Unraveling the Veil – Talin, a Changeling

Release day quickly approaches. Liars and Thieves (Book 1) is available for preorder but goes live on August 29th.

I’ve introduced my goblin, Naj’ar. This snippet gives a glimpse of the main character Talin, a changeling/shape-shifter.

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Talin sat on the smooth stone and scratched. Other than the vermin infesting his coat, the afternoon had progressed with minimal effort. He’d shift into his familiar self and bathe, then seek a meal of roots or greens. Something edible that didn’t include voles and other Borderland rodents. He could do without ingesting any more hair, bones, and all the other peripheral disgustingness that accompanied the gobbling down of wild meat.

He raised his nose, nostrils twitching at a new scent. The scruff on his neck and shoulders bristled.

A cat. A wild one.

Changelings didn’t stalk changelings, and something big and stealthy lurked in the jungle. He leapt from the sunlight, slipped through a natural trellis of twisted vines, and spent hours evading the panther that had sniffed him out. Exasperation surrendered into a growing sense of urgency. Head down, ears alert, he bounded over a stream and between the stilts that supported the railway spur in its treacherous descent. Already too long in jackal form, he was overdue to shift. And shifting presented some serious drawbacks.

Nose to the ground, he found the path he sought, and by twilight reached one of the tree-stands that peppered the Reaches. The ladder would present a challenge, but if he could manage it, the stand would likely save his life.

He circled the base of the tree, seeking a cache of buried crystals, and found none. Another obstacle. With a huff, he scanned the shadowed growth and tasted the air for unwelcome predators. Langur monkeys crept along the upper branches, and a shy loris blinked at him with pooled eyes, but no cats prowled the area. Poisonous snakes slithering in the trees would be the greatest threat, but there wasn’t much he could do about them. He sat on his haunches and closed his eyes.

He called up his human pattern. A cold shiver accompanied the brutal constellation of pain that sparked deep in his bones. The transformation would require only minutes, but after so long in a borrowed form, it would feel like hours.

The skeletal changes came first. He sank to his knees as his oblong skull crushed inward at the muzzle and bulged in the cranium. His neck compressed. Shoulder blades and ribcage shrank while hip bones expanded and rearranged their connections to fibulae and spine. His tail withered into a pointed coccyx deep within his flesh.

The air around him froze as he drew mass from the trees and ground to accommodate his larger size. A ring of frost crept outward from his contorting feet. Arm and leg bones elongated, and he gritted his teeth as the bones in his front paws shattered, seven pieces reforming into the twenty-seven of his human hand. He curled into a ball, breathless, as his elbows, knees, all his joints and cartilage switched to accommodate altered movement. The intensity of his pain weakened as his skeleton took its final shape and the rest of his internal mechanisms rippled into alignment.

His skin shifted last. Hair altered its texture, fine on his bronze limbs, scratchy on his jaw. Long and dark on his head.

As the ache inside him faded and his sweat cooled, the air returned to its familiar sticky humidity. His heart rate slowed. Strength spent, he could barely move, unconsciousness luring him into a dreamless sleep. Naked, he rolled to his hands and knees and rung by rung, hoisted himself up the ladder.

“Death would be easier than this.” He chuckled like a tipsy drunk. At the top, he collapsed, his legs still propped on the ladder.

Good enough, he surrendered to sleep.

Unraveling the Veil – Naj’ar, a Goblin

With a target of August for publishing the first book of the Unraveling the Veil series Liars and Thieves, the characters are eager to invite readers into their world. Naj’ar is a goblin. A snippet from Chapter One and a new cover.

Bats squeaked in the blackness, and an enduring cold leached from the walls. Neither troubled Naj’ar. His kind were accustomed to the leather-winged company, and his muscled frame, though half-elven, tolerated the chill almost as well as the purebloods. A shaggy fur draped his shoulders as he navigated the tunnelways beneath the mountain.

Ragged veins of quartz glimmered in the rock’s wet crevices, their latent power spiraling as if they’d captured wisps of cloud. Their faint glow cast angular shadows. Yet, the reflective surfaces of his eyes granted him the vision to lope through the crude passageways with sure feet.

The ground shook. He paused, a hand reaching into the void for balance. Curved fingernails scraped a wall. Grains of igneous rock sifted from the ceiling. The tunnels to the peaks meandered in a labyrinth of forks, crumbling stairways, and long sloped passages, familiar to him though he’d never labored in the upper mines. His interest lay in the Veil and the hidden world that lay beyond.

Na’jar, a goblin

A pragmatic people, goblins rarely indulged in fantasy. But legends hinted of a hallowed land, the birthplace of the First where only the brave and just found welcome. Others speculated that behind the shimmering wall lay the answers to the secrets of eternity. Its allure tugged at his curiosity, a barbed thorn hooked in his mind, impossible to pry loose.

His feet slid, and his fingernails dug into the ice varnishing the slanted floor. Ice within the mountain? He frowned, gray skin prickling. The air froze on the walls in a glassy rime. The crust of frost thickened. Clouds formed with each breath, and for the first time, the frigid chill seeped into his bones. He sniffed the downy scents of snow and earth mingled with something new—the electric tang of power.

Bent in a crouch, he pressed forward. At the end of a winding incline, beyond the frame of winter’s brambles, a sinister light forced his yellow eyes to narrow. The snow-laced peaks sawed at the sky. And behind them, the Veil beckoned.

He toiled uphill. Bare feet crunched through frozen drifts. A white wind howled from the heights, and the curtain shimmered through gaps in the storm-bourn snow, a sheet of silver light, shuddering and bulging. Lightning crackled and ribboned through a lace of arteries and veins as if it were a monstrous creature hovering at the edge of the world.

Ears swept back, hands and feet numb, Naj bent against the blow. He trudged upward, determined to reach the ridge. Ice caked his face, sparkled on his lashes. The air hissed with electricity. The distinctive odor of ozone, both clean and burned, wrinkled his nose.

The Veil splintered. A blast of power flung him backward.

He tumbled down the steep slope, hurled into a black and white slide of rock and snow, past the tunnelway’s entrance. With a breathless gasp, he clambered to his feet and climbed for the mountain’s shelter. A second explosion slammed him to his back. Colossal shards of light shot outward, streaking through the storm. He covered his face with an arm. The snow and stone lost its grip on the mountainside, burying him alive. He clawed and kicked free of his icy tomb and scrambled over the sliding terrain.

Then the wind died. Snow and rock rumbled to stillness. The Veil began to weave itself together, threads swiftly stitching across the ether, reconnecting and patching the jagged wounds. The blizzard transformed into rain, slackened to a lazy drizzle, then evaporated before it mottled the ground. Sunshine lanced through gashes in a rapidly mutating sky. Snow vanished in a hot fog and then the fog too burned away.

The Veil thinned and solidified, releasing the energetic mass that had fortified it against the storm. Naj hastened for the tunnel entrance, his soles pained by the hot stones. Tufts of grass, moments before buried in ice, began to smolder. He dove into the warming passageway, rolled to his feet, and dashed into the blackness.

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Oathbreakers’ Guild

Excerpt from  Oathbreakers’ Guild, The Rose Shield: Book II 

“The time has arrived for your final trial.” Dalcoran sat across from her, every detail of his grooming, attire, and manner precise, his features ageless despite his infirmity. “It’s an act which binds you to the guild, solidifies your power, and acknowledges the great burden you will bear as an influencer. Your oath to the heiress is absolute; you are sworn to do her bidding even when it rails against your personal wishes. It is the responsibility of the guild to see you prepared.”

“I understand.” Catling set her teacup on the low table between them. Nothing he said thus far shocked her, and yet, a chill coiled up her spine.

“What we ask of you, we ask of all initiates. We only ask it once in training, though your oaths may dictate future sacrifices in practice.”

“You may tell me, Dalcoran-Elan.” Catling threaded her fingers in her lap.

“You are to kill an innocent.” He met her eyes. “Not someone dying, sick, or aged. You must steal the future of someone at the height of life. The heiress may require it of you, and your binding oath will demand your obedience.”

She stared at him, an all-consuming emotion burning in her chest. Not horror but fury. “The heiress would never order the random execution of an innocent without purpose—as an exercise. Dalcoran-Elan, I refuse.”

“You cannot refuse, Catling.”

“I can refuse because that is exactly what I am doing.”

He sat in rigid silence and sipped his tea while hers grew cold on the table.

“I’m an aspirant,” she said, “and it’s within your rights to coerce me into compliance. Yet, I suspect the whole point of this trial is to test my willingness to stalk and kill with complete self-control.”

“I shall report your decision to the heiress,” he said, ignoring her statement.

“You may do so.” She rose to her feet and brushed the creases from her jacket. “You may also tell her that I will act as her assassin if the need arises, but I will refuse to murder without purpose.”

The knowing smile on Dalcoran’s face made her feel as though she were a child refusing to grow up. “You will learn in time, Catling, if your fiery principles are forged of steel or glass.”

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Catling’s Bane is Live

Catling’s Bane

In the tiers of Ellegeance, the elite Influencers’ Guild holds the power to manipulate emotions. Love and fear, pain and pleasure, healing and death mark the extremes of their sway, but it’s the subtle blends that hook their victims’ hearts. They hide behind oaths of loyalty and rule the world.

A child born in the grim warrens beneath the city, Catling rues the rose birthmark encircling her eye. Yet, it grants her the ability to disrupt the influencers’ sway. Established methods of civil control disintegrate before her. She’s a weapon desired by those who reign and those who rebel.

To the Influencer’s Guild, she’s an aberration, a threat. They order her death and thus the betrayals begin. One woman protects and trains her, plotting to use her shield to further imperial goals. No longer a helpless child, Catling has other plans. As chaos shakes the foundations of order and rule, will she become the realm’s savior? Or its executioner? 

The Rose Shield Series – A blend of science fiction and fantasy.

Welcome to a world of three moons, a sentient landscape, rivers of light, and tier cities that rise from the swamps like otherworld flowers. A planet of waterdragons, where humans are the aliens living among three-fingered natives with spotted skin. Where a half-blood converses with the fog and the goddess plans her final reckoning.

Follow Catling’s journey as she grows from childhood into the deadly force that shapes the future. She is the realm’s shield, an influencer, assassin, healer, mother, and avenger. And all she wants is to go home.

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The Rose Shield – The Goddess

Excerpt from Catling’s Bane, The Rose Shield: Book I

I’ve been introducing characters for the past few months. You’ve met:

Raker, the man who hears voices in the fog
Catling, a six-year-old with a rose birthmark around her eye
Whitt, the boy battling crajeks in the swamp
Gannon, captive in the belly of the Wandering Swan
Vianne, an influencer who tortures poor Gannon
Kadan, a boy who contemplates death when faced with his future

Meet the Goddess
(Raker’s voice in the fog is no longer simply a voice)

Raker poled the raft through the narrow channels, wandering his way toward the floating village deeper in the swamp. Morning mists hovered as a forbidding sky scudded eastward, promising sheets of rain. The goddess caressed him, twirled in languid circles, veils of dew flowing from her arms like wings.

She stroked his back with a fingertip. “Your indifference is as disputable as your madness.”

“Am I mad?” he asked.

“No more than you’re indifferent.” She laughed and spiraled behind him, arms encircling his chest.

“I care nothing for Ellegeans, for their tiers or their power.”

“Yet you care for her,” the goddess whispered. “Your destinies are entwined.”

Raker didn’t reply. Catling sat cross-legged at the raft’s lip. Her fishing line trailed in the glowing wake. Scraps of her previous catch baited her hook, luring in yellow-scaled pippets and the blue suckers that trawled the bottom. Jafe mended the holes in the planking and named the fish as she pulled them in, teaching her which to keep and which to toss.

The goddess interrupted his deepening silence, “Gannon’s departure stung, not his reasoning, which she understands, but his failure to bid her farewell. Another rent in a tattered life. Don’t you see? Those private tears blurring her vision are for more than this one man. He’s unearthed old bones, marked another passing, another etching on her burial stone of betrayals. Her allies are strangers, her masters concerned only with employing her skill.”

“What’s her skill?” He put his back into poling them toward the channel’s center. Jafe glanced up at him with a quizzical grin. The rafters believed him mad, and he never felt a need to explain.

“She will tell you her secrets if you ask.” The woman’s lips touched his earlobe, striking a flint to his desire.

Something tugged on the girl’s line, and she tugged back, hooking it. With a yelp, she flew off the raft into the channel. Her head disappeared. Then she broke the surface, sputtering and splashing, the luminescence marbled by stirred up mud.

Raker’s pole dropped to the raft. Three steps and he leapt into the channel beside her. His feet pushed into the ooze, and he stood, water licking his throat.

Still in her hand, the line strained. A snouted head reared from the water, blowing a breath of spray into the humid air. “A crajek!” she cried.

“Waterdragon,” Jafe shouted over the excitement. An opalescent fin sliced through the air. “A yearling.”

“Don’t release it.” Raker caught the back of her underdress as the creature pulled her farther from the raft. He grabbed the line that slid through her fingers.

She clutched Raker’s shoulder, kicking to stay afloat. “A waterdragon?” The creature’s rayed wings fluttered frantically at the surface, its wide fluke slapping the water.

“We need to free it.” Raker gently pulled the yearling in. Catling swam for the raft as Jafe poled it closer.

Something brushed Raker’s leg. A razorgill if he was lucky. Birds cawed overhead, the banks stirred and water rippled. “Crajek!” Jafe yelled.

“Get her out,” Raker barked. His hands wheeled faster. The waterdragon flailed, its scaled neck craning sideways, long tail coiling and churning the mud. Despite its small size, it matched his strength. Spined fins slashed the air, flinging water in his face.

“Raker!” Jafe grabbed Catling by her garment’s shoulders and plucked her from the water.

Raker hauled on the line. He glanced toward the banks, on the lookout for predators. Gods drifted toward the spectacle. The goddess hovered above the waterdragon, delighting in his heroics. “Your blood spills,” she warned.

“Give me time,” he growled.

“Raker!” Jafe pointed down the channel “Crajeks sinking.”

“Do you trust me?” the goddess asked, kneeling on the water’s surface, her gown of mist spreading like spilled milk, hair spiraling above her head. Jafe held the pole ready to strike.

“Do I have a choice?” Raker grabbed the wing and worked the hook. The waterdragon reeled, squealing. Its spiked head bashed him in the jaw, cutting his cheek on his teeth.

Nearer the bank, another pair of knobby eyes blinked and a head the hue of wet bark sank beneath the surface. Jafe shouted, “Crajek, Raker!”

“Goddess?” Raker murmured, ready to let go and scramble for the raft.

“Do you trust me, my love?” she persisted.

His gaze snapped to her face, the daring smile, the eagerness flickering in her eyes. “Yes.”

She flew through him into the luminescence. He gasped at the sensation. The waterdragon ceased its thrashing. Raker exhaled and worked the hook, ignoring the whorls of movement purling around him. The crajeks failed to attack though they surely tasted his blood.

The hook’s barb tore a gash in the fin and slipped free. Raker let the wing go and the waterdragon dove. In one smooth movement, he spun to the raft and leapt. Jafe snagged the back of his trousers and hauled him up.

“The crajeks.” Catling pointed to the water swarming with greedy beasts.

Jafe shook his head and slumped down, the pole across his knees. “I’ll never understand your kind.”

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Catling’s Bane is currently $.99
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The Rose Shield – Kadan

The Rose Shield has gone live.

I’ve been introducing characters for the past few months. You’ve met:

Raker, the man who hears voices in the fog
Catling, a six-year-old with a rose birthmark around her eye
Whitt, the boy battling crajeks in the swamp
Gannon, captive in the belly of the Wandering Swan
Vianne, an influencer who tortures poor Gannon

Meet Kadan

Excerpt from  Catling’s Bane, The Rose Shield: Book I 

The high ward’s residence and offices of governance, including quarters for esteemed advisors, ministers, and influencers, encompassed the entire seventh tier. Covered walkways edged with potted winter greenery connected the various structures, all Founder-made.

An influencer. The prospect of mastering the skills of manipulation tangled Kadan’s stomach into a hard knot. What would his uncle require of him? To ease unsavory negotiations, to inflict torture, to smooth over the murder of children, to halt the beating of an innocent heart?

He walked to the tier’s edge and gazed over the ever-widening layers that petaled outward into shadowy markets hundreds of feet below. The moons cast an eerie light on the evergreen forests and fields stained with freshly fallen snow. The Blackwater coursed through it all, an icy serpent winding to the distant sea.

By inches, he shuffled closer to the rim. His toes extended into the air, and he closed his eyes. For an endless moment, he teetered on the rim of a choice wholly his own. His actions were harmless, weren’t they? Or had he grown cruel, learned the high ward’s lessons of power? He couldn’t abide his life, couldn’t bear the commitment his uncle required. A raw breeze ruffled his hair, and he suddenly couldn’t wait to fall.

A hand grabbed his jacket’s collar. He gasped and his eyes flew open. Fighting for balance, he reeled backward onto the tier. His heart hammered in his ears as he spun and ripped loose of the grasp.

The influencer stepped back and offered a modest bow. “My apologies, I didn’t wish you to fall.”

“I was… thinking.” Kadan straightened his jacket.

“This province isn’t without its beauty,” the influencer said, stepping to the edge. Kadan didn’t move, the young man unfamiliar to him. He wore the blue jacket of an emotive, shaved head patterned with swirling woads.

“Are you here for me?”

The man smiled. “I’m Qeyon, from Ava-Grea. I don’t believe I am here for you, Kadan.”

In truth, Kadan wasn’t surprised that the man knew his name. “My uncle is sending me to Ava-Grea for training. He wants my oath. He wishes to make use of me.”

Qeyon paused to gaze over the high ward’s tier. “Your uncle is a powerful man, and I imagine he is seldom crossed. Wait until you experience Ava-Grea, Kadan, before you decide to leap.”

Click the Cover for a Global Link to Amazon.

Catling’s Bane is currently $.99
Enjoy!