Writing Update

IMG_20160428_203226Things have been a little hectic lately. I started a new job with a weird schedule, so I haven’t kept up with things the way I should. I have been writing some, though, both stories in Grevared and some horror stuff.

I have two short stories completed and am doing revisions. One is the Muhulda Urswyk story that posts here every Wednesday, and the other is a horror tale.

I’ve been making progress on both the YA WIP and on ‘the story that never ends’. I finally like where the trilogy is going. I just hope I can keep it going in this direction. I’ll tell you, these guys LOVE to take off on their own.

I have a children’s story that’s in its editing phase. I’m almost through with what I hope will be the last of the edits. Now, I just have to decide on a cover for it. This story takes place in the Kingdom of Emerell, just to the west of Moirena. The village of Everstone is attacked by the Kwaad, and Jerrung’s sister is taken. Not willing to wait for the adults to go after them, Jerrung and his friends set off under the mountain. Finally, he gets to have a real adventure.

I’m hoping that I’ll settle into my new schedule and get back to being productive.

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

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Writing Update

E'ma Thalas and the Xaggarene Empire VintageWell, I’m not getting a lot done in the writing department. It’s coming up on graduation, and my youngest is leaving high school. I am, however, getting some world building done. I’ve just about completed the history of E’ma Thalas and will soon start on the Xaggarene Empire.

1486 AOP: Tavrinth of the Moonchaser dragon clan carries King Oberon to a forested land. Oberon approves this as the home of the elves and names it E’ma Thalas, which means ‘sacred refuge’ in the original language of the elves. Oberon petitions the Moonchaser clan to transport the rest of the Fair Folk to their new home.

1487 AOP: Letallatos is established as the capital of E’ma Thalas, and the palace is built.

1500 AOP: Oberon sends an expedition under the leadership of Ashiri Cornflower south of the Borderland Mountains. They discover the human tribes.

1520 AOP: Ashiri, angry that Oberon only has scant patrols along the Borderland Mountains, heads east with a group of like-minded elves. They form a small community at the edge of the land, called O’ntheas, which means ‘escape’. This town later becomes Tradespire. The elves there raise bocearc in the plainland south of O’ntheas and heavily guard the path at the end of the Borderland Mountains.

1768 AOP:  A band of humans crosses the Borderland Mountains and attacks the pixie conclave headed by Odile Snowdrop. The conclave is destroyed, and Oberon leads an army of elves and fairies over the mountains. Oberon is killed, and Oberon’s son Ethalar becomes the new Oberon. Titania helps him choose a new Titania before she dies.

I’m in the process of adding all these to the website, which I’ve redesigned. Check it out at http://www.lissadobbs.com.

Writing Update

Now that Aradia’s Secret has released, I’m going to take some time and work on world-building. I want to get the history straight in my head so I know where I’m going and why. I also want to actually make some progress on ‘the story that never ends’.

I wrote a Prologue this week that I’m not sure will make it into the final books, but it was a way to get the story straight in my head. It’s below, but it hasn’t been edited. Even so, I would welcome comments and suggestions.

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Sister Gabrielle Corcoran awoke with a start. She had been dozing in the straight-backed chair that was one of the few pieces of furniture her cell at the Arcana Maximus contained. She stretched, her body aching, and trembled with a chill she couldn’t explain. She moved to the door on tiptoes and cracked it just enough to see if any of the other Sisters, or, worse, the Ibunana, were walking the halls.

The stone corridor was empty. Gabby waited for a moment, just to be sure, for if she was caught sneaking out of the Arcana in the middle of the night, she would be beaten and imprisoned.

With the way clear, Gabby took several deep breaths to steady herself, the she slipped from her cell and out into the night.

 

Detective Timothy Hawkins trudged through the Warren in the city of Freywater. All around him rose buildings of several stories, made of wood and metal, that, though tall, managed to look squat. His feet missed holes in the cobblestone streets out of habit, for the Warren had been his beat for more than twenty-five years. Though he had risen through the ranks of the Enforcers, he had never been able to secure one of the coveted positions outside of the Warren.

“Once a Warren rat, always a Warren rat,” Timothy muttered as he shivered in a sudden icy breeze, one that cut through his cloak and pierced his bones.

Though Timothy had been with the Enforcers for more than twenty years, his role as a Shadow Walker, one of the champions of the gods, had taken him away from his post too many times for true advancement. He cursed to himself again as he realized just how much he had lost by being a Shadow Walker. It wasn’t a secret; the Shadow Walkers were a recognized force in Grevared, but it wasn’t something he flaunted. And his captain took a dim view of those who had commitments outside the Enforcers.

 

Northward, in Sangeron, the capital city of the Xaggarene Empire, Daniel Klesko, too, shivered in a breeze that threated to freeze him where he stood. He trembled, his mind desperately trying to grasp what his instinct already knew.

The city was quiet, at least as quiet as Sangeron ever got, for Sangeron was a city that never truly slept. Ladies of the evening plied their trade in corsets laced far too tightly, while others stumbled from frizz dens, taverns, and dark alleys to make their way home with unsteady steps.

Daniel, too, was a Shadow Walker, though he had lost the Stone of Destiny five years before. Now he did nothing but wander the streets of Sangeron, getting food and shelter where he could, his mind a kaleidoscope of past and present that swirled in un-graspable images that defied comprehension.

 

In the forests of E’ma Thalas, north of the Xaggarene Empire, Illythor, captain of Oberon’s guard, paced back and forth. His elven ears strained for any sound that would explain the disquiet that seeped through his blood, but the only sounds were those of the night creatures moving about the forest. He knew the rumors as well as the next elf; more and more elves were succumbing to the gealtachta na déithe, the madness of the gods. Oberon, himself, had mentioned the rise, and it devastated Titania to see her people succumb.

A rustle to his left brought Illythor’s sword to his hands.

“It’s only me.”

Illythor cursed and huffed out a relieved breath as Ivlisar, his boon companion, joined him on the wall of Oberon’s palace. “What are you doing out here in the middle of the night? Did you piss someone off?”

Ivlisar smiled and shook his head. “Couldn’t sleep.” He stared out over the tops of the trees, their purples, greens, and yellows hidden by darkness. “There’s a fell wind blowing, brother. One that bodes evil for all of us.”

Illythor returned his sword to his sheath and sighed. “Then we’d best be ready.”

 

Far to the south, across the void, on the edge of the Shizzuria Wasteland, Morgan Harper came awake with a cry. The mechanical owl that sometimes housed the spirit of Abraham chittered softly on her beside table. She cursed and climbed from the bed, her eyes gritty from lack of sleep.

She grabbed her coat from its place by the door and pulled it around her slight frame. With another curse, she opened the door to her small cottage and peered out into the night. Before her lay the streets of Grenvor and the edge of the ice sheets that marked the wasteland. Nothing moved. She searched with both her eyes and her mind for the cause of the disturbance, but she could find nothing.

“What the hell?”

Morgan returned to her home and placed her coat on its hook. She grabbed several lumps of coal from the bucket by the brazier and stoked the fire. She stood in her nightclothes and rubbed her arms to dispel the chill, while her heart ached and longed for something that would never be again. After several moments, she shook off her unease and returned to sleep.

 

In the untamed chaos of the void, Arianna Henderson leaned against the rail of the Greydawn Spirit. Her feet shifted, one to the other, with a restlessness she couldn’t quite put her finger on, while her eyes scanned the gray nothing before her. Something was coming, she was sure, and she knew she needed to be ready.

“What’s up?” asked Charity Chance, another of the Shadow Walkers aboard the ship.

“Don’t know.” Arianna raised herself and turned to face Charity. “Something’s in the air. I’m restless.”

Charity laughed, her voice deep and rich. “You’re always restless.”

Arianna bit the edge of her thumb and turned to face the void. “This is different.”

Charity shrugged. “I guess we’ll know when it gets here.” Charity motioned to the hatch behind her. “Get some sleep. It’s my watch.”

Arianna nodded and headed below decks to her cabin. Though she tried, she never did fall asleep.

 

On the other end of Grevared, across the void, in the land of Moirena, Justin Harper shifted in his sleep. He opened bleary eyes to the stone walls of his cell. The chain that bound him to the wall rattled in the quiet of the night, and it took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t in Lemoreal’s bed.

He’d been a slave to the demon Lemoreal for five years now, a slavery he’d entered willingly. Now, he would give his soul, what little was left of it, for his freedom, to regain what he’d thrown away.

He raised himself to a sitting position and reached for the small water skin that was his only sustenance. He took a tiny sip, for he would not be allowed more until Lemoreal chose to reclaim him, and leaned his head against the wall. Something prickled his skin, though he had no idea what it meant. He reached outward with his mind in an attempt to discover what had disturbed him, to sense Morgan and the children they had borne together, but all he could find was the demon.

 

 

New Wolf Covers

Those who’ve followed for a while know that I like to play around with things, particularly my book covers. Learning new things is fun, and I’d rather enjoy the process than hire it out, even if it means sacrificing potential sales. That being said, I have a couple of new covers for Wolf in the Shadow, and I would love some opinions on which one to use (or to keep the one I have and toss these).

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

final-cover
Cover: Wolf in the Shadow
another-final-cover
Cover: Wolf in the Shadow

 

The Story:

Something is killing the good folks of Black Crystal. People are dying, and the remains discovered are unidentifiable. Sheriff Avery Smitherton has no idea what’s going on, so he calls on the Shadow Walkers, for they are experts in weird and expendable.

Timothy Hawkins and Eleanor Hestenfield are awakened in the middle of the night by Justin Harper, their friend and fellow Shadow Walker. After taking the overnight locomotive to Black Crystal, the trio is ready to tackle the threat. But all isn’t what it seems, for the forest holds a secret, one unknown to the citizens of Black Crystal. The Shadow Walkers must now face an undeniable truth that shakes the foundation of their purpose and their friendship, and the thing in the forest becomes the least of their worries.

Writing Update

Well, I’ve managed to finish the edits on Gwennyth. So, yay! I haven’t gotten as much done on other things this week as I’d’ve liked, but there’s always next week.

I have two short stories available for preorder on Amazon. Both are Rise of the Mad Gods. One is the story of Augustus Hopperton, a scavenger who thinks he’s finally found real treasure in the Heap. The other is the story of a slave girl who thinks the voice in her head is her imagination. It’s only when wounds heal and power flows through her that she comes to realize the voice just might be real.

rise-of-the-mad-godsRise of the Mad Gods2.png

 

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

Writing Update

rise-of-the-mad-godsWell, I haven’t gotten as much accomplished as I’d hoped to for my ‘weekend’, but I still have one day left. All the short stories are edited, and the first one is available for pre-order on Amazon. The second one will be available next week.

My plan for today is to get the Gwennyth story edited for what I hope is the final time and have it ready to release soon.

I did manage to get a little more done on the screenplay, so I feel I’ve at least accomplished a little bit. I even managed to get a little more done on the ‘story that never ends’.

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

Avoiding Editing

ebook-coverIt’s amazing how much effort I go through to avoid editing when I’m not in the mood to do it. I ran errands, printed the manuscript, and settled down to go through it yet again. Then very promptly picked up my computer and started playing with GIMP.

Those who’ve read for a while know I like to learn things and play around, and today’s activities focused on trying to make a cover for the new book. The title is a working title right now, but it’s still fun to play with the images. My efforts are below. If one looks like it might be the right one, sing out. Please!

Best wishes!

Lissa Dobbs

http://www.lissadobbs.com

 

map-and-clock-cover

woods-cover

 

Writing Update

img_20160428_203226.jpgWell, I’m giving The Journey/Diary of Gwennyth Grimsbane another week before I go back and look at it again, but I am working on a story that prequels Wolf in the Shadow, along with the ‘novel that never ends’.

The story takes place a year or so before Timothy and company visit Black Crystal.  Since there is no longer an afterlife, the souls of the dead tend to build up and have to be periodically disposed of . This is the celebration of Akatha Mabikym. Of course, not everyone agrees that destruction is the best answer, so a wizard tries to interrupt the ceremony. Cooley Cray and Reverend Morgan Nottle (She may not stay in this one. I haven’t decided yet.) have to track down the wizard and deal with him.

I wasn’t happy with the way this one was going, so my not-too-bright self decided I’d give it a shot as a screenplay. I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out or what I’ll do with it, but, hey, it’s something different. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Best wishes!

http://www.lissadobbs.com

Here’s a short excerpt in its raw, unedited stage  (I haven’t even checked for typ0s). There’s still a lot of work to do on it.

EXT BLACK CRYSTAL CEMETERY – NIGHT

The cemetery stretches from the rail line to the shore of Crystal Hand Lake. Lighted jack-o-lanterns sit on every grave, and a rock-ringed bonfire burns in the center. The townsfolk mill about, many in masks, and speak quietly. Tables and baskets of food sit piled at the edge of the cemetery. The spirits of the dead are more prevalent, though it’s clear the townsfolk don’t see them.

Cooley moves among the townsfolk dressed in his simply shirt and trousers. He speaks to some, but he’s paying more attention to the movements of the dead. Fog swirls off the lake and obscures his view.

A bell bongs in the distance. The townsfolk freeze. The bell bongs again, and the townsfolk form a large ring around the fire. Parents grip their children’s hands, and couples move closer to each other.

On the third bong, Reverend Morgan enters with three Brothers and three Sisters. All are wearing dark robes that hide their faces. Reverend Morgan takes her place before the fire. The Brothers line up on her right, and the Sisters line up on her left.

Cooley moves to the back of the crowd but stays where he can see the Reverend and her entourage. He mutters under his breath, and a faint nimbus surrounds him. Cooley disappears from sight, but we continue to watch the ritual as if we were standing with him.

The fog thickens as the Reverend begins to speak. From Cooley’s place, her words are muffled. The Brothers and Sisters join in at points. A vortex of swirling energy appears over the fire. The flames turn from orange to blue. A chill wind blows through the crowd, and they shiver. An agonized wail sounds through the cemetery, one felt as much as heard. The Reverend’s voice grows louder, but so does the wailing. The dead are pulled into the vortex. Several people scream, and some of the children cry. Cooley, though invisible, shudders.

EDILIUS EGLODAM, in a black cloak, his features completely hidden, appears on the other side of the fire. Steel gray bolts of energy shoot from his hands toward the vortex.

ANGLE ON THE VORTEX – The vortex reverses direction, and the dead move away from it.

WIDER – The Reverend continues the ritual, and the wizard continues to oppose her.

Cooley, still invisible, moves among the crowd. He dodges frightened townsfolk until he stands behind the Edilius. Cooley tries to get a look at him, but the hood and the magic prevent it. Cooley grabs Edilius around the neck and pulls backwards. Edilius stumbles backwards, a stray bolt shooting into the sky.

ANGLE ON MORGAN – She renews her efforts, and the vortex resumes its original direction. The dead are pulled into it. An anguished scream echoes across the cemetery, and the townspeople step backwards. It’s obvious some of them want to run away but are resolved not to.

ANGLE ON COOLEY AND EDILIUS – Edilius is on his knees with Cooley, still invisible, behind him. Edilius struggles, but Cooley is bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Edilius snarls at Morgan and disappears. Cooley falls face first into the grass. A barely seen helm, the Helm of Darkness, falls from Cooley’s head and disappears. Cooley is visible.

The woman standing closest to Cooley screams and steps backwards. Cooley jumps to his feet, looking for Edilius. He moves toward the back of the crowd.

The vortex over the bonfire whirls faster, and more and more dead are pulled into it.

The Harmarayon, including GARLAND PRIDDY, a middle-aged man with a rough, rustic look about him, swarm from outside the cemetery. The Harmarayon are even more conservatively dressed than the townsfolk. Most of their clothing is brown, and the women wear long, straight skirts and bonnets. All the men wear hats, and young women have their hair braided.

The Harmarayon fight their way toward the Reverend and her entourage. The sheriff’s deputies do their best to stop them. Cooley dons the Helm of Darkness and, invisible, hurries to protect the Reverend.

ANGLE ON A HARMARAYON TEENAGED GIRL – She pauses in the rush to kick over a jack-o-lantern. The fruit bursts, and the candle goes out. The girl smiles and hurries after the others. A townswoman picks up her small child and holds him close, out of the path of the crazed girl.

ANGLE ON THE SISTERS – A small Harmarayon woman tackles the Sister on the end. The Sister falls and lays still. The Harmarayon woman rises, dusts off her hands, and turns to the other Sisters. Three other women attack the other two Sisters, but these two fight off their attackers, leaving them lying by the fire, and return to their places.

ANGLE ON THE BROTHERS – Several male Harmarayon attack the Brothers. The Brothers fight. The small Harmarayon woman slips in among the men and stabs the Brother on the end in the chest. Cooley, invisible, knocks her backwards. She hits her head on a rock and lays still, eyes staring.

ANGLE ON MORGAN – Several of the townsfolk move to protect the Reverend. They don’t see Cooley standing there with a knife in his hand. Cooley looks at the Reverend to see glazed eyes and moving lips. Her arms are held up in front of her, and her fingers move in intricate patterns.

The sheriff’s men and the male townsfolk round up the Harmarayon. They are held at rifle and sword point. Throughout all this, the Reverend continues the ritual. The vortex swirls and hums. The dead scream. Mothers hold their children close, and fathers stand protectively over their families. A wind rushes through the cemetery and extinguishes some of the candles in the jack-o-lanterns. The vortex collapses. The blue fire returns to orange. The townsfolk breathe a collective sigh of relief and move off to get the tables and the food. A few of the men remove the Harmarayon woman’s body.

Cooley ‘removes’ the Helm of Darkness’ and appears beside Morgan. He ignores the gasps from the people nearby. He stands ready to catch her, but Morgan simply shakes her head and blinks a few times. She pushes back her hood and hurries to the fallen Brother.

ANGLE ON MORGAN – The Brother lays on his back with a knife sticking from his chest. Blood soaks his gray shirt. Morgan closes his eyes and bends her head. Her shoulders shake from sobs. A single tear falls from her cheek to land on the Brother’s chest. Cooley approaches from behind. Morgan dries her eyes and stands. Several townswomen approach and offer comfort.

Avery approaches Cooley, his hat in his hands.

 

AVERY

(looking at the bound Harmarayon)

Well, that went better than expected. (beat) Didn’t see you being much help, though.

 

Avery motions for his men to lead the Harmarayon away, and Cooley leads him away from the Reverend.

 

COOLEY

(shrugs)

Rounding up unruly townsfolk isn’t my job. You know that. (motions toward Morgan) She had the dead well in hand.

 

Some of the townsfolk set up tables and place a large side of beef on a spit on the fire. Others set up tables and cover them with food. Lanterns are lit to cut the darkness.

 

AVERY

What about that guy who disappeared?

 

COOLEY

I’ll need to talk to the Harmarayon. (sighs) The wizard was one of theirs.

 

AVERY

Well, I can’t hold all this lot all night.

 

COOLEY

I’ll be along shortly. I need to speak with the Reverend first. She’ll be able to tell me at least a little about the wizard.

 

AVERY

Fine. Just don’t be all night about it.

 

Avery heads off back toward town. Cooley approaches Morgan, who is now composed. The women have moved off, and DR. WINNIFRED FEASPETAL kneels beside the first Sister attacked. She checks the bandage covering a gash in the Sister’s head and moves away with several men carrying the Brother’s body.

 

Writing Update

img_20160428_203226.jpgI’ve been talking about the trilogy, nicknamed ‘the novel that never ends’, for over a year now, and I’m happy to say that I’m finally getting something done on it. I was glad to see that I actually had more done than I’d thought, and there are only five or six scenes that need writing before I can start revising. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get the first one completed, but I’m hoping to have it out by the end of this year. I can’t make any promises on books two and three, though three is pretty much completed, and book two is pretty complete in my head.

Below is the first chapter, though it still needs editing and revision.

Best wishes!

http://www.lissadobbs.com

Chapter One

 

 

Sister Gabrielle Corcoran darted behind Shadowhell, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone had seen her. The building was quiet, the only sounds the occasional cry of a child or the hollow bark of an n’kita.

Gabby propped against the rough wooden wall of a housing complex and leaned her head back to catch her breath. For a moment she considered the folly of her actions; Sisters of the Arcana Maximus weren’t allowed out into the city of Freywater, and never after Middle Night Contemplation, but Gabby had to know the truth. She’d simply heard too many whispers over the last few months to remain cloistered within the Arcana.

Gabby’s mother had placed her with the Arcana Maximus when she was just thirteen winters old – she had never known why – and Gabby had devoted herself to the Arcana, learning the rituals of contemplation and working with the other Sisters to provide for their needs. When she was eighteen winters, she had been told that her mother died of natural causes in a hovel in the Warren, and Gabby had grieved but possessed no real reason to question the information. But now, almost ten years later, Gabby had overheard whispered conversations and begun to believe there was more to her mother’s death than she’d been told. That coupled with Gabby’s increasing restiveness and impatience with the rules of the Arcana had led her to slip out into the town in search of answers.

Gabby pushed herself away from the wall and turned to face the depths of the Warren. The entire area was a collection of wooden structures reinforced with sheets of metal, the few that could actually be considered structures. Pipe chimneys belched coal smoke into the air and caused a perpetual fog the dim gas lanterns couldn’t penetrate. Piles of refuse added to the acrid scent of the smoke, and rats scuttling through garbage reinforced the general sense of desperation. A feeling that Death himself stood as a barrier between the Warren and the rest of Freywater snuck into Gabby’s mind and made it nearly impossible for her to breathe.

Then there were the rumors.

Tales of mechanical biotic experiments gone badly were interspersed with stories of demons from Moirena. It was even said that a banished elf princess from the Kingdom of E’ma Thalas was hiding within the Warren’s depths, and that Oberon, king of that land, would pay heavy coin for her capture. These, coupled with the whispers she’d head, caused Gabby to shudder and turn back. Ludicrous. That’s what this was. None of it could really be true.

Gabby didn’t really believe the rumors. She couldn’t. In Gabby’s mind the Warren was nothing more than a place populated by the destitute. At least, that’s what she’d always told herself. She’d insisted that all the rumors came from drugs that could alter the mind to such an extent that reality could never be regained. She’d told herself the rumors were nothing more than vivid imaginings of those who had nothing better to do and nothing to look forward to.

But what if I’m wrong?

Footsteps echoing on the cobbled street in front of the building kept Gabby frozen where she was. Voices, barely head, drifted on the breeze, and Gabby held her breath while her heart tried to escape from her ribcage. Enforcers. It had to be. For they were the only ones likely to be strolling Freywater at three hours after midnight, especially with the rumors of animated corpses attacking people.

Gabby shivered as she waited for the footsteps and voices to fade into nothingness. There had been a lot of rumors lately, enough to penetrate even the cloistered halls of the Arcana Maximus. The rumors of elves crossing the Borderland Mountains and harassing the smaller towns north of Freywater led into whispers that the Ibunana, the head of the Arcana, had petitioned the emperor to reinstate the ban on all magical people put into play several hundred years before. Gabby wasn’t sure if she believed it, not that it affected her, but just the thought of the empire being invaded terrified her.

Gabby strained her ears, and when she was sure the Enforcers had gone, she took several deep breaths to calm her nerves and choked on the putrescence of rotting food and excrement. She trembled and looked up at a sky that was nothing but swirling gray.

Doesn’t matter now.

Then, with a sigh, she crossed the dusty street and plunged into the Warren.

Darkness closed around Gabby. She squeezed her eyes as the miasma of misery crushed her chest, then she gasped and forced herself forward on shaking legs. The ground beneath her seemed to radiate despondency, and Gabby had to constantly fight the urge to run. A discarded board reached for her legs and caused her to stumble, and the ramshackle constructions around her tried to trap her in their grasp.

A baby cried, and a cat rowled, and Gabby stopped, straining her ears to locate the distorted sounds. Shadows moved in the corner of her vision, and Gabby jumped as she tried to see what was there. But all that appeared was yet another pile of rubbish.

Candlelight flickered in a small wooden shack ahead, and Gabby made her way toward it. She used the feeble light to dodge a mound of refuse as high as her shoulders and to avoid puddles that reeked in the summer heat. She knew her mother had died in a hovel near the city wall, but Gabby had no idea just which home had been hers.

“I wish I could just come during the day,” she whispered to the darkness.

More sounds, distorted by the haze and night, reached Gabby’s ears. Her legs trembled and her gut twisted around a solid mass of terror. Something thunked then shuffled, and Gabby froze where she was. She tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear and strained her eyes. She could dimly make out hovels cobbled together with scraps of wood and bits of paper, each a testament to the tenacity of its residents. Mountains of garbage rose around her, and Gabby’s imagination provided myriad possibilities of what could be hiding behind them. Or within them. She reached into the leather pouch at her waist and removed the forbidden knife. She held it loosely, ready to use it if need be.

Gabby had no sooner convinced herself that she was being ridiculous when a creature emerged from the darkness bit by bit, the reek of death preceding it. It was a small child, a girl, dressed in a navy dress trimmed in pink. Long fuchsia hair matted with gore framed a baby doll face the color of creamed coffee. Gabby relaxed for a moment, prepared to help the child, but the malicious hiss that showed a mouth full of serrated teeth caused Gabby to stumble backwards and land on her butt in a puddle. She noted the child’s bleeding eyes and the vine-like stitches on her arms and legs and the way the girl shambled forward.

The corpse lunged, arms outstretched and fingers clawed. Gabby tried to raise her knife, but the creature dove at her before she could do more than scream.

 

*****

 

The city of Freywater was dark, the only sound the chug of generators that kept necessary equipment running. Detective Timothy Hawkins trudged along muddy roads on his way home from his shift with the Enforcers and wished the city would add cobbles to this part of town. His black cloak billowed behind him in the gentle breeze, and the black pants and shirt of the Enforcer uniform lent him a commanding appearance. The bronze trimmed chest plate, the maces across his back, and the sword at his side caused him to look downright deadly. At least in his own opinion.

He paused a moment beside the Fading Jug Tradepost and contemplated stopping for a Fizzy Drink, then he shook his head and continued onward. He shivered when he passed Neverfair, one of the housing buildings common to Freywater. The structure loomed above him, its bottom built from stone and wood, while its upper floors were corrugated metal. Like the other housing buildings in this part of town, Neverfair was a tall building that somehow managed to look squat.

As he neared his building, Timothy stopped. The wind tickled the leaves of the few nearby trees, and tiny frogs plopped in puddles. Conversations buzzed in the neighboring homes, whispers that grew and faded, but Timothy could discern no cause for the sudden arresting of his attention, no reason for the stirring of the hated magic within him.

A scream echoed through the haze, high-pitched and grating. The sound bounced off the buildings around him and returned as a pitiful cry. Several n’kitas took up the cry, but no one lit a candle or lamp. The Warren held its breath and waited for the danger to pass, not daring to interfere.

Timothy took off into the Warren. His boots pounded the ground, and his breath came in gasps as the exhaustion of his long shift drained what little energy he had.

He skidded to a stop and pulled a mace from the holder on his back in one fluid motion. He swung the mace with a grunt and connected with the head of a little girl. Timothy grimaced and jumped backwards as bits of bone and brain matter exploded from the creature’s head. The woman on the ground in front of him tried to protect her face, but one of the corpse’s eyes bounced off her cheek anyway. The woman’s sea green eyes widened, and tears ran down her face.

“Are you hurt?” Timothy asked. He squatted in front of her and tried to make out details in the faint light.

The woman shook her head, and Timothy extended his hand as he stood. She grasped it and rose to her feet without speaking.

“Why are you out here, Sister?” Timothy asked in a deep whisper.

Timothy looked more closely at the woman and noted her soiled gray skirt. Her shirt buttoned high on the neck, and she wore a black leather bodice with belts over her left shoulder. A dark gray cape rested across her shoulders, and a small leather pouch hung from a belt at her waist. Her heart-shaped face was a mask of terror, and bits of blood and mud speckled auburn hair. Eyes wide and breath gasping, she stared at Timothy with a complete lack of comprehension, and Timothy feared she’d go into shock.

“I didn’t think they let the Sisters out wandering.” Timothy checked his clothes for corpse bits then looked back at the Sister.

He watched as she examined her own clothes with shaking hands, then she seemed to come to a conclusion of some sort and looked back up at Timothy. There was a resolve there that bespoke of an inner strength not yet tested, and Timothy was reminded of another, one he had known long ago. “They usually don’t, but I needed some information, and this was the only way I had to get it.”

“By creeping through the Warren in the middle of the night? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Do you know what kind of people live here?”

Gabby’s eyes widened, and tears again began to flow. “I’ve heard the rumors, but just because people are poor doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.”

Timothy made a disgusted sound and turned away from Sister Bleeding Heart. “Sister, I know you’re taught to believe in the good in people, and no one knows more about the good in some of these people than I do, but there are those here who would slit your throat just for the knife in your hand.”

“But –.”

“Sister, listen. Whatever information you think you need isn’t worth the risk you’re taking by being here.”

“I came to find out about my mother!” Gabby’s cry echoed through the silence, and Timothy reached for his knife before the sound died.

“What about her?” he growled. His eyes never stopped moving.

“They told me she died because of her heart, but I’ve been hearing whispers around the Arcana that it was something else. No one will tell me anything, so I came to find out.”

Timothy sighed and rubbed his face with his free hand. Gods preserve us against all curious women. “Okay Sister, what was your mother’s name, and I’ll see what I can find out for you. There’s no need in your risking your life.”

“Lucy Corcoran.” Gabby lowered her gaze to the ground and nodded her head. “Thank you, Detective. I appreciate it.”

“Anything else?”

“Anything else what?”

Timothy rolled his eyes. “Any more information you can give me?”

“My father was a stone mason and died when I was little. Mother always said he left plenty of money, and she always had a job. I don’t understand how she could’ve wound up here.” Gabby waved her hand at the cramped buildings that closed in upon the muddy street.

“How long have you been with the Arcana?”

“Since I was thirteen winters. About fifteen years.”

Timothy raised his eyebrow in askance. “And you chose to go?”

Gabby shook her head. “Mother insisted. She never told me why.”

Timothy simply stared as something about the young woman tickled the back of his mind. Something she’d said, perhaps, or some oddity of energy from the Spear of Victory he carried. He wasn’t sure.

Timothy was quiet for a moment, then he sighed and took Gabby by the arm. “Come on, let’s get you back to the Arcana before your Ibunana finds out you’re gone.”