A New Excerpt of Battlemage

Dearest readers –

As you wait (so patiently!) for the Malichon Pentalogy, I will be bringing you sneak peeks and excerpts, and today’s is a poem written by one of the central characters. Poetry will be a recurring theme throughout the series, and this poem explores the analogy between the human beloved and the divine, a common motif in Sufi poetry.

-M

*****

Speak to me, beloved

Pour out ichor from your lips

That I may drink it like sweet wine

The garden is shrouded in darkness

Snow covers the reaching arm of the cypress

Sing to me of your face, beloved

For I am blinded by your brilliance

Weave for me a shroud of your dreams

And let them guide me to the promised dawn

Let me lay my head down among the crocus blossoms

And whisper promises to me

That none shall part us

That at the dawn you will guide me to your gardens

For others tell me of its wonders

They speak to me of its orchards

And still pools that reflect the glories of heaven

But the night is long, beloved

The moon has hidden her face

The stars are cloaked in shadows

My feet are pricked and I cannot see if my blood adorns roses or brambles

Sharp rocks litter the path

My mouth is stopped and I cannot cry out to the wind

Speak to me, beloved

Tell me that I walk in the gardens that were promised

Once you told me that I was the one for whom you longed

Speak to me

Sing to me of the gardens

For the night is ending

And I would steal away with beautiful lies in my heart

Rather than face dawn’s truth

Battlemage Update

Dear Wonderful Readers,

One of the things I have struggled with the most lately is taking my time on writing projects. There’s a definite advantage to writing quickly, especially since readers can finish a many-months-long project in a couple of days, and I want to give you all the stories you want to see, from Light & Shadow to Mahalia’s world, Haven (the final book in the Novum trilogy), and more! I want to do it now. Today. All at once. I had grand plans, when I quit my day job, of working 16 hours per day, 7 days per week. “Aha,” I said to myself. “Since I was able to write other books while I had a day job, surely it will be easy to work on freelance projects 10 hours per day while simultaneously speeding up my own production to one book per month!”

There was just the small problem (a teeny tiny problem, really) that this was a completely absurd plan. Yes, I would love to have all of the books I mentioned above done today – it’s just as much fun for me to write them as it is for you to read them! I love immersing myself in those worlds and learning new things about the characters. But the truth is, if I rein in my impatient nature and allow those stories to breathe, they become even more wonderful, and I can do things that I have never done before.

My new series, Battlemage, is a wonderful example of this. It tied together narrative threads and characters that I had wanted to use for ages, but that hadn’t found their story yet. I knew that I wanted to use a world that involved pseudo-European cultures, but that deeply explored Arab and Persian cultures as well, showing the incredible wealth of scientific, medical, and philosophical advances of the Islamic Golden Age. I don’t know as much about the Islamic Golden Age as I do about medieval Europe and Tudor England, however, and it became clear to me as I wrote that the world was deeply lacking.

…to make a long story short, I now have a two-foot-tall stack of books on my dining room table, and the world of Battlemage is coming alive as I immerse myself in poetry, literature, history, and science. (Related: reference librarians are the coolest people in the world.) The melting pot of languages and cultures that called to me has come so much more alive than it would have if I had forced myself to keep writing without taking the time to read.

And so I am reading. I am taking copious notes, quotes and poem fragments interspersed with plot details, scenes emerging from the history portrayed. I am so excited to see the changes that ripple through the plot. Characters whose motivations were heretofore unclear to me have come into sharp focus, their stories poignant and gripping.

I just wrote, “I cannot wait to share this world with you.” The truth is, though, that I have to. It’s all still coming into focus. For it to be the world that it should be, as rich and engrossing as I want it to be, I have to allow it to breathe and to grow. As Robin McKinley so eloquently said, “every once upon a time for me is another experience of white-water rafting in a leaky inner tube.” One never knows, when the muse calls, just what each project is going to require: what darkness and honesty, what grief, what surprising humor, what craft. Each story brings a thousand new little skills to master.

I am so, so excited to share it all with you. As a deeply impatient person, this has been a trying experience in some ways – but it is going to be a fantastic story.

-M

Introducing: The Malichon

Dearest readers –

I have something wonderful for you today. This project came into my head in a rush, combining orphaned ideas that had been written down on tiny scraps of paper over months and months. Lured by the siren call of this world, I am taking a rather unexpected detour from my current project, and hope to share dribs and drabs as the series takes shape! Today, there is an excerpt from what I believe may be a part of Book 2 (writing a series can be a fairly messy process at times – I apologize if I’m shattering any illusions).

Happy reading, M

***

Battlemage 1

“They say everyone just knows when they see it.”

Harmakis snorted. “That’s never true when it comes to power.” He turned one shoulder forward and pushed his way through the crowds of people in the hallways, ice-blue eyes narrowing at the sight of huddled conversations.

“Harmakis. Harmakis! Slow down.” Eiji struggled to keep up, unwilling to shove people aside. He was breathless when he caught up again. “They said she went through the Rite.”

“She didn’t go through the Rite.” Harmakis did not look back.

“They say she did,” his cousin insisted.

“Boy, there’s no way in the seven hells that anyone could survive that. The Old Kings made that lie and the malichi have wisely let it die down for fear someone would ask them to go through it.”

“Well, but what would happen if someone did?” Eiji challenged him.

Harmakis spared a glance over his shoulder. “Did you go in there? Did you see her?”

“No. I waited for you.”

“Then why are you talking about it like that?” The mage stopped, grizzled eyebrows drawing together. “I’d believe it if you saw whatever smoke-and-mirrors show she has set up in there, but you haven’t even had a look.”

“It’s the way people are talking when they come out.” Eiji’s own voice was hushed. “Like they just saw a God or something.”

Harmakis snorted again and started moving. The crowds were growing thinner as they approached the throne room, not thicker. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like the smell of power in the air, either.

“Listen up, boy.” He kept his eyes forward, but he could feel Eiji’s attention on him like a hound on point. “This is an Empress who’s holding her throne by a thread. She needs a miracle.”

“It sounds like she got one,” Eiji said, with a stab at humor. He paled when Harmakis rounded on him.

“You asked what would happen if someone had gone through the Rite. This city would be a smoking crater. That’s how I know.” He leaned forward, his gaze boring into the younger man’s eyes. “This is a lie, another court lie told to help a dying dynasty keep power. Remember that.”

Eiji fixed his eyes on the floor and said nothing. As Harmakis turned away, he followed dutifully. But whatever he wanted to say was so evident that at last the mage looked over at him.

“Out with it.”

“They said she’s glowing,” Eiji said. He looked over warily, as if afraid that Harmakis would cuff him on the ear. “Have you ever seen something like that?”

“I’m a battlemage. I make people glow.”

“No.” Eiji looked faintly queasy. “You set them on fire. That’s different.”

***

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Also, if you haven’t already done so, now is definitely the time to sign up for the mailing list. I promise maximum cool things (freebies, sneak peeks, new releases), and ZERO spam. Also, I solemnly swear I will never give away your email address. You can sign up HERE.

-M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sjhfa

52 Stories: A Journey

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

The Journey

He walked, feet pounding on the sun baked road, the cracked stone of the highways. They had not been tended in years, but who would tend them? Not Gayyan, the city that lived only in name and memory. When he passed her walls, arrows had followed his path, but only from habit—the desert raiders who owned Gayyan’s streets now would not fear a lone soldier, arm in a bloody sling, half-gone from the sun and the journey.

He was not sure if he could feel his feet any longer, or if they hurt so much that he did not comprehend it. He knew his feet met the ground only from the jolt that traveled through him. At some time, he’d had a walking stick. He must have dropped it somewhere. No sense going back now. He could walk, and that was enough.

 ***

The dawn that day was beautiful, stars fading from a brilliant night into a riot of red and orange, wind blowing the distant salt-scent of the sea…unless it was blood he smelled. With dawn, came peace. The voices that had troubled him in the night had fallen silent one by one. He was not sure if he had cried out with them. He knew only that his arm was gone, and that if he wanted to survive, he must look at it to see that it was gone, accept that, and drag himself from the battlefield.

He did not look for a very, very long time. What was a man with one arm, after all? Not fit for a sword or a spear, not fit for a laborer. A scribe, perhaps, but only in the back rooms, where no one would see him. His family would have to tend to him.

It was midday when the thirst broke him, and he turned his head to look. The bone had shattered, but the arm remained. He looked at it for a long moment, considering. He should take it off here, himself, but he had little strength left and he needed to find the others, wherever they might be.

He rolled himself onto his good side, and began to crawl.

 ***

He thought of her often: black-haired and green-eyed, her skin a deeper brown than his own, her fingers long and graceful. In her silk, the blue silk she favored above all other gowns, she was a vision. He remembered her passion now, the exultant laugh as she looked down on the city.

“We will own half the world someday,” she told him. “The whole world, perhaps. Our children will make port in any city, and be welcomed.”

She believed it. She believed it even when he marched away.

 ***

They did not want to set the bone, and he argued with them. He promised gold, influence. He promised anything that came to mind. The surgeon was not swayed, her dark eyes flat. Later, he would think that she had seen too much pain, that she was beyond caring because so many had died under her hands. Then, he felt only rage.

It was her assistant who helped him, the man’s pale face unmoving as his fingers set the bones in place.

“I have nothing for the pain. If you want to keep your arm, you must keep still without opium.”

It was an eternity before the man sewed the wound shut.

“Will I keep the arm?”

“Only the gods know that.’”

When he left, a voice spoke from the darkness: “You’re lucky.”

“Lucky.”

“There are few they help anymore. There are no bandages left. Camp fever took the chief surgeon last week.”

He looked over at her. She had the paler skin of Gayyan. “How were you wounded?”

“They took my leg.” She looked back at the ceiling.

She died in the night.

 ***

He was close to the city when he realized his little sister would have had her second birthday by now. He’d been gone long enough for that. Eighteen, and old enough for the army. He wondered if she’d been hidden away; they were already starting to do that when he was drafted, and the City Guard bribed neighbors to inform on who was keeping their children from the army.

He would find the money for a bribe, he decided. The priests might help him hide her, or perhaps the Merchant Queen would take her on one of the ships.

Anything but this.

 ***

“If we don’t leave, we’ll die.”

“Do you honestly believe we’ll make it back to the city?” The man eyed him with weary contempt.

“Yes.”

“Then you’d best start thinking about what will happen when you get there.”

“What does that mean?” He cradled his arm in the sling and let his fingers trail over the bandage on his arm. The wound itched; he thought he remembered that was good.

“They left us here to die for a reason, boy. What will you do, go back and say the war is failing?”

“It is failing.”

“And they’d welcome you for saying that? For coming back with that arm, and telling everyone how it is in the north? You’re more of a fool than I thought. Go if you want.”

 ***

He could stay here, not return to the city, take a job on one of the outer holdings. They were kind, these farmers—more often than not, when he awoke in the hollow of a clearing or the corner of a barn, he found a loaf of bread and a jug of clean water for him, olives salty and sweating, perhaps a slice of crumbling cheese. He could work for his keep.

These people had enough trouble feeding their own; he kept walking until the city walls appeared from the shimmer above the road. It was only then that he hesitated. They did not know what had happened in the north—and he did not know what had happened here.

They would welcome him.

He started walking again, his arm aching. The others had given them their meager gold to see him home, and he had not used a single coin. The leather pouch was sweaty against his palm.

They would welcome him. They would.

There was no line at the gates, no one coming to Iskendrun to sell or barter. The guards watched him approach, eyes narrowing to see him.

They would welcome him.

He limped up to the doors.

“Citizen?” The word was curt.

“Yes.”

“Name?”

They would welcome him. And he would see a flash of fear in his mother’s eyes when she opened the door. He knew that now. The others were right. He could keep them safe…with his silence.

Or perhaps there was another way. He held out the pouch carefully.

“How about you say I had no name?”

The guard considered him for a moment, and then he stood back, snatching the purse away.

“Welcome to Iskendrun…citizen.”

 

52 Stories: What Has Been Lost

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place sometime before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter!

-M

***

What Has Been Lost

Iskendrun is not what it once was, my darling.

At night, she goes to the windows to look out—not over the balcony that overlooks a quaint little courtyard, or even to the windows that gaze out above the streets paved with white stone and adorned with flowers. She goes silently through the house, brushing her fingers across the hangings as she walks, and she creeps up the back stairs that only the servants use, climbing to the roof itself.

Once, every citizen had gold in their pockets, and they had the proper respect for a lady such as yourself.

She looks out over the city, the sea of crooked roofs that is, her father tells her, a crumbling wreck of what it once was. From the walled gardens with their cypress trees and the tiny lemon grove, she cannot see the city, cannot hear it. Only music is fit for a lady’s ears, and only beauty is fit for her eyes.

So they say.

They make vile threats in the city now. They forget the Temple we built and the market we created.

Often when she goes out into the streets of the Nobles’ Quarter, strolling through the shaded boulevards with her friends, she wants to stop and ask the City Guard what they see. They leave the Nobles’ Quarter every night and descend into the chaos of the docks, the markets, the Refugee District. While she leans over the walls, squinting to make out the metal shanties and the bright-painted banners, they see such things every day. What is it like now? She would give anything to know.

A young lady, she is told, does not ask such questions. A young lady does not wonder about the slums and the merchants.

She dreams of walking in the alleyways of the Refugee District with the smells of roasting meat and curry. In her dreams, she is alone—she cannot even imagine the refugees. On the docks, she imagines pirates with curved swords and jaunty headscarves. Sometimes she hears of Azura, the merchant queen, and she imagines what it would be like to sail up the coast on Azura’s ship, the famed Fateh with its blue prow. She might go to sea one day, of course; her father tells her that they are arranging a marriage for her in Tirwall, with the terms to be concluded when the war is over. But then, she would not go on a merchant ship.

Iskendrun is not what it once was…

She remembers what it once was. She remembers going to the markets and the docks, peeking out from the curtains of he sedan chair to see the traders with their hats and cloaks. Her mother chided her, but with an indulgent smile. She was only a child, with everything before her. She would rule the city someday.

No one wanted to tell her when it all went wrong. It took threats and pleas and three gold coins before she could make her maid tell the truth—about Dahilah perishing in screams and cannonfire, about the troops marching north, about the market stalls standing empty. They made a bargain, lady and servant, and the girl comes to her every night with tales from the marketplace. She won’t venture to the Old Docks, where she says the rebels hide, or the Refugee District with its strange songs and capricious ruler. But she tells the lady everything she knows.

Someday, the lady promises herself, she will rule Iskendrun as she was meant to. She has no intentions of going north to her unknown bridegroom. She will bring gold to Iskendrun once more, and the citizens will love her, and she will be able to walk the streets of her city without even a guard. The citizens will see that the rebels are nothing more than troublemakers, and she will hang them for their lies and the city will be free. It is a harsh punishment, but then, their crimes are grave—they tell slanderous lies, and everyone must know that she is strong as well as kind. In time, they will see that she is just and fair and generous, and all will be as it once was.

Someday.

***

Want to know more about Iskendrun? Read more about your character, the Traveler, in this sneak peek, and then head on over to Kickstarter to back the game – there’s an exclusive short story campaign running during the month of February!

-M

Faction Leader Profile: Navid

Navid Quote

First, an update: over $5,000 in 24 hours! Thank you! Let’s keep the momentum up!

We couldn’t do this without your support, and you’ve helped make our first 24 hours a fantastic success. So let’s keep it going! Try to see if you can get one more person to back today – just one. Every individual backer matters, and we need YOUR help to make the goal.

Please post about the campaign and share with friends. You can follow THIS LINK to post to Twitter, and THIS LINK to post on Facebook! Every single backer is invaluable, and we are so glad to have you on board. The first 48-72 hours are crucial for Kickstarter, so it’s imperative that we keep the ball rolling!

Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the first of our Faction Leader Introduction Series! Let’s kick things off with Navid, leader of the Iskendrun priesthood!

-M

***

Navid

“Go forth, child, and fight for those who need you. Remember, by your deeds shall you be remembered on this earth, and not by your path to them. If you seek to aid the poor, the sick, and the weak, you must be prepared to take more than what is offered.”

Wise, trustworthy, and respected by all in Iskendrun, Navid leads the priests in a life of service to the city’s poor. Mindful of the source of the city’s wealth, Navid has never overtly criticized the nobility…though he is creative when it comes to his methods for securing donations.

As the city teeters on the brink of collapse, Navid looks only inward, to the pressures of poverty on the citizens, and to the exhortations of the gods that he secure the city’s prosperity however he can. Blaming the merchants for the peninsula’s collapse, Navid eyes their well-armed ships and builds a force of his own. Which begs the question…just how far would he go to end Azura’s reign in the peninsula?

——————

Finally, a big shout out to Children of the Zodiark! They were kind enough to tell their backers about City of the Shroud, and they have a pretty sweet looking game to boot. If you haven’t checked out their tactical JRPG + CCG/craftable dice hybrid, you absolutely should!

zodiark

52 Stories: Fairytale

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories! -M

***

Snow White

He had been watching her across the marketplace for a few minutes before she caught a glimpse of him. At first, he watched for the way the sunlight caught in her hair, for the graceful curves of her body as she bent to pick fruit. He considered telling his guards to bring her to him, but it had been so long since he had hunted…

The girl cast a glance over her shoulder, and her cheeks flushed pink with pleasure when she noticed his gaze. She dropped her eyes, then flicked them up to meet his once more; her blush deepened when he beckoned to her, and she hesitated, but she walked through the crowd to stand before him.

“Where are your attendants?” he asked her silkily, and she flushed, tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“They aren’t…they’re not used to the city.”

He had only then noticed the crest she wore, and he reached out to touch the clasp that lay against the pale skin of her throat. He felt her breath quicken, and felt his pulse begin to pound.

“Demmer,” he said. “What a very long time it’s been since your house has allowed one of its maidens to come south.” And what a treasure they had been hiding! Who could have known that old Dennion would produce a daughter so glorious as this?

“How do you…who are you?”

His black eyes flashed with mirth. “Ah, you would not know, would you?
Never you mind, my dear. Your father would find no fault with me.” Oh, he might complain, Dennion would – they kept the old customs in the house of Demmer, spurned the markets and clamor of the south.

But there was nothing the old man could do now to prevent it. The man felt his heart speed. Oh, he had wanted this for so long – her blood could produce an heir such as none had ever seen. When the priests were done with this son, the world would know the full power of the Empire.

And now, in a moment, she had practically fallen into his lap. How very fortuitous.

He reached out to stroke her cheek, and felt the denials and protests come to her lips, unvoiced, choked off. He reached out with his magic, let it flow deep into her mind, and saw the flash of fear.

Mine.

As he leaned forward to kiss her, he let his eyes drift closed with pleasure, the laziness of a hunt completed, and so he never saw how precisely her look of satisfaction mirrored his own.

*****

“Apple?” She held out a slice to him, and he caught her hand, kissed it.

“You’re bleeding.”

“I cut my finger.” She looked embarrassed, then surprised as he licked away the blood and pulled her close for a kiss on the lips. He felt he could drown in the innocence in her eyes. The apple was sweet, and the skin broke against his teeth as he chewed.

He watched her lazily for a moment, enjoying the way the sunlight through the stained glass lit her hair red and purple. His head was fuzzy now, and he licked his lips—they were numb. He tried to bite them, raised his fingers to his mouth, and very dimly heard a crash; he must have knocked over his goblet. The world was disappearing in a haze, a ringing in his ears, and all he could see was her face: impassive, but strangely alight. She did not seem worried, and even as he felt
the seizure take him, she only sat, eyes fixed on him. It was not until he saw the rest of the apple and the stain of her blood that he realized what it all meant. And by then it was far too late.

When it was over, Caralla knelt by his body and closed his eyes, almost gently. She was shaking, her blood singing with the power of the spell, her energy terribly low. It had taken all of her considerable power to bind a poison strong enough for this. Even then, he would have been proof against it if he had known, if he had suspected.

It’s not over, she told herself. There is one more.

But carefully, it must be done with caution. The priests would be here soon.
Caralla drew a hairpin from her hair, dragged her fingers down one side to muss it, bit her lips for color, and knelt forward, her hands on the Emperor’s shoulders. Then, after a considered moment, she opened her mouth and began to scream hysterically for the guards.

*****

Caralla pounded on the door, her fist sticky with blood, and tightened her other hand around the little girl’s—the girl who was, at present, sobbing loudly.

“Be quiet,” Caralla snapped.

The wails choked off with a hiccup, and the empress sighed, kneeling to put one arm around the child. The girl had just lost her father, what could she be expected to do but cry?

Caralla pushed away the thought that the little princess shouldn’t have known. That there was a gleam in her eyes, now, that looked suspiciously like the madness Caralla knew all too well. Best to feed her an apple and be done with it, some part of her mind whispered at her, but there was still a chance the spells could be undone.

The sound of a cart out on the nearby road made Caralla hunch her shoulders. The midday heat was stifling and her heavy cloak made it no better, but she must not be seen. The emperor, that mad, power-hungry fool, had made sure everyone in the kingdom knew how beautiful his bride was. The bride the priests promised would gift him with sons. The bride he’d snatched from the market and married even before word could be sent to her family.

In that, of course, she had encouraged him with just the faintest resistance, hiding her smiles as he overrode her protests. It would hardly do for him to have found out who she truly was. None of them could know until the plan was complete. She had no illusions about what would happen then, and just for a moment, her fingertips drifted up the inside of her left arm, along the tattoo that held the spell to kill her mercifully before they could put her on a pyre.

The empire would be free. That was all that mattered.

She was raising her hand to knock again when the door swung inward.

“Caralla!” The woman fell back as Caralla pushed past her into the house, the girl in tow. Her eyes flicked to the girl, and Caralla knew what her cousin saw: behind the tears was a girl of rare prettiness, with thick black hair and skin as pale as morning’s first blush. A full mouth, with lips of a deep red, and black eyes. Behind the eyes…something unsettling.

“Eisa, my darling,” Caralla said. “Take a seat. I’m sure Avenine has some cider for you.”

“Of course.” The woman went quickly into the kitchen and took down two mugs, filled them with cider from an earthenware jug, and set one in front of Eisa. The other she handed to Caralla.

Caralla waited until the girl was absorbed in drinking the cider, rich and tangy, and then she looked over at the other woman.

“I need your help,” she said, bluntly, in the Old Tongue.

“Who is she?”

Caralla hesitated a moment. She wanted so badly to tell her cousin the truth. But in this, she realized, she could not trust even Avenine. The moment had come to lie; she pushed down her uneasiness and told a version of the truth. “I rescued her from the priests. She has…power, immense power, and…Avenine, I cannot tell you the things they would have done to her. The magics they practice are…I had to bring her here.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Someone will come for her, a huntsman. Until then…someone needs to look after her. Someone who can see her magic.”

“What sort of magic…” Avenine darted a glance at the girl, who looked back; Caralla saw her cousin hold back a flinch.

“I fear it has already been twisted.”

“You cannot possibly expect me to—”

“I need your help—she needs your help!” Her voice was high, attracting Eisa’s attention. “I’m sorry, love,” she soothed the girl, and then she drew Avenine further away, lowered her voice, superstitiously afraid that the girl would understand her purpose here. Who knew what powers lay dormant, or what small action could trigger the girl’s powerful self-protection?

“I have a spell. You must help me with it; it will bind her magic down. I just need time, Avenine, I need to learn how to heal what they have done.”

Avenine looked over at the girl.

“I swear to you,” Caralla whispered, “I would not ask it if there was another who could help me.” She should not be asking at all. The girl should be dead on the floor of her rooms, her line ended forever. But somewhere behind those spells…was a little girl.

Avenine’s shoulders slumped. “Tell me what I must do.”

52 Stories: Rising to a Challenge

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place just before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter! If you play City of the Shroud, YOU will be the traveler – and will become a legend in the city of Iskendrun…

-M

***

Rising to a Challenge

The traveler grabbed at the flickering edges of the cloak, billowing away in the wind. It provided little warmth even when it was held shut, the old homespun being more patched than not, and with holes between the patches. The traveler resolved to leave it behind upon reaching the city, for who would hire such an ill-dressed worker?

Sand and rock crunched underfoot on the road. Once, this highway had been well-maintained. Iskendrun had been on the rise, then, and careful of its reputation. It maintained the roads well over halfway to Gayyan, in the north, and to the foothills of the mountains that separated it from Dahilah, though no one traveled them. The traveler had heard all of this from passing merchants. In those days, everyone agreed that it was wise: reckon they’re right, then. Can’t afford to look shabby. We’ll show them what we’re made of.

Then, of course, Iskendrun boasted of its grain and leather, oranges and lemons shipped south to Dahilah’s indolent nobles, iron tools shipped north for Tirwall’s endless statues and marbles. No one had any illusions about where Iskendrun lay in the hierarchy of the city states, but neither did they accept their place as fair. Did not Iskendrun’s farmers work as hard as anyone’s? Were their boulevards not as clean, their markets not as prosperous? It was old prejudice that held them back.

The traveler supposed that everything that followed was inevitable, then. Sixteen years old and kept well back from the road for fear of the draft, they had watched the army march north. Men and women looked ahead with determination, singing as they kicked up a cloud of dust that could be seen halfway to the city itself.

The traveler remembered, too, when it all changed. When the youths who were marched north looked younger every year, and even the youngest children of the outer holdings were hidden in the stables and root cellars, when the armor they saw no longer held the burnished rose of Iskendrun, but was patched and dirty. The armies no longer sang, and once or twice they raided the fields, and no one had the heart to stop them. No one ever came back from the north, and they all looked hungry.

It took a long time for the hunger to reach the outer holdings, where they made their own goods and sold only the excess. For a time, prices rose. And then the blight hit, for they had planted too many years of grain on the same fields.

And so the traveler walked, in a patched cloak and old boots that hardly deserved the name. It had been many months since the last soldiers went north; word was, the nobles were thinking better of their grand plans. Safe enough, then, for the traveler to go to the city and look for work—dockhands would be in short supply, there being few youths left in the city.

The traveler was just considering whether to stop for water and a bite of hard bread when the portal opened. Hanging over the road, shedding its skin in scraps of color that disappeared before they hit the ground, it held a deep blue glimpse into a world beyond, a world…dark, strange, and yet familiar. A road wound onward in the darkness, like the traveler’s path and yet terrible in its strangeness.

And from the mouth of it, poured creatures, shadows in the shape of acquaintances half-remembered, so odd in their appearance here that the traveler began to wonder what another might see, or if those acquaintances were like the fairies from the old tales, taking the shape of humans until it suited them to show their true form.

They stretched up, ghostly swords and staves in their hands, and the traveler fumbled for the hilt of the little dagger by their side. It was only days before the nursery rhymes would begin, and the whispered conversations in the taverns of Iskendrun: how a poor child of the outer holdings had defeated the creatures from a portal, with only their wits and a blade so dull it was hardly useful for cutting meat.

But the traveler did not know that yet. The traveler had learned only that hardship battered at every door now, that wolves would take the sheep from the meadows and blight would take the crops from the fields, and that there was no running from danger. There was a voice calling from the portal, strangely familiar. The traveler ignored it, and settled into a crouch, ready to fight.

52 Stories: A New Beginning

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories! -M

***

A New Beginning

She steps off the porch, because that is where the wild things are: the whispers in the wind and the soft curl of grass around her feet. She leaves the lights of the house behind her and she holds her fingers up to brush the sky as she makes her way home. The stars wheel above, as they do, on an improper axis. She does not look. If she does not look, she can imagine that her fingertips leave ripples across the Milky Way.

Her lips are stained with wine and she breathes heat out into the night like an endless sigh. The heavy air of the summer night is her cloak, and the runaway curls of her own hair are her crown. Her court is crickets and fireflies and the silent watchfulness of the trees is her castle. A stream carols to her with the low, slick rush over barely submerged stones and the burbling jump of the drops that fling themselves into the air.

How many nights did she feel the prickle on the back of her neck? The darkness watched her, she thought. Strange things lurked there, bears and spiders and half-remembered nightmares. How foolish of her, not to realize that they were her courtiers.

She smiles. The ground goes not hurt her bare feet, for it would not dare. The darkness is alive with green, creaking ponderously upward and stretching its leaves for an absent sun. Fog curls softly; the trees are dreaming.

She does not look back.

The Upcoming Year (and a Patreon Update!)

moira me book covers

Dearest Readers,

This year has been absolutely fantastic. In June, I was able to make a dream come true and begin writing full time. In 2016, I hope to get to the point where I am writing all original work instead of taking contract projects! It’s a little bit crazy, as goals go, but goals should be crazy.

I have some incredible projects lined up for 2016, so read on for more, and feel free to leave comments to tell me what you’re MOST excited for – those projects will come first!

  • More Miriel & Catwin – when last we left them, our sometime-diplomats were off to explore Innis Tearmen. Naturally, everything will go exactly as expected and nothing will go wrong.
  • …okay, I lied. There are some excellent adventures coming up for Miriel, Catwin, and Fidach!
  • City of the Shroud – I’ve teamed up with some truly incredible game designers to bring you a story I can’t wait to build…with you. Iskendrun is waiting for you, and only you can determine its fate. Follow us here, and get ready for a truly player-driven story!
  • Fallen in love with Cade & Aryn yet? If sarcasm, freedom-fighting, spaceships, and romance are your thing, you’ve got a great year coming up – five (5!) more books are planned in the Dragon Corps series.
  • And what’s this? Pale Ones coming to the shores of the desert to speak with the Yeshuhain? Yes, indeed! Mahalia may have begun to change the desert, but there is a wider world that is calling…and greater danger than she knows. 2016 will bring you Inheritance, the sequel to Mahalia!
  • Meanwhile, who could fail to be a little intrigued by our wonderful villain, Isura? Her story – what truly happened between her and Mahalia’s father, and the story of the founding of the Mage Academy, will also come out in 2016!
  • Quarterly short stories and novellas – Patreon backers will vote on topics for each quarter’s short story! The topic for March’s story was chosen during the Launch party a week ago: Brynja tells the tale of a young woman so far from the center of a galactic empire that her people have forgotten they were ever a part of it. Her psychic powers, however, attract the interest of a man bent on taking the throne for himself – and Brynja must take shelter in the mind of the Empress herself.
  • Haven will round out the Novum Trilogy, as the royals fight for the possibility of life after their battle with the Henth. These books have been wonderful, and yet terrifying to write. I am both glad and nervous to be picking up with Niv, Adea, and the others again!
  • You might not guess it, but one of my absolute favorite genres is anything Regency-era, from romance to mystery. This year, I hope at last to make a foray into the genre I love so much, bringing you the story of Violet, a young widow with scars both visible and hidden, a woman entirely at the mercy of her family – and embroiled, suddenly, in a murder where nothing is as it seems…
  • Nearly 15 years ago, I dreamed up the beginning of the Novum Trilogy, humanity’s first forays into space, and the trials that awaited them there. A young naval officer charged with finding out just what earth’s most reclusive trillionaire is up to will find a truth no one expected – he hasn’t been on earth in a decade, and he’s taken hundreds with him to a planet the governments of earth now desperately want.
  • So many things!

So there you have it – 10 books, a video game, and some super-awesome short stories! What surprises this year will bring, I do not know – but I have no doubt that wonderful story ideas will brim up, and I am excited to share them with all of you.

If you’ve enjoyed my work, and would like to have cool stuff like all books delivered to your inbox a week early, characters named after you, and sneak peeks into the worlds I’m building, head on over to Patreon to check out the backer rewards. This time of year is actually the very best one to donate – the $5 backer tier gets ALL books and an omnibus of prior works, and the $3 tier gets a book on signup and one book per calendar year! You get books and other freebies, and I will have assured writing time…which gets you more books, faster!

What do you want to see this year, readers? What are you looking forward to?

-M

patreon1