WriteOnCon: Thursday’s Children
So I’m cheating today on Thursday’s Children and adding this to my post from Tuesday–my WriteOnCon sample pages.
WriteOnCon. Talk about inspiration. If you didn’t participate this year, do it next year. I have to thank Rhiann and Eve for telling me about it, otherwise, I’d have missed out on all the awesomeness. If you get a chance, go to their website here and look through all their tabs. Holy crow, what a ton of great information for writers of all age groups.
I posted sample pages for two of my WIPs, along with the
really shitty rough–and I do mean ROUGH–drafts of my queries on the forums for critique. It was amazing. The feedback couldn’t have been any better, and my drafts aren’t so shitty rough anymore. And the other attendees’ sample works? Oh. My. GAWD. We’ll see some of those babies in bookstores.
I hope all of you have a fab weekend!!
WriteOnCon Sample Pages:
Dark Fantasy: THE GENTIAN SOUL
The gods are both cruel and merciful. I have cause to know having been marked from birth as Harpeian: neither god nor mortal, and charged—or betimes cursed—with the duty of carrying the souls of the damned to the underworld. It’s considered the lowliest of tasks, one the gods deemed distasteful and unworthy to perform themselves.
Thus a human slave, taken by the Lord of Death to bear such a one as I.
The woman who gives birth to a daughter bearing the naevii, the marque of the Harpeian, is henceforth called a Sister of Irias, goddess of the sky, and given the honor of serving within her temple.
The irony of that almost amuses me.
I am Neysa, and I’m known everywhere in my lands, as are all like me, for the naevii covers my face from brow to cheek; a perfect domino of whirls and patterns etched upon my skin at birth, a mask I can never remove. It’s blue, sapphire if you will, the same as my eyes.
The same as my wings, though only the damned see those.
It’s how I know my charges; I see the reflection of them in their eyes.
“Neysa.” I look up, prepared for the summons. Marieke stands outside my chambers, her features sharp with disdain. “Beshtam awaits you. He’s disappointed with your…leniency toward your last charge.”
“I didn’t know torture was part of my duty,” I say.
Marieke’s eyes flash. “Don’t be flippant.” She raises one finger, its nail black and deadly. “Aldara isn’t here for you to hide behind.”
I ignore her and leave my quarters, walking briskly through the labyrinthine halls of the bellanca; the stronghold of the Harpeian. It’s deep within the earth, dark and humid, the smell of stagnant water and damp soil permeating the air.
Marieke’s talons click against the stone floor. Her coloring—wings, hair, naevii—is a deep, dark red; like blood spilled at midnight. As threatening as her manner. The contrast between us is shocking. My pale skin wilts before her dusky hue, and my hair, so black as to look blue, glints like a raven’s wing in sunlight.
We reach a set of blackened doors and Marieke enters first.
Beshtam, a minor demon with milky eyes and coarse skin stretched tight across his bulky form, lies entwined with a pair of human women, their bodies welted and bruised, faces blank of emotion.
It sickens me.
“Ah, Neysa.” Beshtam rises and approaches me, his naked body sheened with sweat. He grabs my chin. “You’re a disappointment to me.” I say nothing. “Ah. Defiance.” He tightens his grip. “An admirable trait, but not admirable here. You took your last soul too quickly.”
“I do as I’m bid.”
“No!” he roars, his voice cracking like a whip. “You do as you like. But no more.” He pushes me away and beckons to a guard, a creature whose very pores reek of poison and madness. He retrieves from him a vellum parchment. “Your new charge,” he says.
“The location?” I ask.
“Oh, it is very far away.”
Marieke smiles cruelly.
“Am I to leave immediately?” I ask.
Beshtam hands me the parchment. “Yes.” His tone makes me look up. His milky eyes grow dark with venom. “This one is to suffer,” he orders me. “His cord is stretched tight, ready for the shears of death. You will hold him there, on the cusp, until word is given.” I shake my head, but before I can speak his hands are at my neck, squeezing slowly. “My dear Neysa. Still so human. If you don’t do as I command, Aldara will suffer for your failure.”
At that moment, the guard whistles and two shadow hounds drag Aldara into the room. Her amber wings are broken, their silken down stripped, leaving bloody tissues hanging from her shoulders. Her body lies limp on the stone floor, pale and marred with bites and bruises and the thin, black lines of Beshtam’s poison coursing through her veins.
I want to scream, but the pressure on my neck allows only broken gasps. I glare hatred at Beshtam.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Beshtam says. “Your mentor will live only if you do as I say. Her fate is in your hands, little one.”
“The gods will rip you apart for this,” I choke out.
Beshtam shakes me and my spine tingles with pain. “The gods,” he says, “do not care.”
And with that he throws me through the open doors.
My head cracks against the floor. My wings scrape along the rough stone as I slide down the corridor. I hear an agonizing scream from one of the human women before the doors to Beshtam’s quarters slam shut.
I rise unsteadily, my head fair splitting with pain. I gently probe the back and my fingers come away sticky with blood. Well and good, I think fiercely. I’ll return the favor tenfold when this is done.
A large atrium within the bellanca serves as a salon where Harpeians gather during their idle times to bathe and socialize. Mock fights and games of strategy are the favored entertainment as the gods frequently call upon Harpeians to serve in battle. It’s not my wont to visit here, but today I seek out Kalle, one of the few Harpeians I know might care somewhat about Aldara. The bonds of mentor and apprentice run deep, and Kalle was once Aldara’s pupil.
I don’t trust Beshtam to keep his word. I need somewhat more before I leave.
Kalle stands waist deep in the caldarium, her cinnamon skin glistening with beads of water, dark woolen locks hanging wet down her back. Her wings and naevii glimmer like sable in shadow.
“Beshtam has Aldara,” I say when I reach her. “I fear he’ll kill her before I return. You will help her.”
Kalle’s dark eyes flash a warning as she turns to face me. “You would order me?”
Harpeians are fierce and despise weakness. I lift my chin and let my wings unfurl. A challenge. “Yes.” The gods know I can’t beat her in a fight if she accepts, but there’s too much at stake. I pray she refuses the challenge and simply helps me.
“Very well, little one. I have no love for Beshtam,” Kalle says.
“Marieke is with him.”
Kalle bares her teeth in a fierce smile. “This will be fun indeed.” She rises from the pool, her smooth skin steaming in the cool air, and steps before me. She’s tall, taller than me, and she’s lean with muscle. Her eyes narrow in thought. “But it won’t be easy. It will take time. Where will you be?”
“Holding a charge as bidden. For the life of Aldara.”
“Ah. I see.” She regards me with interest. “You are spoken of here.” She sweeps her arm around, encompassing the atrium. “Some think you’re weak, too human to be considered Harpeian. I will wait to see what I think.”
I accord her a small bow as is proper. “Thank you.”
With that I leave, making sure the vellum is secure in my belt. I’ve one last stop to make before finding my charge, and I’m glad my anger is sufficient enough to dampen my fear.
I mean to visit the Kore, the Mistress of Death.
The Queen of the Underworld is both glorious and terrible, inciting reverence and fear alike. She alone, among the many gods of Hellas, holds some affection for her consort’s half-breed Harpeian children, and for that, we’ve sworn fealty to her.
I’ve seen her only once before and the memory is etched forever in my mind. She came to witness the final act of my training—that of capturing my charge’s soul. For three years I stayed bound to one damned, learning my art—if one can call it such—and the boundaries of the mortal soul. My charge, held deep within the bellanca for such a purpose, was frail and wasted, barely alive. He trembled before me but his gaze held mine steady. He had endured much. Aldara chose him, thinking his cruel nature and monstrous acts would make my first breaking easier.
It didn’t, and my charge knew it.
Faced with his crimes and the anguish and pain he’d caused others, he recoiled in horror at his own acts and, repenting, sought redemption. It didn’t take him long to realize only in the fires of Tartarus could such a thing be found. And so he made peace with his fate, and granted me forgiveness for mine.
I took his soul as gently as I could.
Beshtam raged, raising his arm to strike me as the body, bereft of a soul, crumpled. But the Kore gave him a warning glance, and Beshtam stepped back, shaking with repressed anger.
The Kore faced me. Something akin to triumph flashed deep in her eyes, and cupping my face, she kissed me lightly. “Well done,” she said, and her voice, her very presence, seared itself on my soul. I knelt before her, knowing I would serve her until death.
Steampunk Dark Fantasy: Darkest Beauty
CHAPTER ONE—THE FOOL (TAROT CARD)
Ihrina Patrascu, the Princess; Draculesti branch—House of Basarab
Castelul Bran, Brasov, d. 1601
The child quailed before the woman. She’d never known fear before, but now it coiled in her belly like an asperous serpent, ran down her legs in warm, stinking rivulets.
They’d killed her father, that much she understood. But what of her brother? And what had they done with her mother? She’d heard her screaming, and then…nothing. Nothing but the ominous stomp of boots, the angry ring of steel.
Tears escaped through her lashes, stained her face.
The woman knelt before her. Black eyes, white skin. Raven’s claws, sharp and deadly. “Ihrina,” the woman said, and her voice swept through the room like the bitter cold of winter. “Do you know who I am?”
Ihrina shook her head. She couldn’t speak; the serpent had swallowed her voice.
The woman smiled. “I am your doom.”
The guards reached for her, their bracers gleaming in the firelight, but she was small and quick, like the darting hare that flees the wolf. Across the Great Hall, through the dining room. Up the winding stairs. Images of death flashed through the windows as she passed, fueling her terror. She knew the perfect hiding place—inside the grand clock just beyond the armoury. There she would wait, silent and still, then sneak from the castle once darkness fell. She feared the dark, feared the beasts that prowled the wood. But the woman meant death.
Down the narrow corridor she ran, but her tunic, damp with piss, stuck to her legs. She tripped and her knees struck stone. A sob escaped. Up once more, running, ignoring the pain. Around a corner, into the armoury. Silver winked. The blade of a small, sharp knife. She grabbed it, the handle smooth and comforting.
The clock stood ten steps away, a rueful look upon its sage and burnished face. Black and silken feathers snatched her. She screamed, and the clock chimed a single, mournful cry.
“No time for games, little one.” It was a man’s voice, harsh and grating. “The Empress is not a patient soul.”
His feathered cloak carried the rotting stench of decay and she gagged. The man loosed his grip as she doubled over. Remembering her father’s lessons, she swung her arm around, her hand clenched tight upon the knife. The blade sliced up, along the man’s cheek, across his nose. Blood splattered, thick and vibrant. The man’s bellow of pain and rage echoed. He let her go and covered his face. Ihrina ran once more, but the guards had followed. One picked her up, tearing the knife from her hand. He slung her over his shoulder and carried her back to hell.
Once below, he tossed her on the floor, sending a fresh shock of pain through her bones. The woman loomed above her, her face twisted in a mask of hatred. Before Ihrina could react, the woman struck her, the razor-sharp claws tearing three stinging furrows across her cheek. The guard pulled her to her knees, holding her in place. She didn’t cry, didn’t fight. She was beyond fear now.
The woman licked the blood from her nails, watching Ihrina through narrowed eyes. “Fortunately for me,” she said at length, picking up a chalice of wine, “your insolence has deprived you of a swift death.”
The woman upended the wine between them. It splashed upon the flagstones, tiny droplets further staining Ihrina’s clothes. With a pair of iron tongs, the woman sifted through the dying fire in the hearth. The serpent twisted once more in Ihrina’s gut. At last the woman turned, a red-gold ember held before her. She dropped it on the spilled wine where it scattered and hissed, forming a pattern Ihrina couldn’t read.
The woman grabbed Ihrina’s hand. She tried to pull away, but her strength had abandoned her. A sharp prick of a claw. Blood welled in the center of her palm–a perfect, crimson pearl. The woman squeezed until a single drop fell upon the spell.
“Now, scion of my enemy, this curse do I place upon thee.” Darkness gathered and Ihrina curled into a ball upon the cold stone floor. “Henceforth, this fortress shall be your prison, its walls your warden, its windows your suffering. Its grounds shall sprout forth an iron maze of agony, rending all who defy me and dare free their beloved princess. Here in this castle, as you age with lonely sorrow, witness my reign. And when the cold kiss of death comes for you, know my immortality.”
With that, the Empress swept from the room without a backward glance, the guards fast on her heels, the cry of the raven-man flying after them.
Alone now, Ihrina watched as the spell bubbled, seeped between wood and stone, spread like a plague across the floor, up the walls, embedding itself into every tiny crack, every sill, every arch. The candles flickered and went out. Silence fell like a shroud.
What had once been her home was now her tomb.
* * *
Cristan Báthory, the Assassin. Prince of the Blood; Somlyó branch—House of Báthory
Alba Iulia, Transylvanian Empire, d. September, 1882
I had to applaud the man’s bravery. In the face of death he neither denied his treason nor begged for his life.
“Bastard,” the man spat, his breath hissing in the frigid air. “The bowels of Hell are reserved for souls such as yours.”
“You’re right,” I agreed. “On both counts.”
I sank my teeth into his neck, piercing the artery. Blood poured iron-hot in my mouth, down my throat. It surged through my veins, an elixir of liquid fire as maddening to me as poppy tears to mortals. I drank with vicious greed. The man’s heart raged against me, a valiant but futile effort, then slowed, the way time is wont to do when mocking those who suffer. Slowed with mournful surrender until it stopped completely—the final act of life.
I swayed slightly, my vision awash in a haze of red.
I flung the body away from me, stared at it a moment, at the gelatinous eyes, repulsive now without the spirit to animate them, at the cooling flesh that would harden and grow stiff in mere hours. I shuddered. This one I wouldn’t bother hiding. The villagers would find their mayor, a Hadjuk radical, and understand the message.
The penalty for rebellion was death.
I adjusted my bracers, straightened the lapels of my coat. My vision returned to normal but my fingers bore a crimson stain. Muttering an oath, I knelt and gathered a handful of snow and cleaned them, nearly chafing my skin raw in the process. I dried them on a linen square—a gift from Mitzura before my departure. A proper lover’s token, as it were.
The irony wasn’t lost on me.
The faint light of dawn broke across the horizon, a reddish hue with streaks of gold that bathed the pristine landscape with shimmering brightness. I watched it as long as I dared, until the burning threat became too much to bear, then donned my eye guards. The black-tinted glass cast everything in shadow—a mirrored reflection of my existence. At the age of two and twenty I’d died a man, and been reborn from the darkness of the Hollow Earth as something altogether different. I’d not seen the sun in all its golden radiance for nearly three hundred years.
Rounding a grain shed I made my way across a flagstone path, boots crunching, marking my passage. No matter—I’d not come here in stealth. Jaru waited for me under a small copse of near barren trees, his silver gears click-clacking. One of them kept sticking.
Grabbing a fistful of mane I swung myself astride. Jaru released a series of grinding snorts and pawed the ground with impatience. I felt much the same. The town was stirring and I’d no wish to face a mob of angry villagers seeking retribution. I wasn’t in the mood. Taking up the reins, I turned us toward Brasov, and the foothills of the Carpathians. We crossed the Mures River by mid-morning, the water rushing swift and frantic, trying to escape winter’s frost.
As we entered a small clearing I heard it—the sound of pursuit. “Damn fools,” I muttered darkly. They were headed straight for death. I didn’t have time to play around.
Jaru trumpeted a warning cry. The pursuers answered, blowing the Horn of Briccius. Not villagers then, but members of the Royal Guard. They burst through the clearing, ten or twelve, wearing the Báthory coat of arms–three horizontal teeth within an Ouroboros.
Their captain bowed low in the saddle. “My lord, the Empress bids you return to Budapest at once. We have a ship waiting.” His eyes above his mask remained stoic, but I heard the fear in his voice. To return empty-handed would result in punishment, and Mitzura was nothing if not inventive in her administrations.
“Well then,” I said. “Lead on.” No magnanimous gesture on my part, this; I’d left a parting gift of my own for Mitzura. If she’d summoned me, it meant she wasn’t pleased about it.
The airship sat in a barley field just outside the village of Sibiu, its hulking mass a morbid replica of nature. It was a Griffon warship. “Expecting a battle?” I asked the captain.
“We’ve just come from Târgu Mures. The Hadjuk rebels attacked the Citadel.”
Just as I’d known they would. Mitzura had dismissed my council, following the Raven’s instead. Venom filled my mouth at the thought of it. We dismounted and one of the captain’s men-at-arms released the rear platform. Jaru pranced sideways, straining against his lead. He hated flying.
The soldier eyed him with dismay. “Does he bite?” he asked me.
I bared my teeth. “No, but I do, so mind him carefully.”
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