to fit in, he realizes his newfound happiness is about to come to an abrupt end. One decision and one extreme consequence are all that remain.

Chapter One

July 20th

Shiloh Williams walked along in the late-afternoon heat, on his way home from the town of Salem. The lanky twelve-year-old brushed his sweat-soaked, brown hair away from his blue eyes with one hand while trying to finish the ice-cream cone he carried in the other. His bare feet were relieved to step off the asphalt main road and onto the narrow, shady dirt path leading to his home.

The dusty, dirt lane was flanked by a vast cornfield to one side and towering black willow trees and intertwined brush on the other. Shiloh inhaled the sweet scent of honeysuckle as he licked the cone, gazing toward the two-story, white Victorian house in the distance. The house was his home, and the cornfield part of his family’s farm. One of the few farms left in the area, his father always liked to mention.

Shiloh was in a good mood: partly because he had spent the day in town playing with some friends, but mostly because this was his first actual vacation day of the summer. Until today, he had been working on the farm all day every day, since school ended. When his father told him he was receiving a two-week break, Shiloh decided he was going to make the most of it and be thankful he didn’t have to work another day in the brutal July heat.

As he strolled along the dusty path, Shiloh heard something rustling in the brush beside him. He turned his head and saw two large black birds only a couple of feet away. The birds cawed as they boldly jumped from branch to branch trying to keep pace with him. He assumed it was the ice cream they were after, so Shiloh tossed the remainder of the cone toward the brush and watched as the birds descended upon it.

Farther along, Shiloh spotted an expensive-looking, black car in front of the house. It was parked next to his father’s battered, old pickup truck, which made any other vehicle look nice. There was a man leaning against the rear of the car wearing a black suit and cap. Shiloh found that strange, considering he was dressed in a white T-shirt and shorts and had been sweating since he stepped outside that morning.

As he drew closer to the house, Shiloh realized his hands were sticky with ice-cream residue. He wasn’t supposed to be eating sweets this close to his suppertime, and knew his mother would scold him if she found out. So he slipped into the cornfield to let the giant stalks conceal his five-foot frame until he could reach the back of the house to wash off undetected.

He quietly snuck through the field and came up behind the giant stack of hay bales perpetually piled at the rear of the house. After glancing around to make sure it was clear, he crept up to the porch and over to the rusty, old spigot. He winced as he slowly turned the squeaky faucet handle, hoping the noise didn’t make it through the kitchen screen door just a few feet away.

As Shiloh cleaned his hands, the aroma of his mother’s cooking filled his nostrils, while the sound of arguing voices filled his ears. When his hands were no longer sticky, he quietly moved over to the back door, and stopped when he could hear the discussion in the kitchen. He immediately recognized one voice as his father’s, but there was another, unfamiliar, rough-sounding man’s voice. It must have been whoever came in the black car, he thought.

Listening intently, Shiloh was startled when something rubbed against his leg. It was one of his cats, Lovie. The gray and black tabby mix rubbed her face against his anklebones as she walked figure eights between his legs. Shiloh knew if Lovie was around, his other feline, Cheepie, couldn’t be far behind. He looked over his shoulder toward the faucet and found the other gray tabby, one that looked like a miniature tiger, entranced by the remaining water droplets dribbling from the nozzle.

His attention returned to the kitchen door when the rough voice said, “I don’t know how you’re keeping this farm productive when all the others in this area have gone under, but whatever you’re doing is going to fail eventually. So you might as well sell it to me before I decide to withdraw my more than generous offer.”

Shiloh imagined the scowl on his father’s face as he heard him answer, “You’ve been trying to get your hands on this property for years, but I’m not going to give it to you. Not now. Not ever. Not at any price. And if there are problems with the soil around here, you need only look in the mirror for the cause.”

“I’ll not be insulted by the likes of you, Joseph Williams. Good day,” the man huffed.

Shiloh heard footsteps, followed by the front door slamming. He was curious about this unfamiliar man, so he leapt off the porch and ran up along the side of the house. In his haste to see the stranger, Shiloh slipped on some pebbles and fell just as he reached the front corner of the house. The man immediately turned toward Shiloh scowling. Shiloh looked up at the stranger, but the bright sunshine kept him from distinguishing any of his features. The one thing Shiloh did notice was, like his driver, the man was dressed all in black, except for a hideously bright orange tie.

The man’s gaze was broken as two black birds descended and began attacking him. The man quickly ducked into the rear of the car, the birds turning their attention to his driver, who ran around to the other side to enter. As the car pulled away, Shiloh noticed it had a peculiar, black license plate with orange lettering reading HAINES.

When the vehicle left his sight, Shiloh returned to the back door, but again paused by the screen door when he heard his father’s agitated voice. “The crops looked a little off today. We definitely need to get some cash together for fertilizer. They could use a dusting too. And on top of that, I haven’t paid Rikki and Peco for a couple weeks. I’m glad I agreed to let them stay in the old barn. Otherwise they might’ve left by now. I’ll need to find a way to make it up to them.”

Shiloh heard the oven door open and close, followed by his mother’s voice, “Are you having second thoughts about Haines’ offer, Joe?”

“What? No! I’ll work the fields alone and eat dirt before I let that man get his hands on this land, Mary,” Joe stubbornly declared.

Mary scoffed. “Okay. Well, I’ll see if I can round up some recipes for dirt . . . just in case.”

Joe chuckled slightly and Shiloh smiled to himself, thinking about the easy way his mother was always able to diffuse his father’s anger.

Joe then noted, “By the way, I spoke to Doc and he said it would be all right. In fact, he suggested it before I even asked.”

“He’s not going to be happy about it,” Mary sighed.

Shiloh frowned, wondering what they were talking about, as Joe continued, “Well, that’s too bad. A vacation is a vacation. He’s almost a man now, and he needs to learn that part of being a man is having to do stuff you don’t want to do.”

Mary snorted sarcastically. “Say it just like that, Joe. That’ll make him feel better about it.”

Joe chuckled again and said, “Give me a break, Mary.”

“I won’t give you a break, but I will give you dinner. Go wash up,” Mary replied with a giggle.

Shiloh heard a chair slide across the kitchen floor and waited until the footsteps faded before opening the screen door. When he stepped through the doorway onto the black and white tile, he found his mother’s tall and slender frame at the sink. As Mary washed her hands, her long sandy-blond hair was illuminated by the sun shining in from the window above the sink.

After she dried her hands, Mary turned to open one of the nearby wooden cabinets and said, “No . . .” pointing in Shiloh’s direction and downward. Shiloh looked around in confusion. “. . . I’m making dinner and those two are not coming in here,” she finished.

Shiloh looked down and realized she was referring to the cats lingering in the doorway.

“One keeps trying to drag dead mice in the house. And the other keeps eating bugs, which wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t throwing them up all over the place afterward,” she continued.

A tight-lipped smile rolled across Shiloh’s face as he turned to shoo the cats back out the door.

When he turned back around, Shiloh found himself face-to-face with his mother. Her chestnut-colored eyes stared straight into his baby blues with a smirk. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing to his chest. “Ice cream?”

Shiloh looked down at his T-shirt to see a couple of stains from his earlier treat. “Oh . . . that was from earlier this afternoon,” he replied with a wide grin.

“Really? Because it still looks wet,” Mary noted, returning his smile with a shake of her head. “Go wash up. Dinner is almost ready.”

The family dinner was relatively quiet. Shiloh tried to stuff himself so he wouldn’t be lectured by his mother about eating ice cream before supper. He avoided eye contact with his father, because after hearing Joe grumble about all of the farm’s problems, he feared he might lose his time off.

When he finished, Shiloh took his plate to the sink and tried to make a hasty retreat out the back door without saying a word. However, it wasn’t to be. “Hey . . . take a seat,” Joe called, pointing to Shiloh’s empty chair at the dinner table.

Shiloh walked back to the chair feeling certain his father was about to revoke his vacation time “for the good of the farm.” He looked up to see his father leaning forward with his elbows on the table and his large callused hands folded. Joe was a tall, muscular man with perpetually unkempt, light-brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and his face always appeared to need a shave.

Joe stared at Shiloh for a moment before asking, “How would feel you about spending some time with your grandfather?”

He was taken off guard by the question, but shrugged and answered, “Okay, I guess.”

“Good,” Joe smiled. “He’ll be by to pick you up tomorrow.”

“What?” Shiloh responded in shock.

“You’re going to spend a couple weeks with your grandfather,” Joe answered pointedly.

Shiloh’s disbelief and agitation spilled out of his mouth in rapid succession. “A couple weeks? Why? I’m supposed to go swimming at the pond tomorrow! The carnival is in town next week! My birthday is in two weeks! I don’t want to go!”

Joe leaned back in his chair, shaking his head, “You’ve been complaining about having to work the fields all summer. I’d think you’d be glad to get a break from it.”

“Yeah, I wanted a break to have some fun with my friends. Not a break where I’m sent away to some strange place . . . I’m not going!” Shiloh’s voice shook with anger.

Joe, not the kind of man to listen to long protestations, replied, “You are going. End of discussion.” He returned to his meal.

Slamming his hands on the table, Shiloh rose from his chair, and walked toward the back door. “Get back here,” Joe called, as Shiloh forcefully pushed open the screen door.

He heard his father yell, “Shiloh!” but he ignored him and ran into the immense cornfield. He ran through the field until he grew so tired he had to walk. He continued walking until he found himself on the far edge of the field, where he stepped out onto a narrow dirt trail that surrounded it.

Shiloh looked back to see how far he had come and the farm’s old horse barn caught his eye. The faded, maroon monstrosity had fallen into disrepair, but the barn’s current residents, Rikki and Peco, loved it for some reason. It was their big, red dilapidated mansion.

When his gaze drifted across the field, Shiloh saw his home in the distance. The towering cornstalks obscured all but the top half of the house. Taking a couple of steps backward, trying to find a better view, he suddenly lost his balance. He began tumbling down a slick embankment covered with reeds and into the swampy marsh that separated his family’s property from the Delahanna River.

Shiloh was uninjured by the fall, but landed on his backside in the mud. He sat for a moment to catch his breath, gazing toward the river stretching out in front of him. He saw some Great Blue Herons standing nearby in the marsh. The large gray birds were motionless, with their S-shaped necks pointing up into the distance.

Following the herons’ gaze, Shiloh saw the large factory to the south. He knew the factory was there, but never paid it much attention. It was practically invisible due to the thick cluster of hickory trees lining the rear of the farm. The factory’s most distinguishing feature was an enormous cylindrical brick smokestack with a giant, orange H on its side. The huge tower emitted a perpetual gray smoke that seemed to linger in the air.

Hearing voices in the distance, Shiloh turned back toward the river. An old fishing boat was anchored just offshore with some young people frolicking around the deck. He watched as a young man jumped from the deck into the river. “It’s freezing!” the young man hollered, emerging from the water.

Shiloh smiled, remembering how he used to love the crisp bite of the river water on a hot summer afternoon. His parents wouldn’t allow him to swim in the river anymore. They said it was too polluted and dirty.

Straight across the river were some lights from the town of Old New Castle. Just beyond that was Pike Creek, where his grandfather lived and where he would apparently be going the next day. This made him think of the things he’d be missing in the next two weeks: going swimming, the carnival, spending time with his friends.

Thoughts of his impending departure made Shiloh feel sick to his stomach, so he tried thinking of something else. He looked around and noticed several gray puddles of water with a number of long-stemmed, gray wildflowers growing out of them. He frowned because he couldn’t recall ever seeing a gray flower before. He plucked the closest one and thought it was a wild daisy of some kind.

Another flower grew out of the puddle right before his eyes, taking the place of the one he picked. This second flower was not gray, but golden yellow with a black center. Though startled, Shiloh scowled and dismissed the peculiar occurrence, recalling how he’d seen colorful mushrooms grow right before his eyes while working very early in the morning on the farm.

As the sun began to set, Shiloh climbed the embankment, deciding he had better return to the house. He chose to walk back through the cornfield instead of the path along the edge of the field, because it was shorter. He came to regret that decision when the sunlight faded and the tall cornstalks blocked out what little light was left in the sky. To make matters worse, it was a new moon, so there was no heavenly light to guide him.

In the darkness, the size of the farm became more apparent than ever. Shiloh walked and walked, seeing only dark rows of corn ahead of him. He knew he would escape them eventually, but not knowing exactly where he was made him uncomfortable. The odd collection of noises echoing out of the darkness only added to his discomfort.

Shiloh dismissed some fluttering and flapping sounds, thinking it was probably one of the Great Blue Herons he saw earlier in the marsh. He then heard an odd, thumping sound, as if something was running around. He tried to dismiss that as well, remembering his father had mentioned seeing red foxes in the fields. Shiloh had never seen a fox on the farm, but supposed one could be the source of the noise.

The thumping sound seemed to grow closer and closer, but every time Shiloh stopped to listen, it would cease. The louder the noise grew, the more Shiloh’s heart raced. He tried to ignore the sound, focusing into the distance to locate his house. When the thumping became so loud it seemed just a step away, Shiloh panicked, breaking into a run.

He sprinted along until he tripped, falling forward onto the ground. Shiloh remained still and listened for a moment, but the only sound he could hear was his pounding heart. Looking behind him, down the corn row, he saw an indistinct dark mass just a few feet away.

Fear gripped Shiloh, who now thought only of escape. He turned his head around, thinking if he could just stand he might be able to outrun whatever was back there. He was shocked to discover a second dark figure blocking his path. The second shape was lower to the ground, with glowing eyes, and it was growling.

Shiloh didn’t know what to do, but figured whatever it was would have to start with him being on his feet. He took a deep breath and readied himself to stand, but before he could, the second dark figure charged him. He placed his hands over his head, preparing for an attack. However, no attack came. The figure leapt over him, chasing whatever was behind him down the corn row. Shiloh stood and sprinted away as fast as he could.

As he neared the edge of the field, he could hear a loud, fierce growling and tussling behind him. Resisting the temptation to look back, he broke through the edge of the cornfield and ran straight into the house.

 

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grydscaen by Natsuya Uesugi Book Blast – Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

ABOUT GRYDSCAEN

Title: grydscaen

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Author: Natsuya Uesugi

Publisher: Xlibris

EBook: 288 pages

Release Date: July 21, 2011

Follow the lives of the main characters as they come together in the backstory to grydscaen:retribution, the fi rst volume of the grydscaen saga. Faid is tired of life on the run in the Echelons, trying to keep his psychic power in check, he founds the Packrats establishing a safe haven for psychics. As a hacker he uses his jack to support his neurocyne habit. Lino is recruited by the Psi Faction and is sent on a mission to kidnap Faid. Riuho, Lino’s half brother becomes a prisoner of the Elite military and they experiment on him, train him and subject him to mind control, then send him out on a mission. On his return, Riuho is set on escaping and recruits Faid who hacks into the Psi Faction systems. They escape and return to the Packrats leading up to the start of grydscaen:retribution.

Xlibris

Pump Up Your Book and Natsuya are teaming up to give away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • 1 winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive each of the prizes
  • This giveaway begins April 28 and ends on May 9.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on May 10, 2014.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

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First Chapter Reveal: Anselm, a Metamorphosis, by Florence Byham Weinberg

Anselm_medTitle: Anselm, a Metamorphosis

Genre: metaphysical fantasy

Author: Florence Byham Weinberg

Website: http://www.florenceweinberg.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase the book on AMAZON

 

Chapter 1

Transformation

I grinned at Sally, the dean’s attractive secretary-receptionist, eyeing her cleavage spilling out of a crisp, white blouse. She stood, leaving her desk to cross the small but neat outer office to the filing cabinet in the corner. She turned to give me a better view of her seductive nylon-sheathed legs and her shapely hips in a tight yellow skirt. She glanced over her shoulder, rolling her eyes with a playful head-toss. I knew she liked what she saw, and I reciprocated. She pulled a file, swiveled those hips and returned to the desk.

“What does the dean need me for, Sally? It’s Saturday.”

“Don’t know, Eric . . . uh, Professor Behrens. You’ve been naughty, it seems. He was grumpy when he called me to come to work and told me to contact you.”

“I hope this won’t last long. I’m on my way to play a round of golf with Jim Stevenson.”

“Oh, yes, Professor Stevenson. He . . .” She was interrupted by the buzzer. She picked up the phone. “Yes . . .? Yes, he’s here. I’ll send him in.” She looked at me, holding her hand over the receiver. “He’ll see you now. Watch out; he sounds angry.”

“Uh . . . thanks, Sally.” I hesitated on the threshold of the wood-paneled and carpeted inner office.

Bernard Graham, Dean of Woodward State University in upstate New York, stood facing the window as I entered. He swiveled, his face in shadow, his stocky outline silhouetted against the bright October day. His greeting was brusque. “Sit down, Professor Behrens.”

I was surprised at his terse greeting and took the chair facing his tidy mahogany desk. “Thank you, Dean Graham. May I know why you called me in? Did the draft board contact the University? Are they drafting professors for Vietnam?”

“No, no, Behrens. Nothing so simple—I almost said nothing so honorable.” The dean took his seat behind the desk, his square face severe. “I hate to say this to any of my faculty. But you’ve violated our university’s moral code. I have to ask you to tender your resignation.”

My hands clutched the arms of the chair and a roar thundered in my ears. I managed a few words. “Wh-what? I’m sorry, but . . . but I don’t understand, sir.”

“Does the name Diana Gregg mean anything to you?”

“I . . . I . . . She was a student in my summer literature survey course.” I began to sweat.

“Did you know that her father, Durwood Gregg, is the chairman of the Board of Trustees?”

“Not at first, sir.”

“He tells me you seduced his daughter. She’s an undergraduate!” Graham shook his head, his expression a blend of anger and reproach. “For God’s sake, man! You know the rules: no fraternizing with undergrads. And you must have gone further . . . a lot further . . . . What do you have to say?”

Scenes from the previous summer flashed through my mind: the poolside party where it all began, the clandestine meetings at the riding stable, rides into the woods, making love in forest meadows, at the lakeside. “It’s true. I can’t deny it. We had an affair, and she wants me— wanted, I guess—to marry her. I said no; said we’d have to wait.”

“Durwood demands that you wait forever. You’re Protestant, aren’t you?”

“Lutheran. But what has that—?”

“The Greggs are Roman Catholic,” he cut in. “Strict. Under no circumstances would he have allowed such a marriage. I have a form here, a resignation form. I need your signature.”

“But, sir, classes have already begun. I’ve passed out my syllabus; the students are already working on their first paper.”

“Hampton Clarke retired just last year. We’ll call on him to finish the semester while we look for your replacement.” The dean turned to his desk, picked up a sheet of paper and thrust it at me. I scanned it: at least it said nothing about moral turpitude. I could deny nothing. I had violated the rules, thinking I could get away with it. I’d used Durwood Gregg’s beautiful daughter, flagrantly, irresponsibly, and then wanted to leave all that behind; close the summer dalliance like a chapter in a book. I still hadn’t told her. It would have been the old story: seduced and abandoned.

I felt cornered, helpless, and most of all guilty. I felt in my shirt pocket for a pen.

“Here.” Dean Graham’s voice was harsh as he held a pen under my nose.

I placed the paper on the edge of the desk, signed and then stood, my legs trembling. “I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”

“No, nothing. Clear out your office before Monday.”

I moved to the door, turning once to see the dean standing again silhouetted against the sun streaming through the window. I passed through the outer office in a daze, only hearing Sally’s goodbye after I had closed the door behind me.

Jim had waited on a bench just outside the administration building, kicking at the leaves piled there. “So, what did he want?”

“Let’s walk. I’ll tell you.” A dry wind rustled more fallen leaves across the path under our feet and intermittently carried the notes of the tower clock to our ears. Chimes followed by two solemn strokes. Two o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon, yet I was oblivious of the beauty of the day, the glowing fall colors and the crisp air: my world had crumbled. I told Jim everything as we shuffled through the swirling leaves toward the chemistry building, my voice shaking with self-pity. Jim made surprised and sympathetic noises, wondering if, rather than the golf course, we should go to Kenny’s Pub near campus to talk over the situation.

We rounded the corner of the chemistry building. Jim stopped by the wall to shelter from the wind and tried to light a cigarette while I walked on and began to climb the long stairway to the upper campus.

In a sudden rage against my persecutors—now including Diana—I raised my fists to the sky and snarled, “Damn them all! Damn the whole world! Satan, take them to Hell and take me, too—just make me into someone else! I’d give anything, even my soul, to be somebody else!”

The surrounding air closed in on me like a smothering plastic film. I gasped and tripped on the next step. Had I been pushed? The fall gave me the sensation of traveling through time and space, and yet I had no time to stretch out my hands. I then realized I was lying in extreme discomfort on the stairs, my head and shoulders propped against Jim’s leg. The first thing I saw was his face. The corners of his eyes crinkled when he saw I was conscious.

“That was a nasty fall! Do you think you’re badly hurt, sir?”

Puzzled by his tone, his words, his attitude, I struggled to my feet, using him as a prop. I weaved as I stood, unable to regain my balance, as everything seemed out of perspective. I blinked, then lowered the hand that had been feeling the wound on my forehead. “N-no . . . I don’t think so, not seriously.”

My voice gave me a violent start. It was a deep, metallic bass, utterly unlike my own light tenor. I cleared my throat, watching to see if Jim had noticed anything unusual. His attention seemed divided between concern for me and some other worry. His brow creased and his eyes searched the campus in all directions as if looking for someone.

“Eric?” he called, almost under his breath.

“Yes?” I answered, again unprepared for that unfamiliar bass.

“Oh, is your name Eric?”

I stared at him, not answering. Was Jim crazy, or was I?

He hesitated, then excused himself, “Well, sir, if you’re sure you aren’t seriously hurt, I must be going—my friend seems to have run off and left me.”

He turned and ran up the steps, stopping once to scan the lower campus and glance at me with a half guilty, half frightened expression. Jim’s behavior should have given me a clue, but I was far from suspecting the truth. My right hand again went to my forehead. Dizziness became one enormous, pounding pain that began at my hairline. My fingers found the spongy, sticky area. I stared at them, now red with blood.

Something other than blood froze my attention. I stretched both hands out palm up, then turned them over. They were large with prominent veins; the long, tapering fingers ended in clean, square-cut nails. On the backs, an orderly pattern of black hair grew from wrist to knuckles and in tufts at the base of each finger. They were powerful and brutal, yet elegant hands, but they were not my own.

The sight of them filled me with creeping horror mixed with curiosity. I must find a mirror to see if all this had some easy explanation. I looked down. I wore some sort of black wool robe with a wide leather belt around the waist. I had obviously tripped on the hem—but where had the black robe come from? I staggered, dizzy and close to nausea, as if I had on someone else’s glasses. By reflex, I felt the bridge of my nose. Perhaps something was really wrong with my eyes, something resulting from the fall? I descended the few stairs back to the chemistry building, the wind flapping the robe against shaking legs, gravity dragging at me with every downward step. My balance point seemed to have shifted; I had to lean farther back than usual to maintain my equilibrium, my body thus blocking a clear view of the next step, forcing me to guess where I should set my foot. The fall must have affected my balance, too. I caught a glimpse of my toes and saw sandals. Sandals . . .?

I arrived at the bottom step and pushed against the side door that opened slowly, as if by itself. The hall seemed dark and stank of sulfur. Perhaps a student experiment had gone wrong. While my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I felt my way to the men’s room where I remembered a small mirror. Inside, I groped to find the light switch, then crossed the room in two strides. The face reflected in that mirror was someone I’d never seen before. I gave an inarticulate scream.

Panting, I ran back into the malodorous corridor.

After a few steps I stopped, shaking all over. I stared down at the black robe, the sandaled feet, and those hairy hands that, independent of my will, fingered the ebony rosary at my waist.

“My God, my God, who is this?” That unfamiliar voice boomed into the emptiness. I shrank against the wall, needing but fearing to look again in a mirror. I must fit the pieces of the puzzle together, somehow.

The faculty lounge on this floor had a wide plate-glass mirror on the far wall. It would show a full-length image. I hurried through the dark hall, exhaling the sulfur fumes that seemed to grow ever more pungent, and entered the brightly lit but deserted lounge. The mirror faced me across the room and I froze with my back against the door.

I should have been around five feet ten, slight, with one of those freckled complexions that often goes with red hair. My nose was average, my eyes gray, and I’d been wearing a pair of charcoal gray slacks, a white shirt, and a pale blue sweater-vest.

The figure cowering against the door was perhaps five inches taller than I was . . . or should be . . . and much heavier. His square figure seemed almost menacing in its potential strength, although his deterioration was clear. A paunch strained the leather belt, caught at the last hole, to its limit; deep buckle marks at each of the preceding four holes gave mute testimony to a recent weight gain. Here was the reason for my difficulty on the stairs: the paunch had prevented me from seeing my feet.

The forward shift of the body’s center of gravity was offset by this man’s hypercorrect posture—militarily correct. He held his tonsured head erect on a muscular neck. His remaining hair, a sort of crown, was black, salted with gray, and totally white above the ears. A bloody gash broke the crown at the hairline above the right eyebrow. The wound dwindled into a purplish weal, still swelling, slanting across the forehead to the left eyebrow.

I moved closer to the mirror to examine the man’s features. He was handsome in a dark, forbidding way. The eyebrows were thick, black and peaked in the center, the nose thin and aquiline. The full-lipped, sensual mouth seemed to express scorn even in repose, its disdainful curves underscored by the square chin. He seemed to be in his fifties: not only was his hair graying, his swarthy skin was coarse. The lofty forehead bore horizontal wrinkles as well as deep frown-marks between the brows. The gold-flecked brown eyes seemed to mock me, to censure my very essence.

I recoiled.

This man, this dark, almost sinister creature was . . . me?

It could not be true—I must be mad. I moaned and hid my face in my hands; I could no longer bear to see that image as it mimicked and mocked my every move.

Amid the confusion of conflicting impulses and ideas, I remembered my half-serious invocation to the Devil. Had he instantly fulfilled my wish to be somebody, anybody, else? Could I have traded the eventual fate of my soul for this new body? I couldn’t have been serious; I didn’t even believe in the existence of a soul. But if there is no soul, what was left of “me” in this stranger? Does the self then reside in memory alone? I’d willed to become someone else and had no one but myself to blame for the results.

An acute sense of loss filled me, many times more painful than the humiliation I’d suffered at being dismissed from Woodward State. Where was I, who was this; what should I do now? I could have been transformed into anyone at all—a shoe salesman, a fireman, an artist—but instead, I’d been changed into a monk!

The irony struck me like a blow: a tremendous practical joke by the Devil to punish me for having slighted and scorned Diana, in the process betraying my better self. I had asked to give myself to the Devil, but was now in the form of someone who had given himself away utterly. To God! Perhaps I was being punished for my irresponsible sensual appetites. In my present form, it would surely be more difficult to satisfy them. Perhaps the Devil is a reformer?

The essence of that outcry on the stairs had not been my invocation to Satan, but my fervent wish to be someone else. Had I precipitated this disaster by wishing it? I remembered Freud’s remarks on “compelling thoughts” that primitives and neurotics believe actually control reality. Perhaps, after all, under certain circumstances, they do?

The only hope of saving the last shred of sanity lay in action: I must care for this stranger. I made my way among the chairs and low tables to the coffee bar against the wall. After removing the pot half full of stale coffee, I stooped over the sink and bathed the gash with cold water. The cut had stopped bleeding and did not seem deep; the greatest damage was caused by the crushing force of the fall. The bruise throbbed at my pressure.

I dried my face on paper towels and cleaned the sink and then began searching my clothing for identification. In a pocket of the robe, I found a handkerchief and a battered wallet containing a five-dollar bill and a familiar card: a meal ticket for the student cafeteria. The name “Anselmus” was scrawled in a bold, black hand at the bottom. I assumed this was my own name—but I now must try to find out who and what Anselmus was, where he was from, and what monastic order he belonged to.

My only association with that name was Saint Anselm, a brilliant theologian of the eleventh or twelfth century. I clutched at my memory of the saint like a drowning man reaching for a plank. Here was something familiar, something removed from the horror of the present moment that might stave off the panic crowding the edges of my consciousness. I’d learned in college that Saint Anselm had invented a clever argument for the existence of God, a precursor to the one Descartes tried centuries later. That’s the one where he notes that we all have an idea of perfection. Since we get all our ideas from an outside source, and yet there is nothing perfect in this world, there must be a perfect Being who implants the idea: namely, God. Therefore God exists. The theory works only if one believes in the absolute reality of ideas.

Could I concentrate enough to recall Saint Anselm’s argument? If my memory was correct, it went something like this: “The fool says in his heart there is no God. But even he would agree that God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, including all perfections, such as absolute goodness, omniscience, omnipresence, and existence in reality. If one can conceive of God at all, one is forced to concede that He exists, otherwise something greater could be conceived.” Not bad, but after all, merely a slick manipulation of words and ideas. I smiled. At least I could still put two coherent thoughts together. Irrelevant, but coherent. Madmen can do the same, though, can’t they?

Anselm. Anselmus. Yes, maybe I had seen a black-robed figure on campus. Normally, I avoided the school on my off days. Perhaps the monk never came here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when I teach . . . taught. But if I, Eric, now inhabited the monk’s body, where was his essence, his “soul?” Now that my “soul” seemed trapped in a monk’s body, I’d have to behave—temporarily, I hoped—like a monk. And how was that, anyhow? Should I be addressed as “Brother” or “Father”? It would be the latter if Anselm—if I—had been ordained a priest.

By this time, I’d reached the main door of the building and paused. I had begun to identify “me” with “Anselmus”—but what else could I do? Before I tried to claim any of my own—of Eric’s—possessions, I must try to discover what had happened to my real self, my body, while I was forced to “be” Anselmus.

I pushed open the heavy main door with such unaccustomed ease that I almost lost my balance. I turned back to peer into the dark hall and a clanging laugh rang out, buzzing in my brain, terrifying me. I let the door close behind me and before I could take three running steps, I realized that I myself was convulsed with mirthless laughter. Had I heard the echo of my own voice, or was my convulsion a reflection of some unseen, controlling power?

I fled up the long stairway to the upper campus, just enough wit left to hold up the skirts of my robe so as not to trip again. The paunch and heavy flesh around my flanks and hips dragged and bounced, resisting every upward step. I’d often run up those stairs before, but this time, once I’d reached the top, I was soaked in sweat. My legs trembled and my breath came in ragged, painful gasps. My heart pounded irregularly in my throat; my head seemed about to explode with the pressure of the throbbing ache. My hand fumbled for the handkerchief and I blotted my forehead gingerly, sweat in the new wound adding to my misery.

I turned to face the door I’d just left below me, expecting to see a formless something appear in pursuit. There was no visible movement about the façade of the chemistry building; everything looked normal in the golden light of the afternoon sun. That something remained hidden, at least for now. I trembled, not just from my exertion, but in terror: not only of that controlling power but of my own possible madness.

Other preoccupations plagued me as well. I wondered what had caused me to be so short of breath and waited until I could breathe comfortably. Surely, my increased weight wasn’t enough to account for all those symptoms. What was wrong with this body?

I must find people, make human contact, or I would indeed go mad. I turned to the student union. As I entered, two co-eds brushed past me. They stared, then one whispered loudly enough for me to hear, “Now there’s a cool-looking dude!”

“He looks like the devil to me,” replied the other dryly.

Were they seeing Eric or . . . Anselm?

The student health service at the end of the hall offered a temporary refuge. I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. Would the nurse see me as I’d just seen myself in the mirror? Maybe “Anselm” was merely my hallucination. I opened the door with a jerk. At the moment there were no students in the office.

Miss Cunningham, the nurse, sat alone at her station. A tall, bony woman with a horsy face, I’d pitied her as a perpetual spinster. Now, I sought her for comfort. I leaned toward her, my knuckles on her desk. “Miss Cunningham, I wonder, could you spare a couple of aspirins?”

She faced me with a start. “Why, Father Anselm! That’s a nasty bump on your head.”

I sighed both in disappointment and relief. At least I was not mad, but it was terrifying to think that I might no longer have contact with myself. 3

Miss Cunningham brought me two aspirins and a paper cup of water. “Let me clean that wound and bandage it, Father Anselm,” she said, “How did it happen?”

I gulped down the aspirins and crumpled the paper cup in a nervous fist. “I tripped and fell on the steps out there. Could you bandage it? I’d be most grateful.”

I sat in a straight chair while the nurse got out cotton, alcohol and materials for a bandage. She bustled over to me, an alcohol-soaked swab in her hand. “This is going to sting, now, Father,” she said in a singsong.

I closed my eyes, anticipating the smart of the alcohol with a wince. Miss Cunningham went over my forehead well: then I could hear the snip of her scissors as she fashioned a bandage. Her firm yet gentle fingers on my face filled me with longing for my home, my mother. Could I never go home again?

Tears of self-pity must have escaped my closed eyelids, for Miss Cunningham’s nasal voice, filled with concern, broke in upon my thoughts. “Are you in much pain, Father?”

I looked up at her, startled, and brushed the wetness from my cheeks. “No, not too much. I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else.”

“Father Anselm . . . I think you’d better have that X-rayed,” she said as she placed the last adhesive strip, “You might have a concussion and even some bleeding inside there.”

“Perhaps I will, Miss Cunningham.” I stood up, smiling.

“Oh, and Father, don’t forget the sign-up sheet; we keep track of everyone who visits our health services.”

How should I sign? Obviously, I could only write the priest’s name. Taking up the pen, I wrote “Fr. Anselm.” It was as far from my own over-precise Palmer penmanship as possible. The heavy black scrawl was identical with the signature on the card in my pocket.

“Father, are you having trouble focusing?” Miss Cunningham asked in alarm.

“Oh, it’s not that—it’s just my head; I have a terrific headache. I’ll be all right. And thanks so much for fixing me up.” I touched the bandage in a sort of salute, then turned unsteadily and re-entered the hall. I paced up and down the corridor past the student cafeteria that emitted the odors of stale frying fat and onions I usually found nauseating. Today, it smelled good. The obsessive rhythm of one of the Beatles’ recent recordings, “Nowhere Man,” pursued me as I walked. Instinctively, I clasped my hands behind my back in a priestly gesture. What should I do now? I was obviously known on campus—even Miss Cunningham knew me—but how was I to find out who I was without appearing ridiculous?

The door of the cafeteria swung open, and one of the cooks appeared. “Hullo, Father, you here today? And you haven’t come to see us? Hey, what’s wrong with your head?”

“Just a bump, Rudy.”

“Well, hey, you know, it’s late, but we still have plenty of chicken and dumplings on the steam table. Enough for seconds . . . and thirds,” he smirked, glancing sidewise at me.

“Oh, no thanks, Rudy.” My reply was interrupted by a loud growl from my stomach. I closed my arms across my belly to suppress the noise, sheepishly joining in his laughter. “I see I’m receiving contrary orders!”

He winked. “We’ll be open for twenty more minutes; I’ll keep the steam tables hot.”

I shook my head. “Thanks, Rudy, but some other time.”

“Well, it’s there waiting for you, Father, if you want it. Think it over.” He smiled as he moved away down the hall.

Unexpectedly, I felt a light hand upon my arm. I turned and saw that it was Diana Gregg, the source of my misfortunes, looking both sorrowful and more beautiful than I’d ever seen her. She drew me into a small lounge, where we were alone. She raised her face to me. “Father Anselm, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing, Diana,” I replied.

Her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. “I’m sorry I am burdening you with an unwanted confidence at a time like this, but since you’re a teacher as well as a priest, you can understand the problems better than anyone else. It’s Eric—I’ve told you so much about him—and you know I want to marry him. He wants to wait, but I was still sure I could persuade him. But now Mom and Dad won’t let me. They think he’s irresponsible—unstable, they call him—and besides, he’s a Protestant. I love him and I don’t care. I’d elope with him this minute, but Professor Stevenson says Dad just had him fired and he has completely disappeared! Oh, Father Anselm, I’m so worried! He could be desperate! Can you help us find him? Can you bring him back to me?” She burst into sobs and slid slowly to her knees, then to the floor.

Her words echoed in my ears. Find him? Bring him back? Diana, my lovely Diana, he is here in this room, that man you want to marry!

I suddenly knew I loved, needed this girl I’d been ready to abandon. My desire flashed through me with an intensity I’d never felt before. I shook, vibrating from head to foot, forgetting my situation, everything, in a fury of passion that my new body seemed to intensify. I would tell her everything. She, like no one else, would understand my nightmarish situation; she would quiet my fear. I would carry her away to my apartment where we could be alone, where she could care for my bruised body—and soul.

I stooped and picked her up tenderly, with amazing ease, and cradled her like a child. My forehead, my lips, my body burned in fiery anticipation of her cool kisses, kisses that could only increase my sweet agony. Out of the medley of my violent feelings and turbulent thoughts, only one word, “Diana!” escaped aloud.

Diana, whose shock had at first rendered her helpless, braced her fists against my chest. “Father Anselm, let me go at once! Have you gone mad?”

I set her on her feet, lucidity flooding over me like cold water. I looked down upon us both from a great height. Father Anselm, the chaste, holy monk, had intended to betray his sacred vow and had begun an assault on an innocent and trusting girl who’d come to him for help. The scene was pure caricature. I felt my blush. “Diana, my child, forgive me, please, forgive me! I’m only human, you know. Diana, I didn’t mean . . .”

She gave me no chance to explain. With a toss of her lovely head that expressed her contempt for me and her triumph in an unexpected conquest, she turned and walked majestically away down the hall.

I stood aghast, my body’s fire dwindling to the heat of shame still glowing on my face. With my head bowed, I wondered at such passionate, impulsive behavior. I’d never been like this before: slow to action, I normally had held back, cool and calculating, from any decisive step. Now, I’d nearly succumbed to two deadly sins: gluttony and lust. The body must determine a large share of the personality, but the essence, the knowing essence, seemed somehow independent. I must retire to some less exposed position until I could learn how to live with myself, to manage this body and prevent further injuries to others—especially to someone I loved—or to myself.

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Award-winning fantasy trilogy STONEWISER available FREE on Kindle – get your copies!

Dear Romantic Fantasy Fans,

Here it is, Folks! Dora Machado’s entire Stonewiser award-winning fantasy trilogy, published by Mermaid Press, FREE on Kindle.

WHEN?  Starting today, from Saturday August 31 to Monday September 2

To get your free download NOW from the Kindle store, click on each title below. It’s as simple as that!

stonewiser-theheartofthestone-156x240Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone 


Winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for best Debut Novel

Finalist for 2009 Foreword Book of the Year Award for SFF

Between truth and deception, between justice and abuse, a stonewiser stands alone with the stones. Or so begins the stonewiser’s oath. But what happens when a rebellious stonewiser discovers that lies have tainted the stone tales?

In a world devastated by the rot’s widespread destruction, only the tales preserved in the stones can uphold the truth and defend the Goodlands. In this world, stone truth is valued above anyone’s word, and stonewisers are the only ones capable of retrieving the tales from the stones, the only link between past and present, order and chaos.

Sariah is the most gifted stonewiser of her generation, but her talent does not atone for her shortcomings. A survivor of the Guild’s brutal training, she is curious, willful and disobedient. Yet not even Sariah is prepared for what she finds when she steals into the Guild’s Sacred Vaults: A mayhem of lies and intrigues that shatters her world.

Hunted, persecuted, and betrayed, Sariah must make an unlikely alliance with Kael, a cynical rebel leader pledged to a mysterious quest of his own. The fate of their dying world depends on their courage to overcome centuries of hatred and distrust. But not even the grueling journey has prepared them for what they are about to discover. Because nothing is really as it seems, and the truth is more intricate and devastating than they ever suspected…. 

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9780979968242 (2)Stonewiser: The Call of the Stone

Winner of the 2010 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Gold Medal for SF/F

Finalist for the 2010 ForeWord Book of the Year Award for SF/F

Sariah’s reward for revealing the stone truth: a death sentence.

The executioners have arrived and Sariah, the most powerful and controversial stonewiser of her generation, has been judged and condemned to death. For the last few months, Sariah has been hiding in the Rotten Domain, trying to find the elusive tale capable of uniting a divided people teetering on the brink of a catastrophic war. As she is dragged to the nets, where an eel rave has been stirred to maximize her execution’s gruesome spectacle, Sariah knows she cannot escape her sentence. She is guilty of the crimes for which she’s been condemned and no one, not even Kael, the Domain’s foremost rebel leader, can save her from the executioners’ righteous justice.

But Kael is more than just a formidable warrior; he is also a cunning strategist and Sariah’s steadfast lover. Risking all he has, he bargains with the greedy executioners, bribing them into delaying Sariah’s execution, buying her precious time and a last chance to realize the mysterious legacy that the stones have imposed on her. The agreement is hardly a reprieve. It encourages a mob to hunt Sariah for ransom, banishing her from the Rotten Domain and imposing heavy fines on anyone who tries to help her. Worse, it requires her to wear an irremovable, mysterious bracelet. If she doesn’t return to the executioners with the tale in hand when the allotted time expires, Kael and his kin will be ruined and the bracelet will kill her.

Hunted by the executioners, the Guild and the Shield, Sariah and Kael embark on a desperate search. Their journey will take them to the depths of the Rotten Domain, where Sariah must wise a guiding beam out of the wild tale stored in a stone-carved game. The beam will lead them through the warring Goodlands—where the rot is on the move—to the land beyond the Bastions, where a zealous people guard an ancient stone that could hold the key to their search. Along the way, Sariah and Kael must overcome deadly traps, torture, heartbreak, agonizing defeat and devastating losses in a desperate attempt to avoid war and answer the mysterious call of the stone. 

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9780979968259Stonewiser: The Lament of the Stone

 

Winner of the 2012 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Silver Medal for SF/F

Finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award for SF/F

“Do you know why the stones grieve?” the woman said to Kael. “Not for a soul, I’ll tell you that much. The stones don’t grieve for the passing of a lowly woman or the madness of a smitten man. They don’t mourn death, or lost love, or broken dreams, or loneliness or despair. Yet you will make them wail. For you, the stones will weep.”

In their most perilous adventure yet, Sariah, the rogue stonewiser who stunned the world by discovering lies in the stones and defying the all-powerful Guild, and Kael, the rebel leader who against all odds loves her, must find a stolen child, the only one capable of setting rule upon chaos, preserving the future of stonewising, and defeating the rot ravaging the land. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The coveted child they seek is said to be an abomination. He is also their son.

It’s a daunting challenge. Their child is in the hands of a deceitful enemy who has fled to a mysterious ruler, a rival deity with unfathomable powers pledged to destroy the goddess and eradicate stonewising from the world. Worse yet, the land is engulfed in strife, the rot is spreading faster than ever, and Kael is haunted by a malevolent curse compelling him to kill the woman he loves.

In a dangerous journey fraught with shocking twists, Sariah and Kael must do more than defeat their foes, unravel the mystifying forces vying to control their lives, and discover the mysteries of ages past. They must challenge the stones, defy the goddess and confront their cursed fates. Because only by embracing their destinies do they stand a chance to save their child and their world.

 

For those of you audio book lovers, the first book in the series, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone is now available from Audible. Be sure to check it out!

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Dora Tapestry 1 June 2013 (480x640)About Dora Machado

Dora Machado is the award winning author of the Stonewiser series and her newest novel,The Curse Giver, from Twilight Times Books, available July 2013. She is one of the few Latinas exploring her heritage and her world through the epic fantasy genre today. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Georgetown University. She was born in Michigan and grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a bilingual fascination for writing, a love for history, and a taste for Merengue.

After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She enjoys long walks, traveling, and connecting with the amazing readers who share in her mind’s adventures. She lives in Florida with her indulging husband and three very opinionated cats. Visit her atwww.DoraMachado.com.

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Dora Machado’s Stonewiser award-winning fantasy trilogy to be available FREE on Kindle

Dear Romantic Fantasy Fans,

Mark your calendars!

For the first time ever and for a limited time, Dora Machado’s entire Stonewiser award-winning fantasy trilogy, published by Mermaid Press, will be available FREE on Kindle.

WHEN? From Saturday August 31 to Monday September 2

stonewiser-theheartofthestone-156x240

Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Stonewiser%3A%20The%20Heart%20of%20the%20Stone

Winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for best Debut Novel

Finalist for 2009 Foreword Book of the Year Award for SFF

Between truth and deception, between justice and abuse, a stonewiser stands alone with the stones. Or so begins the stonewiser’s oath. But what happens when a rebellious stonewiser discovers that lies have tainted the stone tales?

In a world devastated by the rot’s widespread destruction, only the tales preserved in the stones can uphold the truth and defend the Goodlands. In this world, stone truth is valued above anyone’s word, and stonewisers are the only ones capable of retrieving the tales from the stones, the only link between past and present, order and chaos.

Sariah is the most gifted stonewiser of her generation, but her talent does not atone for her shortcomings. A survivor of the Guild’s brutal training, she is curious, willful and disobedient. Yet not even Sariah is prepared for what she finds when she steals into the Guild’s Sacred Vaults: A mayhem of lies and intrigues that shatters her world.

Hunted, persecuted, and betrayed, Sariah must make an unlikely alliance with Kael, a cynical rebel leader pledged to a mysterious quest of his own. The fate of their dying world depends on their courage to overcome centuries of hatred and distrust. But not even the grueling journey has prepared them for what they are about to discover. Because nothing is really as it seems, and the truth is more intricate and devastating than they ever suspected….

————————————————-

9780979968242 (2)Stonewiser: The Call of the Stone

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Stonewiser%3A+The+Call+of+the+Stone&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AStonewiser%3A+The+Call+of+the+Stone

Winner of the 2010 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Gold Medal for SF/F

Finalist for the 2010 ForeWord Book of the Year Award for SF/F

Sariah’s reward for revealing the stone truth: a death sentence.

The executioners have arrived and Sariah, the most powerful and controversial stonewiser of her generation, has been judged and condemned to death. For the last few months, Sariah has been hiding in the Rotten Domain, trying to find the elusive tale capable of uniting a divided people teetering on the brink of a catastrophic war. As she is dragged to the nets, where an eel rave has been stirred to maximize her execution’s gruesome spectacle, Sariah knows she cannot escape her sentence. She is guilty of the crimes for which she’s been condemned and no one, not even Kael, the Domain’s foremost rebel leader, can save her from the executioners’ righteous justice.

But Kael is more than just a formidable warrior; he is also a cunning strategist and Sariah’s steadfast lover. Risking all he has, he bargains with the greedy executioners, bribing them into delaying Sariah’s execution, buying her precious time and a last chance to realize the mysterious legacy that the stones have imposed on her. The agreement is hardly a reprieve. It encourages a mob to hunt Sariah for ransom, banishing her from the Rotten Domain and imposing heavy fines on anyone who tries to help her. Worse, it requires her to wear an irremovable, mysterious bracelet. If she doesn’t return to the executioners with the tale in hand when the allotted time expires, Kael and his kin will be ruined and the bracelet will kill her.

Hunted by the executioners, the Guild and the Shield, Sariah and Kael embark on a desperate search. Their journey will take them to the depths of the Rotten Domain, where Sariah must wise a guiding beam out of the wild tale stored in a stone-carved game. The beam will lead them through the warring Goodlands—where the rot is on the move—to the land beyond the Bastions, where a zealous people guard an ancient stone that could hold the key to their search. Along the way, Sariah and Kael must overcome deadly traps, torture, heartbreak, agonizing defeat and devastating losses in a desperate attempt to avoid war and answer the mysterious call of the stone.

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9780979968259Stonewiser: The Lament of the Stone

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Stonewiser%3A+The+Lament+of+the+Stone&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AStonewiser%3A+The+Lament+of+the+Stone

Winner of the 2012 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Silver Medal for SF/F

Finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award for SF/F

“Do you know why the stones grieve?” the woman said to Kael. “Not for a soul, I’ll tell you that much. The stones don’t grieve for the passing of a lowly woman or the madness of a smitten man. They don’t mourn death, or lost love, or broken dreams, or loneliness or despair. Yet you will make them wail. For you, the stones will weep.”

In their most perilous adventure yet, Sariah, the rogue stonewiser who stunned the world by discovering lies in the stones and defying the all-powerful Guild, and Kael, the rebel leader who against all odds loves her, must find a stolen child, the only one capable of setting rule upon chaos, preserving the future of stonewising, and defeating the rot ravaging the land. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The coveted child they seek is said to be an abomination. He is also their son.

It’s a daunting challenge. Their child is in the hands of a deceitful enemy who has fled to a mysterious ruler, a rival deity with unfathomable powers pledged to destroy the goddess and eradicate stonewising from the world. Worse yet, the land is engulfed in strife, the rot is spreading faster than ever, and Kael is haunted by a malevolent curse compelling him to kill the woman he loves.

In a dangerous journey fraught with shocking twists, Sariah and Kael must do more than defeat their foes, unravel the mystifying forces vying to control their lives, and discover the mysteries of ages past. They must challenge the stones, defy the goddess and confront their cursed fates. Because only by embracing their destinies do they stand a chance to save their child and their world.

For those of you audio book lovers, the first book in the series, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone is now available from Audible. Be sure to check it out!

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Dora Tapestry 1 June 2013 (480x640)About Dora Machado

Dora Machado is the award winning author of the Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, from Twilight Times Books, available July 2013. She is one of the few Latinas exploring her heritage and her world through the epic fantasy genre today. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Georgetown University. She was born in Michigan and grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a bilingual fascination for writing, a love for history, and a taste for Merengue.

After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She enjoys long walks, traveling, and connecting with the amazing readers who share in her mind’s adventures. She lives in Florida with her indulging husband and three very opinionated cats. Visit her at www.DoraMachado.com.

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Read-a-Chapter: DRAGON FIRE, by Dina Von Lowenkraft

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the YA romantic fantasy, Dragon Fire, by Dina Von Lowenkraft. Enjoy!

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Dragon Fire cover

Some choices are hard to live with.

But some choices will kill you.

When seventeen-year-old Anna first meets Rakan in her hometown north of the Arctic Circle, she is attracted to his pulsing energy. Unaware that he is a shapeshifting dragon, Anna is drawn into a murderous cycle of revenge that pits Rakan and his clan against her best friend June.

Torn between his forbidden relationship with Anna, punishable by death, and restoring his family’s honor by killing June, Rakan must decide what is right. And what is worth living – or dying – for.

Title: Dragon Fire

Genre: YA Fantasy

Author: Dina von Lowenkraft

Website: www.dinavonlowenkraft.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Find out more about the book on:

Amazon B&N / Twilight Times Books

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In the Arctic winter, the sun never rises.

In the Arctic summer, the sun never sets.

In the Arctic, the world is at your feet. 

Chapter 1 The Circle Tightens 

The candle flickered in the subzero wind but Anna made no move to protect it. She stopped on the hill in front of Tromso’s three-year high school and watched the water of the fjord shimmer below. Even though it was mid-afternoon there was no sun, just the luminous reflection of the moon. The procession of students continued on without her, leaving only the fading sound of crunching snow in their wake.

“You seem as eager to go to Fritjof’s memorial vigil as I am,” June said, startling Anna with her sudden appearance.

Anna fingered the oval piece of bright orange coral that she had carried around like a talisman since she was a child. She usually kept it in her pocket, but today she wanted to feel its soothing energy closer and had it in her glove. She had never liked Fritjof, and even though she wasn’t glad he had died, she wouldn’t miss him.

She turned to face June whose cobalt blue eyes were at odds with her otherwise Asian features. June and her boyfriend had also been out on the mountain when the avalanche claimed Fritjof. “I’m glad it’s not yours too,” Anna said. “I’d really miss you.”

“It would take more than an avalanche to kill me,” June said, trying to smile. But Anna could feel her friend’s pain lurking under the surface.

“Hey.” She wrapped an arm around June to comfort her. But as soon as her hand touched June’s shoulder, a burst of energy exploded from her stone. Anna ripped off her glove and the piece of coral went flying. “What the—”

June spun around, pushing Anna behind her as if to protect her from an attack. She scanned the area, her body tensed for a fight.

“Who are you looking for?” Anna pressed her palm to dull the pain as she glanced around the deserted hilltop. “Whatever it was, it came from my stone.”

June relaxed her stance. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” Anna gestured towards the coral-colored sparks that crackled in the darkness of the Norwegian winter. “What do you think it’s doing?”

“Don’t know.” June crouched down to get a better look. Her hand hovered as a bright green light flashed around the stone.

“Don’t touch it,” Anna said sharply. Her stone had always had a special energy, but never coral-colored sparks. Or green flashes of light.

“It’s okay now.” June pulled her hand back. “Look for yourself.”

Anna knelt next to June. The stone was dark and lifeless and she felt a sudden pang of loss. She prodded it gingerly with her good hand, but felt nothing. She picked it up. It was just a pretty bit of coral. The gentle pulsing energy that she had liked so much was gone.

“Can I see it?” June asked.

Anna nodded, her throat constricted. The stone had always reminded her of her father. Its energy was something he would have been able to feel too. The only person she had met so far who seemed open to accepting that kind of thing was June. Everyone else got freaked out, or thought she was crazy. So she had learned not to talk about it.

June closed her fist around the stone. “Where did you get this?” Her voice wavered.

Anna’s attention flicked back to June. She never wavered. “I found it in the mountains. Years ago. Why? What is it?”

“A trigger.”

“A trigger for what?”

June returned Anna’s searching look. “I have no idea.” She handed the stone back.

“So how do you know it’s a trigger?”

“I just feel it.” June picked up the candles that lay forgotten in the snow. “If you’re okay, we should go.”

Anna picked up her discarded glove and froze. In the middle of her left palm was a star-shaped scar. She stretched her hand to get a better look. It was about the size of a dime. She touched it. Like an echo under the fading pain, she could feel the energy of her stone pulsing faintly in her palm.

“Here,” June said, offering Anna a candle. She stopped mid-motion. “What is it?”

“I don’t know. The stone…” She held out her palm. “Look.”

June dropped the candles and took Anna’s hand in hers. Gently, she ran her fingers over the slightly raised ridges of the scar. “A Firemark,” June said as if talking to herself. “But how…?”

“What’s a Firemark?” Anna examined the scar. It was almost silvery in the moonlight.

June looked up, her fingers still on Anna’s palm. “It’s like a living connection between two people. But… there was only the stone.”

“It always felt alive,” Anna said, sure that June would understand. She touched the Firemark one last time before putting her glove back on. It was warm and smooth.

June shook her head. “But even if it felt alive, it shouldn’t have left a Firemark.”

Anna shrugged. “Maybe. But I like it.” Anna closed her hand around the Firemark. It felt like she was holding her stone. She smiled. She’d never lose it now.

June re-lit the candles again and handed one to Anna. “Ready?”

Anna hooked her arm through June’s. “I think so.” They walked silently through town and across the bridge that straddled the green-black fjord.

“Do you think it’s over?” Anna eyed the Arctic Cathedral that sprawled like slabs of a fallen glacier on the other side of the fjord. It was lit up like a temple of light.

June shook her head. “It’s only just begun.”

“That’s enough.” Khotan’s voice snapped like a whip across the barren land of Ngari in western Tibet. “You’re not going to kill her. I will.”

The wind howled in agreement. Rakan bit back the urge to argue with his father whose shaved head and barrel chest marked him as an Old Dragon. But Khotan’s massive physique belied his diminishing power and Rakan knew that his father wouldn’t survive a fight with the female dragon they had finally located. He had felt her power when she had set off his trigger just a few hours before. And she was more powerful than any other dragon he had ever met. Rakan clenched his fists. Blood for blood. It was the Dragon Code. And he would be the one to honor it.

“You need to start a new life here,” Khotan said, his hand like a claw of ice on Rakan’s bare shoulder. “I will end the old.”

His tone of voice, more than his touch, sent shivers down Rakan’s spine. But before he could question his father, a flicker of red caught his attention and his older half-sister, Dvara, materialized on the sparring field. Except she wasn’t dressed to fight. She was wearing a shimmering red gown that matched the color of her eyes and her black hair was arranged in an intricate mass of twisted strands.

“It’s too late to teach Rakan anything.” She made an unhurried motion towards the targets at the other end of the field. One by one, they exploded with her passing hand.

“We weren’t practicing,” Rakan said calmly. “Although if we had been, you’d need to start again. You used a trigger. You didn’t manipulate their structure on a molecular level.”

“Who cares?” Her Maii-a, the pear-shaped stone that every dragon wore to practice manipulating matter with, sparkled like an angry flame at her throat. “They’ve been demolished. And that’s all that counts in a fight.”

Rakan slid his long black braid over his shoulder. “How you fight is just as important as how you win.”

“I’d rather stay alive,” Dvara said. “But you can die honorably if you want.”

“Neither one of you will fight anyone,” Khotan said. “Remember that.”

Rakan bowed his head. There was no point arguing about it now. But Dvara lifted her chin defiantly. “Kraal was my father. I will avenge his death.”

Khotan growled and stepped towards Dvara, dwarfing her with his size. He held her gaze until she dropped her eyes. Rakan shook his head, wondering why Dvara always tried to challenge Khotan’s authority in an open confrontation that she was sure to lose. Khotan was the guardian of her rök, her dragon heart and the seat of her power, and she had no choice but to abide by his will.

Their mother, Yarlung, appeared without warning. “I will speak with Rakan’dzor.” She crossed her arms over her white gown that sparkled with flashes of turquoise. “Alone.”

She waited, immobile, until Khotan and Dvara bowed and dematerialized, shifting elsewhere. As soon as they were gone, her face relaxed and she turned to Rakan, her nearly blind eyes not quite finding his. “I always knew you would be the one to find her,” she purred. “You have the strength and the will of my bloodline. And the time has come for you to use it.” Yarlung tilted her face to the wind. “Kraal gifted me his poison before he died. Neutralized, of course.”

“But no one can neutralize dragon poison.”

“Kairök Kraal was a great Master. His death is a loss for us all.”

Rakan struck his chest with his fist. “Paaliaq will pay for his death with her own.”

“Yes. She will. And you will help me.” A faint smile played on her usually austere face. “I will mark you with his poison so that we can communicate when necessary.”

“Khotan and Dvara have a full link, isn’t that enough?”

“You don’t expect me to rely on second hand information, do you?” snapped Yarlung. She paused and spoke more gently. “Or are you scared to carry Kraal’s poison?”

Rakan knelt down in front of Yarlung. “I will do whatever it takes to kill Paaliaq.” His voice cut through the arid cold of the Tibetan plateau.

Yarlung’s eyes flashed momentarily turquoise and Rakan stepped back as she morphed into her dragon form. She was a long, undulating water dragon and the scales around her head and down her throat glistened like wet opals. Without warning, a bluish-white fire crackled around him like an electric storm. His mother’s turquoise claws sank into his arms and pain sizzled through his flesh. The fire disappeared and Rakan collapsed to the ground, grinding his teeth to keep from screaming in agony.

He would not dishonor his family.

“No, you won’t,” Yarlung said in his mind.

Rakan’s head jerked up in surprise.

“You have just become my most precious tool.” Her voice hummed with pleasure. “You will not fail me.”

As suddenly as the contact had come, it was gone. And so was his mother. Rakan didn’t like it. Not her disappearance. That was normal. Yarlung had always been abrupt. But he didn’t like hearing her in his mind. It was something only dragons who were joined under a Kairök, a Master Dragon, could do. Few dragons were able to survive the rush of power that happened when their röks awakened without the help of a Kairök. But Rakan had.

He gritted his teeth and stood up. If sharing a mind-link with Yarlung was necessary to kill Paaliaq, then he would learn to accept it.

He held his arms out to examine the dragons that had appeared where his mother’s claws had dug into his biceps. They were long, sinuous water dragons like Yarlung. But they were black, the color of purity, the color of Kraal. Rakan watched the miniature turquoise-eyed dragons dance on his arms until they penetrated under his skin. He felt a cold metallic shiver deep inside as they faded from view.

A rush of pride exploded in Rakan and he raised his arms to the frozen winter sky, the pain like a blood pact marking his words. “I will avenge your death, Kairök Kraal. The Earth will become our new home and your Cairn will once again prosper.”

“You can drop me here.” Anna glared at her mother’s boyfriend who reminded her of his namesake: a wolf.

Ulf turned the car into Siri’s driveway and flashed his all too perfect smile. “Not unless you want me to carry you in. Your shoes aren’t practical for walking in the snow.”

Anna snorted. “You’re one to talk. You’re the one driving a sports car in the winter.” And she didn’t feel like having her teammates from the handball team see it.

Ulf threw his head back and laughed. “I only take it out for special occasions. Like New Year’s.” He leaned towards her.  “Especially when I have the honor of accompanying a lovely lady.”

“You’re not accompanying me. You’re dropping me off.”

“Precisely.” He pulled up in front of the house that pulsed with music, revving his engine one last time. He jumped out of the car and got to her side just as she was opening her door. He offered her his arm. “And since I’m a gentleman, I’ll accompany you to the door.”

Anna ignored Ulf and struggled to get up while the dress she had decided to wear did its best to slide all the way up her thighs. Ulf moved to steady her as she wobbled in the high heels she wasn’t used to wearing but she pushed him away. Her shoes slipped on the icy snow and she grabbed the railing, wondering why she had decided to wear them.

“It would be easier if you’d accept my help.”

“I don’t need your help,” she said, walking up the stairs. When he followed anyway, she turned to face him. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“As a matter of fact… no,” said Ulf. He straightened his white silk scarf that didn’t need straightening. “Ingrid won’t be off work until eleven.”

The evening was cold and Anna regretted wearing a dress. “You’re not coming in.”

“We can stand out here, if that’s what you prefer,” said Ulf, looking up at the sky.

Randi opened the door. “Anna! Finally,” she squealed. She threw herself at Anna. “I didn’t know you were bringing someone.”

“I’m not,” Anna said. “He’s leaving. Now.”

Randi glanced at Ulf who was leaning elegantly against the railing in what could have passed for a golden boy fashion shot. “Is that your boyfriend?” Randi asked hanging onto Anna. She looked Ulf up and down. “Is that why you didn’t come earlier?”

“Let’s go in,” Anna said, trying to get Randi back in the house.

Ulf slid an arm around Randi’s waist. “Perhaps I can help.”

“Oh sure,” Randi said. She giggled as she leaned into Ulf. “You have a nice… car.”

“Leave her alone.” Anna pried Ulf’s wandering hands away from Randi who was happily wrapping her arms around Ulf’s neck. “Randi, knock it off.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Randi pushed away from Ulf. “He’s yours. I forgot.”

“I’ll take her,” said Siri, steadying Randi. “That way you guys can come in and take your coats off.”

“Ulf has a date,” Anna said. She blocked the door after Siri and Randi disappeared inside. “With my mom. Or have you forgotten?”

“Sweet little Anna.” Ulf reached out to touch her cheek with his leather gloved hand.

Anna slapped it away. “Get away from me.”

“You’re so adorable when you’re angry,” he said with a laugh. “Call me when you want me to come for you.”

Anna resisted the impulse to slam the door and closed it calmly instead. The living room was packed with people dancing. She rubbed her forehead and walked over to the dining room table that was laden with food and drinks instead. She’d never understand her mom’s taste in men.

Siri came and nudged her shoulder. “Where’s the guy you came with?””

“Gone,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “Finally.”

“He didn’t look your type,” Siri said with a shrug. “But you never know.”

“He’s not. He’s my mom’s boyfriend. And he’s a jerk.”

Siri’s hand hovered over the massacred chocolate cake. “That’s a mess.”

“Tell me about it.” Ulf was by far the worst of her mom’s recent boyfriends. He was a liar and a manipulator. But her mom never saw beyond a pretty face.

Siri dropped her voice. “Have you seen June? Is she coming?”

“No. She went away with her boyfriend and his family for the vacation. Why?” Anna asked sharply, not liking Siri’s look of relief.

“I was worried that maybe she didn’t feel welcome. And I felt guilty. I mean… I’m really sorry about Fritjof.” Siri paused. “But I’m starting to wonder why I thought some of his ideas were good. I know you never liked him. But… I thought he was right. About June being different and the need to keep our race pure and all that.” Siri looked away. “I’m embarrassed I let myself believe any of it.”

“He was persuasive, I guess.” Anna tried not to rub it in, but she was happy that at least one friend was coming back around.

“Maybe. But I really am sorry.”

“Tell June after the break.” Anna put her glass up to Siri’s. “She’ll understand.”

“Why are you girls being so serious?” boomed Anna’s cousin, Red. He put an arm around each of them. “There’s music. You should be dancing. Or aren’t there any nice guys?”

“Anna never thinks there are any nice guys. But I see a few.” Siri raised her glass and headed across the room that had started to get crowded now that a slow song was playing.

“What are you doing here?” Anna playfully punched her cousin who was built like a rugby player. “You graduated last year. You’re not part of the team anymore.”

“We told the guys that we’d be back,” said Red, nodding to where his best friend, Haakon, was surrounded by half the boys’ team. “But we can’t stay – we promised the girls we’d go to a dinner party. And they’ll kill us if we’re late.” Red and Haakon had dominated the court with their size and skill for the past three years, but neither of their girlfriends played.

“I’m surprised they even let you out of their sight.” Anna waved a finger at her cousin who had the same ultra blond hair and pale blue eyes as she did. “I’ve hardly seen you at all this vacation.”

“I know. We’ve been busy. But I’m here now.” The music picked up again. “Dance?” He took her hand and then dropped it as if he had been stung. He grabbed her wrist and turned her palm up, revealing the star-shaped Firemark. “Who did this?” he growled, his face turning the telltale shade of red that had earned him his nickname.

Anna pulled her hand out of his and closed her fist. “No one.”

“A mark like that can’t just appear.”

“Why do you care what did it?”

“What do you mean what did it?” Red gripped her shoulders. “You were the one…?” Red’s voice trailed off, but his eyes bore into hers as if he was trying to peer into her mind.

Anna pulled back, breaking the contact. “What are you talking about?” She hadn’t said anything about what had happened on the hill and June had left town right after the vigil.

Red laughed, but Anna could still feel his anger like a tightly coiled snake. “Nothing,” he said. “Let’s dance.”

Dvara paced around the massive table that filled the stone hall of Khotan’s lair. “Why are we waiting? Paaliaq has had more than enough time to hide again.”

“That is for Kairök Yarlung to decide,” Khotan said, using Yarlung’s official title as the head of their Cairn. As Kraal’s mate, she had taken over after his death.

“She’s too busy with her political games to think about it.” Dvara snorted. “She’s never had time for us anyhow.”

Rakan looked up from the intricate wire sculpture he was making. “Maybe she just wants to make sure you won’t throw yourself at Paaliaq in a hotheaded rage.”

“I’m no fool.” Dvara leaned over the table towards her half-brother. “I won’t attack until I’m certain to win. But I will attack. Unlike some I know.”

Rakan stood, towering over her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Sit,” Khotan said from his high-backed burgundy chair at the head of the table. “Both of you.” He waited until they complied. “The only reason you’re going instead of one of us is because Paaliaq won’t recognize you. Unfortunately, neither one of you is experienced enough to trap Paaliaq on your own.” Khotan looked from one to the other. “You’ll have to work together. Remember that.”

“But why did she set off one of Rakan’s old triggers?” Dvara hit the table with her fist. “It makes no sense. Even a newborn whelp would have felt what it was before touching it.”

Khotan created a burgundy colored fireball that floated in front of him. “Either she isn’t Paaliaq, or she’s luring you into a trap.” The stone walls reflected the warm glow of the fireball. “This isn’t a game. And I wish we didn’t have to send you.” Khotan’s face went blank for a split second as it always did when he spoke mentally with another dragon. “Yarlung bids us come to Lhang-tso,” he said, standing up. “Now.” Khotan disappeared without a sound, the fireball still suspended in midair.

Dvara followed in her stepfather’s trail, leaving Rakan to arrive last on the silver shores of the intensely blue lake that was Kairök Yarlung’s home. They faced the lake in their dragon forms. Khotan, an air dragon, rose on his burgundy hind legs and bellowed their arrival.

The blue-white coils of Yarlung’s water dragon form undulated majestically in the center of the crescent shaped lake. Rakan had always felt a sense of awe in front of his mother’s abode. Something about its starkness, the pungent salty flavor of the wind that rolled off the lake, the beauty of the contrasting red hills that surrounded it in the thin air of its 4,500 meter high perch had always made him feel like he was in the presence of something profound. He smiled and rocked back onto his own hind legs, stretched his majestic coral wings and added his greetings to his father’s. Neither animal nor plant life ventured near the lake. They were refreshingly alone. And free.

Dvara, a compact fire dragon with only the shortest of wings, dug her claws into the ground. She raised her jewel-like vermillion head and joined her voice to the others’.

Yarlung approached the edge of the lake and morphed into her human form. She signaled for them to do the same. Flashes of turquoise glinted off her metallic white dress. Rakan knelt next to his father and Dvara, his right fist on the center of his chest where his rök pounded in excitement.

“Rise. It is time,” Yarlung said, her voice snapping like thunder. “If the dragon who set off Rakan’s trigger is Paaliaq, I will savor her death.” Yarlung paused and then spoke again, more quietly. “If not, I will bind her to me by taking her rök whether she wills it or not. But I believe she is Paaliaq. Too many things confirm it. Including the presence of a male dragon who can only be her mate, Haakaramanoth.”

The wind howled across the lake.

“From what our scouts have been able to gather these past three weeks,” Khotan said, “she has created the illusion of being an untrained whelp and goes by the name Jing Mei. But don’t be fooled by her innocent appearance.”

Yarlung’s nostrils flared. “If she even begins to suspect who you are, she’ll kill you. Pretend you’re untrained. Take your time and get close to her. But not too close. Only one member of her Cairn is left and she will want to possess you both. Starting with Rakan’dzor. She has always preferred males.”

“But the Code forbids blood relatives to have the same Kairök,” Rakan said.

Yarlung snorted. “Paaliaq has no honor. Never forget that.” She turned to Khotan. “Give Dvara back her rök. Paaliaq will be suspicious if she doesn’t have it.”

“But the risk…” stammered Khotan.

“Is of no consequence. Do it. Now. And then bind her to you as Kraal taught you.”

“No,” said Khotan. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Have you become so frail that you can no longer master even that?”

Khotan bowed his head. “May your will be done,” he said, saying the traditional formula of submission to a Kairök. But Rakan could feel his father’s anger.

Dvara tilted her chin and gave Rakan a look of triumph. She had wanted her rök back ever since Yarlung had declared that he would keep his and remain independent. But learning to control his rök had been harder than he had let on. Starting with when he had morphed for the first time not knowing which of the three dragon forms he would take. But even after he knew he was an air dragon, his rök’s wild power had nearly overwhelmed him. It wasn’t until Khotan had taught him to control his emotions that he could morph without fear of involuntarily killing himself or his family.

Khotan walked over to Dvara, his fluid black pants snapping in the wind. They stood still, facing each other as equals even though Khotan loomed over Dvara’s delicate figure. Khotan began a low chant in Draagsil, the ancient language of the dragon race. He lifted his arms to the sky, his bare chest glistening like armor. Energy crackled and began to circle him. It spun faster and faster until Khotan was nothing more than a shimmering mirage in front of Dvara. A faint drum-like beat began, steadily increasing in tempo as it grew louder. Suddenly, the wind died and the beating stopped. A mass of pure vermillion energy licked Khotan’s hands like the flames of a fire. The energy condensed in a flash of vermillion light, leaving a bright red stone in Khotan’s palm. Dvara’s dragon heart.

Khotan held the egg-shaped rök to the sky before releasing it to hover above Dvara’s head. It glittered like a crown jewel. “My will has been done. You are now your own master. May your will be one with your rök.”

A red flame moved up Dvara’s gown, circling her body until it reached her rök. The rök ignited in a ball of wild energy. It spun around her in an uncontrolled frenzy. It was going to kill her. Rakan sprang forward, desperate to catch Dvara’s rök before it was too late, but Khotan stopped him. “No. Their reunion can’t be interfered with. It must run its course. For better or for worse.”

The rök lurched. Rakan stood ready to intervene if things got worse. Whether he was supposed to or not, he wouldn’t stand by and watch her die. A brilliant flash of intense vermillion encompassed Dvara, knocking her to the ground.

Yarlung snorted in contempt. “Tend to her.”

Khotan knelt next to Dvara and touched a hand to her forehead, healing her with his energy. She latched onto Khotan, her red eyes echoing the wildness of her rök.

“Come,” Khotan said, helping her to stand. “Do you accept of your own free will that I mark you with Kraal’s neutralized poison and bind you to me in a partial link?”

“I do.”

“And do you understand the consequences of this act?”

Yarlung growled her impatience, but Dvara didn’t take her eyes from Khotan’s.

“I do,” Dvara said solemnly.

“What consequences?” thought Rakan, glancing at his mother. But she ignored him.

Khotan morphed and sank his claws into Dvara’s bare arms. Rakan watched, horrified, as Dvara writhed by the edge of the lake in a mixture of rapture and agony. A black winged air dragon with burgundy eyes danced on each arm before fading under her skin.

“Go now,” Yarlung said, her words lingering for just a moment after she disappeared.

“Rakan…”

“Yes, Father?”

“If you need to contact us, send a message through Dvara.”

Rakan nodded, confused. Didn’t his father know that Yarlung had marked him too?

Khotan disappeared. It was time.

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Read-a-Chapter: The Curse Giver, by Dora Machado

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the romance fantasy, The Curse Giver, by Dora Machado. Enjoy!

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Lusielle’s bleak but orderly life as a remedy mixer is shattered when her husband betrays her and she is sentenced to die for a crime she didn’t commit. She’s on the pyre, about to be burned, when a stranger breaks through the crowd and rescues her from the flames.

Brennus, Lord of Laonia is the last of his line. He is caught in the grip of a mysterious curse that has murdered his kin, doomed his people and embittered his life. To defeat the curse, he must hunt a birthmark and kill the woman who bears it in the foulest of ways. Lusielle bears such a mark.

Stalked by intrigue and confounded by the forbidden passion flaring between them, predator and prey must come together to defeat not only the vile curse, but also the curse giver who has already conjured their ends.

Purchase THE CURSE GIVER on AMAZON 

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Prologue

The curse giver slithered out of the basin and glided among the counter wares, surveying the tidy kitchen. Tonight, she favored the serpent’s sleek shape. When she was sure she was alone, she grew herself into a watery semblance of the human form that defined her current existence. Her face’s reflection, coalescing into something tangible on the windowpane, might have been considered beautiful if one cared about such things.

She didn’t. Beauty implied good and good entailed virtue, all spoilers to the evil she practiced.

The evening storm agreed with her mood. It had been a busy night. She was on the last leg of her three-part errand. First, she had paid a visit to the arrogant fool who had provoked her wrath nearly ten years ago. Why had he been surprised to see her? He should have known that she would be back to avenge his treachery. Nothing could protect him from her rage.

True, he had provided her with a rare opportunity. Betrayal was rare when one was a recluse of gods and mortals. Revenge was an elusive treat. The man’s misdeeds were unforgivable and yet his offense had freed her to indulge in her greatest compulsion.

A curse was serious work, precision’s highest aim. A curse was challenge and duel, battle and victory, the maker’s highest praise. And this night, after ten years of careful planning, she had returned to cast the perfect curse, a layered trap of death, suffering, ruin and catastrophe; a cruel, complex, and horrific work of art.

Her best and most satisfying creation yet.

Had the proud lord really thought he had avoided retribution? Had he expected any less than what he got? He must have, because he pleaded with his eyes and wailed like a pathetic fool while she wrote the curse with his blood.

The pleasure she got from casting the curse was so obscene it should have been forbidden. The enjoyment she would get in the years to come thrilled in advance. She had been meticulous in her preparations, deliberate in her provisions, fierce like the Goddess herself.

That’s why prior to traveling to the kitchen, she had visited a second victim that night, lulling the young woman to sleep with a peaceful lullaby, cursing her with a kiss on the shoulder, where a tiny mark would grow over time to play a small but entertaining part in the curse’s expanding evil.

Practicality was a sign of genius. Diligence upfront saved time.

And now, to the last part of the plan. The need for preemptive action had brought her to this orderly kitchen, where a thousand scents mingled to entice the nose, including the lingering perfume of sweat, toil and exhaustion.

What would it be like to live in a place like this? How would it feel to welcome guests every day, catering to their needs and listening to their stories? How would her life have turned out if she had devoted her talents to cooking, tending to the gardens, laundering the linens, mixing this, testing that, catching a few hours of sleep only to begin the same backbreaking routine all over again the next day?

She shook her head, knowing the answer—it would be boring, tedious and dull. A waste of time, a squandering of her creative genius. A dreary existence that no one could possibly relish, let alone want.

Destroying a life condemned to such a fate could have been seen as merciful, if one believed in such a thing as mercy. But she didn’t. Good was to bad as seed was to sprout. Mercy was a waste of time.

She went about the kitchen, lighting the lamp, stuffing it with drying rags, until a nice little fire burned on the tabletop. She felt quite diligent as she fed the fire more kindling, a bundle of dried flowers, a bunch of rushes from the floor, some logs and twigs from the stack by the fireplace, and a jug of oil, which she splattered liberally over the place, until the fire was large enough to lick the ceiling beams and ignite the walls.

How simple it was to ensure the curse’s future with a little forethought and the roaring flames. Nobody in this place would survive the fire. She wasn’t about to leave anything to chance. Call it overkill, because the casting had been done and death was the only possible outcome.

With the smoke growing thick and the curse’s loose ends firmly knotted, she splashed back into the basin and, making the quick trip home, returned to her lair. She was in a mood to celebrate.

She sat at her desk and smiled. After rubbing her hands together, she dipped her precious quill in the ink pot and pressed it against the vellum. The realms needed to beware. Her best curse was now loose upon the world. A warning, that’s what she needed to compose, the opening for a new masterwork, a battle cry and a victory song.

And so, she began.

I am the curse giver.

Spawn of the fickle gods’ whims,

Scorned by virtue, spurned by faith,

Shudder when you hear my name.

Chapter One

Dread stared at Lusielle from the depths of the rowdy crowd. Concealed under a heavy hood, only the stranger’s black eyes dared to meet her gaze among the growing throng. The man’s eyes refused to flinch or shift from her face. His stare was free of the hatred she had gotten from the others, but also devoid of mercy. He held on to her gaze like an anchor to her soul, testing her fortitude, knowing full well her fears’ vast range.

She had always been meant for the fire. Even as she had escaped the blaze that killed her parents and burned the inn to the ground, Lusielle had known that the flame’s greedy god would return to claim her life. But she hadn’t expected it to happen after days of torture, surrounded by the raging mob, found guilty of a crime she didn’t commit, betrayed and condemned.

The town’s cobbler, one of her husband’s best customers, tightened the noose around her neck until it cut off her breath. She had waited on him countless times at the shop, and had always padded his order with a free measure of coriander to help with his wife’s cough.

But none of the town’s inhabitants seemed to remember any of her kindnesses as of late. On the contrary, the crowd was booing and jeering when they weren’t pelting her with rotten fruit. They treated her as if she were a common thief.

The brute who had conducted her torture shoved the cobbler aside, tying her elbows and wrists around the wooden stake. Orell. She remembered his name. His bearded face might have been handsome if not for the permanent leer. Like the magistrate, he wore the king’s burgundy colors, but his role had been more vicious. Had he been granted more time, he might have succeeded at extracting the false confession he wanted, but the magistrate was in a hurry, afraid of any possible unrest.

Orell yanked on the ropes, tightening her bonds. The wound on her back broke open all over again. She swallowed a strangled hiss. It was as if the thug wanted her to suffer, as if he had a private reason to profit from her pain.

But she had never seen him until three days ago, when he and the magistrate had shown up unannounced, making random accusations.

Lusielle couldn’t understand any of this.

She knew that the king’s justice was notoriously arbitrary. It was one of the main reasons why she loathed living under King Riva’s rule. But she also knew better than to express her opinion. Ruin and tragedy trailed those who dared to criticize the king. That’s why she had never mentioned her misgivings to anyone.

What had she done to deserve this fate? And why did they continue to be so cruel? After all, she wasn’t fighting them anymore.

True, she had resisted at first. Out of fear and pride, she had tried to defend herself. But in the end, it hadn’t mattered. Her accusers had relied on the testimony of the devious liar who had turned her in—Aponte Rummins—her own husband.

The mock hearing had been too painful to bear, too absurd to believe. Aponte swore before the magistrate that Lusielle was a secret practitioner of the forbidden odd arts. It was ridiculous. How could anyone believe that she, who had always relied on logic, measure and observation to mix her remedies, could possibly serve the Odd God’s dark purposes? And how could anyone believe Aponte’s lies?

But they did, they believed him as he called on his paid witnesses and presented fabricated evidence, swearing that he himself had caught her at the shop, worshipping the Odd God. In the end, it had been her husband’s false testimony that provided the ultimate proof of the heinous charge for which Lusielle was about to die.

Burning torch in hand, the magistrate stepped forward. Still in shock, Lusielle swallowed a gulp of bitter horror and steeled for the flames’ excruciating pain. She didn’t want to die like a shrieking coward. But nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.

The magistrate offered the torch to Aponte.

“The king upholds a husband’s authority over his wife in the kingdom,” the magistrate shouted for the crowd to hear. “There can be no protests, no doubt of the wisdom of royal justice if a husband does as he’s entitled to do by his marital rights.”

Aponte could have forgone her execution. Considering the magistrate’s proclamation, he could have chosen a different punishment for her. Instead, he accepted the torch and, without hesitation, put the flame to the tinder and blew over the kindling to start the fire.

“Go now,” he said, grinning like a hog about to gorge. “Go find your dark lord.”

Lusielle glared at the poor excuse for a man who had ruined her life many times over. She had known from the beginning that he was fatally flawed, just as he had known on the day he claimed her that she couldn’t pledge him any affection.

But Aponte had never wanted her affection. He had wanted her servitude, and in that sense she proved to be the reluctant but dutiful servant he craved.

Over the years he had taught her hatred.

His gratification came from beating and humiliating her. His crass and vulgar tastes turned his bed into a nightmare. She felt so ashamed of the things he made her do. Still, even if she loathed him—and not just him, but the slave she had become under his rule—she had tried to make the best of it.

She had served him diligently, tending to his businesses, reorganizing his stores, rearranging his trading routes and increasing his profits. His table had always been ready. His meals had been hot and flavorsome. His sheets had been crisp and his bed had been coal-warmed every night. Perhaps due to all of this, he had seemed genuinely pleased with their marital arrangement.

Why, then, had he surrendered her so easily to the magistrate’s brute?

Aponte had to have some purpose for this betrayal. He was, above all, a practical man. He would not surrender all the advantages that Lusielle brought to him—money, standing, common sense, business acumen—without the benefit of an even greater windfall.

Lusielle couldn’t understand how, but she was sure that the bastard was going to profit handsomely from her death.

The scent of pine turned acrid and hot. Cones crackled and popped. The fire hissed a sinister murmur, a sure promise of pain. She didn’t watch the little sparks grow into flames at her feet. Instead, her eyes returned to the back of the crowd, seeking the stranger’s stare. She found him even as a puff of white smoke clouded her sight and the fire’s rising heat distorted his scarred face’s fixed expression.

The nearing flames thawed the pervasive cold chilling her bones. Flying sparks pecked at her skin. Her toes curled. Her feet flinched. Pain teased her ankles in alarming, nipping jolts. Dear gods. They were really going to burn her alive.

Lusielle shut her eyes. When she looked again, the stranger was gone from the crowd. She couldn’t blame him. She would have never chosen to watch the flame’s devouring dance.

A commotion ensued somewhere beyond the pyre. People were screaming, but she couldn’t see through the flames and smoke. She flinched when a lick of fire ignited her shift’s hem. A vile stink filled her lungs. Her body shivered in shock. She coughed, then hacked. Fear’s fiery fingers began to torment her legs.

“Come and find me,” she called to the God of fire.

And he did.

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Read-a-Chapter: The PureLights of Ohm Totem, by Brandon Ellis

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the young adult fantasy, The PureLights of Ohm Totem, by Brandon Ellis. Enjoy!

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Title: The PureLights of Ohm Totem

Genre: YA Fantasy

Author: Brandon Ellis

Website: www.thepurelights.com 

Purchase on Amazon

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Prologue 

It was nightfall. A snow leopard walked toward a split in the river. The wind howled against her body as fur clung to her skin. She leaned into heavy gusts, digging her claws deep into the earth, keeping herself upright. Her eyes were mere slits, protecting her from flying dirt and ash swirling violently in the air. The once lush, sacred land was now burnt to black cinder. Smoke rose from the ground, wildly spinning in harsh wind. The old dwellings, formed from earth and fallen branches, were mostly gone—turned to embers.

She stopped near the river’s edge, facing the mountain range to the west. The mountains stood like black silhouettes amidst dark gray clouds. She turned her head to the north, sensing a group of eyes hidden behind a shadow of trees. They were watching her.

The snow leopard closed her eyes, then took a deep breath. A flicker of light flashed above, casting shadows from clouds, trees, boulders, and smoke across the land.

Opening her eyes, she sat down on her hind legs, folding her long tail over her paws. She stared patiently ahead. More than just instinct had led her here.

Another strong gust of wind lashed against her body, making her grip the earth even deeper. She closed her eyes again. An instant later the wind calmed, allowing her to let go of the charred earth. She looked at the night sky as the gray clouds parted—one half flowed north, the other half south—revealing a star-filled canopy above.

Suddenly she winced. A large comet raced across the sky, painting a crystal-blue streak among the stars above the mountains. Her eyes intently followed the blue comet as it slowly vanished into the western horizon. Then she nodded to the sky, as if communicating with it in some mystical way.

The snow leopard dropped her gaze, eyeing the ground in front of her paws. A rolled up scroll, which wasn’t there a moment before, lay in front of her. Placing her paw on one end of the scroll, she nudged the opposite end toward the river with her nose. It rolled out, revealing gold paper thickly outlined in black.

She stared into it. A word formed, then more, until the scroll was filled with words. It read:

 

Two children from a forgotten land will purify the energies, bring back the old ways, and unite the PureLights once again, putting an end to the coming Shiver.

 

~ Windstorm Prophecy

 

She removed her paw from the scroll, nosing one end closer to the other, and rolled it up. She gently grasped it between sharp teeth, then stood on all fours. She sniffed the air. Danger was near.

A burst of wind buffeted against the snow leopard, slightly unbalancing her. Closing her eyes, the wind slowed to a slight breeze. Opening her eyes, she turned and slowly walked to the east, passing several mounds still smoldering from the fires that had once engulfed them.

She looked north, feeling a group of dim eyes burning deeply into her snowy pelt. She knew they’d killed before. She knew they wanted to kill again.

Continuing to walk eastward, she came to a large dwelling mound half-burnt to the ground. It gave off heat, but little smoke. She sniffed. It was empty of life. She glanced once more at the ruined land and a pain of sorrow sank deep within her. Everything around her was dead. Her friends. Her family. Everything.

Lifting her head, she stared to the north once more, narrowing her eyes as she studied a thick fog hovering in a stand of sparse trees in the distance. Still clutching the scroll, she gave a loud moan and watched the fog for several more moments, waiting for a reply.

Nothing.

Turning to leave, she noticed something on the ground. Something important. Fresh tracks. She sniffed intently—panther scent. Her head jerked, her eyes widened. He’s alive and he was here only moments ago. Why didn’t she sense him?

Just then she heard several yelps. She turned to face six white wolves walking cautiously toward her. Their fur bristled and their ears were pulled back. They advanced toward her with low growls. It was a display to induce fear, one that was wasted on the snow leopard.

Backing up slowly, the snow leopard moved her head from left to right, studying each wolf as the group began to surround her. The closer they came, the tighter she held the scroll. Suddenly she stopped, surprising and confusing the pack. Their usual slaughters involved a chase.

A flash of light appeared silently above. The pack looked up as the light changed from white to crystal blue, sending a hue of color against the land, then it slowly faded away. Something about this omen told the pack that tonight’s prey was different, something they’d never encountered before.

The pack leader glared at the snow leopard as he let out a loud, throaty growl, saliva dripping from both sides of his mouth. The wind from the north picked up just as the leader crouched and leaped at her with bared teeth.

She easily side-stepped the attack. The leader landed directly on the spot she’d just occupied, swiping in vain at empty air. Another wolf sprang. Her back was to him, but she spun out of the way and swatted his backside, sending him further along his planned course. His outstretched paws gripped the earth as he landed, stopping him just inches from a burnt tree.

The snow leopard sat down, calmly looking back at the leader, then exhaled as she placed the scroll on the ground. She licked her paw, wiped her forehead, and picked the scroll back up. She blinked softly, purring. She seemed content with the situation.

The leader pulsed with adrenaline as he jumped at her again, thrusting his feet outward, hoping to knock her over at the shoulders. She crouched, twisted toward him, deftly moving directly under his body just as he was at full height. She flipped on her back, facing her belly to his, briskly planting her feet on his stomach, pushing firmly in the direction he had jumped.

The wolf, surprised, landed much further away than intended, and lost balance, somersaulting head over heels as he yelped with pain. When he stopped tumbling across charred earth, he shook his head, flinging dirt and ash from his fur, then sprang to his feet. He gave a high-pitched growl, signaling the pack to form a line in front of the snow leopard. Growling in unison, they obeyed. The leader barked an order and one by one they attacked her.

And one by one they missed.

The snow leopard shook her body like a wet dog, then sat back down on her hind legs, waiting for the next attack.

The leader signaled for the pack to regroup. They formed another line, standing to the east of her, blocking a throng of trees that formed the outskirts of an enormous forest.

She stared longingly beyond the pack to the forest’s edge. They knew it was her only escape.

She looked up to the night sky as a thin set of clouds whisked by, uncovering a full moon. Her brow crinkled in worry. She must find the panther. The wolves crouched low, ready to attack. This time it was the whole pack all at once.

The snow leopard had had enough. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Instantly, the growls stopped and six thuds echoed through the air. She opened her eyes. In front of her, the wolves lay on their sides, breathing deeply, looking as if they were sleeping comfortably in their dens.

She bowed her head, and then with a flick of her tail sped off toward the wall of trees to the east. Just before entering the forest, she stopped and put down the scroll. She nudged it open, peering into it again. She glanced over her shoulder. The wolves were still asleep. She closed and picked up the scroll and looked up to the night sky. Blinking softly, she purred in gratitude for the scroll held in her jaws. A moment later she leaped forward into the thick forest, vanishing into shadow.

 

 

 

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