Aside

Hey Friends!

Some updates:  I’ve been lazy about writing because 1) I’m lazy and 2) other things have taken precedence. I’m at the “over 18,000 word” mark on my tentatively-titled book The Pendant, the Necromancer, and the Opossum.

The Gospel According to Astley is almost complete, although it has fallen on the back burner for now (so has The Gift). The Faerstone (The Brumal Star‘s sequel) is still being written as well.

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The Brumal Star: Free Preview

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The Brumal Star is available in the Kindle store on Amazon, but here’s a free preview of the first chapter!

Jamison Undrand awaited his death. A binding curse flowed through his bloodstream like hot poison. Every beat of his heart pulled and thickened its dark magic inside of him as he swayed within the circle of his old comrades, the Ablete Calare of Reathe.

The Calare had found him guilty of murdering his wife. His joke of a trial had been a month ago. The Lawgivers had used his words against him, then threw him into a prison cell until they were ready for him to face his doom. That was today.

His accusers dragged him like a disobedient dog to carry out the most severe punishment of magic users’ society: the Darkening Ritual, where they would put a convicted magic user through torments of the mind and body to purge them of their magic.

The Calare stayed bowed in deference to their leader, Broderick Cordale, as he finished preparing the ritual. He gave the signal to Durriken, a thuggish young man he’d chosen to tie Jamison’s blindfold.

A razor wire of alarm stung Durriken’s gut as his reptilian eyes locked with Jamison’s, catching a desperate flash of anger and fear in them.

He grasped Jamison’s shoulders and shoved him into position, slipping the black cloth over his eyes and yanking it with expert savageness.

Jamison’s sight blotted to darkness. The rough sackcloth fabric of the ceremonial death robes scratched and stung his infected skin sores. He sweated under them in spite of the late autumn chill. The back of his head began to ache from the blindfold’s knot pressing into it.

   What are those bastards waiting for? Why can’t they just get this over with?

Broderick spoke.

“The Ablete Calare of Reathe is gathered on this day to carry out punishment as decided by our Lawgivers. If anyone wishes to speak on behalf of the condemned, he’ll do it now.”

No words would save Jamison. His breath had been wasted during the trial, and his strength was gone from the journey here. He could only guess what was to come.

   Somebody say something! They won’t. No, they won’t.They could, but they wouldn’t dare.Bunch of cowards, every single one of them.

“To undergo the Darkening Ritual is a fate worse than death. A magus without magic is nothing. Let it begin,” Broderick said.

The Calare raised their arms above them like conductors of a malevolent orchestra. Streams of gray light emanated from their fingers and formed a gelatinous, writhing mass. It was alive, animated by their magic. They aimed it above Jamison.

The blood pulse in his ears muted their chanted words and jumbled them together in his mind. Heaviness closed out his thoughts. He teetered and sunk on the flat, dead grass.

Cold slime spattered onto his neck. It smelled like something fetid they had dredged up from a sewer. Sticky tendrils stretched from the orb and trailed, fingerlike, along his exposed skin. They left a burn like frostbite across his cheek. He tried to shrink away from their touch, but his body would not obey.

His bowels clenched as it crawled over his lips and slipped inside his mouth. He tried to spit it back out, but every part of his physical body had been made docile by their enchantments.

The blindfold was a small mercy; it blocked the sight of it, but it allowed the rest of his senses to become engorged with overmastering fear.

It bubbled in a thickened glob and inched down his throat. His coughing and retching spread it further inside of him. He struggled to breathe through his nose in short, stifling breaths that didn’t fill his lungs up all the way while the nameless horror slid all the way down and pooled at the bottom of his stomach.

A watery churning spread through his guts, along with searing jolts of pain. It stung him now from within, hot and sharp.

More oozed under his robes and wrapped around his skin like a freezing wet sheet.

A memory flitted across his mind: a moonless night one winter when his army battalion was forced to bivouac without enough equipment during a military exercise. That cold had been bone deep, but it was nothing compared to this. This cold sank into every cell and nerve and went beyond physical. It invaded his mind and soul.

Chattering teeth rattled his skull like machinery, making him bite his tongue. Blood and drool leaked out the side of his mouth.

   Gods, make it end. Make it end. I don’t care who answers.

The gods, if they existed, had forgotten to concern themselves with the day-to-day happenings on Ransara and were unmoved by his pleas.

The sorcerers’ chanting swelled. A pressure settled on his chest, as if someone was sitting on him.

Conjured-up images of his wife filled his mind. They seemed even more vivid than reality.

Her light fingers stroked his hair and whispered his name.

“Taryn!” he went to say, but his mouth would not form the words.

“Speak to me through your thoughts,” she said.

In his mind, he saw her kneeling in front of him, her golden hair cascading over her shoulders.

   Taryn,help me. Help me!

“I can’t,” she said.

   Oh gods, please help. Make it stop.

The stink of decay surrounded her. “You never believed in any of the gods. What makes you think they would deliver you from this?”

   No, no, don’t do this—

He gagged on the stench and tried to pull away, but he was still immobilized by their magic.

   No Taryn, not you. It’s a lie!

“I thought we’d grow old together.” Her nails dug into his wrists, her hands sticky and clammy against his skin. “This is for your own good, Jamison. It’s your purification.”

She vanished, but she appeared again and again as a tainted version of herself, as indifferent to his agony as everyone else.

Jamison couldn’t guess how long it went on for. It might have been minutes or hours—a waking dream of grotesque imagery and pain until he vomited up the globby mass, now marbled with black. It spurted out of him onto the ground, where it twisted and coiled into thick, ropey strands and crumbled away to soot.

Broderick’s hands sliced the air in a quick slashing movement. The chanting stopped.

Jamison lay upon the frost-heaved ground, his broken body mended and free from the enchantments.

Broderick towered over him. “This was less than you deserved, swine!” He slammed his boot into Jamison’s ribs and strode away.

A gust of wind blew the sooty dust across the field.

The sorcerers slunk back to the forest. Unknown to them, a silent watcher bore witness from within the safety of the pines along the edge of the field.

. . .

What's Cheaper Than Dirt?*

Okay maybe not much, but from today until January 12, my short stories are available to download for free! You may not be able to plant your African violets with them but they’re entertaining and won’t die on you.

Click on the pictures to go directly to Amazon for your free download.

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*I’ve bought bags of dirt and I’m always amused by the endless variety of topsoil at the garden center.

Interview With Scout

The fearless adventurer bat Scout Pipistrellus of The Brumal Star paid me a visit and granted me a interview.

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Scout: (flies in through window and hangs upside down on the vertical blinds. There’s something poking out of his mouth, which turns out to be a large moth.)

T.Q.: Welcome, Scout!

Scout: THMMKKSSSHHHFFFFF…(swallows the rest of the moth) Thanks for having me. And for hosting me at night instead of during the day.

T.Q.: No problem. I know nighttime is when all the tasty bugs come out.

Scout: Yeah! You’ve got a feast flying around out there. Maybe I’ll stick around awhile.

T.Q.: That would be great, we have a lot of nasty mosquitoes.

Scout: Nasty? What are you talking about? Mosquitoes are delicious!

T.Q.: Then they’re all yours! Tell us what you’ve been up to lately.

Scout: Well you know, the usual: saving the world from insect overpopulation, meeting new friends, visiting new places.

T.Q.: Tell us about where you grew up.

Scout: I was raised in the province of Cailreth underneath a stone bridge. Can you imagine what it was like growing up in a giant colony of bats?  Hundreds of us all crammed in under there, squeaking and screeching. Hardly any privacy, I tell you!

T.Q.: Sounds like it gets loud.

Scout: Oh, it was chaos, but a good chaos. I’m a family bat, after all. Blood is thicker than mosquito swarms.

T.Q.: Do you still live there?

Scout: I’ve always been an independent sort of bat, until I met Skyler. And of course I lived with Lorica for a little while, after one of her brothers pegged me with a rock and broke my wing. But every once in a while I go see Mom and Pops and all seventy-nine of my brothers and sisters.

T.Q.: Seventy-nine?!

Scout: Yup. And some of their kids have kids and some of their kids have kids!

T.Q.: Holy smokes.

Scout: Holidays get very crowded. Everyone is calling each other by the wrong name all the time. When I was a youngster, there were times when my mother would be yelling for me but she’d call me by all my brothers’ and sisters’ names before she got to “Scout”.

T.Q.: I can imagine. Speaking of kids, how are thing going with your lady-love? Any bat-pups in your future?

Scout: (crossing wings) Hmph. I knew that’s where this was leading. Seems everyone loves a bit of gossip.

T.Q.: Nope, just curious! Anyways, I thought bats loved gossip.

Scout: You’re right, bats love to chatter. Well if you must know, Skyler is doing fine and there are babies on the horizon.

T.Q.: How exciting!

Scout: If we’re lucky, it’ll be twins. Usually bats only have one pup at a time but sometimes we have twins.

T.Q.: You’ll have your hands full, I’m sure.

Scout: You mean wings.

T.Q.: Wings, of course. But with all the other bats in the colony, how do you know which pups are yours?

Scout: We can tell by smell and by their voices.

T.Q.: That’s pretty remarkable.

Scout: It is, if I do say so myself. (Stomach growls loudly) Oh my! Got to go, more bugs to catch! (flies out window).

The Brumal Star is available in the Kindle store on Amazon.

Symbology of The Brumal Star: Animal Signs

I really love symbolism, the idea that there are deeper meanings and ideas attached to things that seem ordinary and mundane.

As I was writing The Brumal Star, I became aware that I had included many birds and other animal characters in the book. But I didn’t research the symbolism behind any of it until after I was done.

I was struck by how accurately the creatures that I chose for the story evoked the themes and archetypes I meant to convey.

Cardinal

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Elira, the Witch of the Larches, takes the form of a cardinal. They are a symbol of hope, vitality and faith, things Jamison desperately needs. He needs to “keep the faith” when his situation seems bleak and hopeless. They symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of renewal and restoration, which is the very cycle he goes through.

She is a “cardinal sign”, the first thing (or person) he sees after he survives the Ritual. They’re associated with winter, and Jamison is in a long, dark cold winter of his life. In the story, it is about to become winter.

The word cardinal has its origins in the Norse word kross and the Latin crux, both of which are associated with crosses or directional points. Jamison is at a crossroads as he decides what he will do next, since he cannot go back to his old life and must make a choice and pick a direction.

Goat

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Goats mean many things in various cultures, but the highest expression of what they represent are sense of independence, curiosity, progress, achievement, and reaching your highest ideals. These are themes that are expressed through Jamison and his journey.

Cat

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Revered as gods in ancient Egypt, cats are symbols of magic and mystery, birth and resurrection, especially in regards to their “nine lives”. They’re a fitting symbol of the strange, mysterious circumstances  through which Jamison receives his magical gift as a child and the way he manages to bounce back or raise himself out of terrible, frightening, and life-threatening situations.

Dog

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Dogs are symbols of protection and loyalty, courage, communication and cooperation, and as connectors between physical and non-physical realms. Berinon, Jamison’s shaggy hound, assumes the role of his faithful guardian at a pivotal moment in his life.

Bats

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Bats are symbols of rebirth, secrets, initiation, facing darkness, transition and transformation, and understanding grief. Many characters are transformed by their dark experiences throughout the story.

They also represent exploring the underworlds of reality. Lorica literally does this as she travels with Jamison to the cave with her friend, a pipistrelle (a type of small bat) named Scout.

In the mythos of the book, the Chirelien are giant, mutant bats with wrinkly faces, massive, leathery wings, shaggy, lion-like manes and serpentine, tufted tails. They’ve been transformed by magic gone awry, so they’ve undergone a massive shift both in their physical appearance and life philosophy, and must come to terms with their new state of being.

Chickadee

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A chickadee makes an appearance in a scene where two characters face off against each other arguing over trust issues. These tiny birds that thrive in cold climates are symbolic of hardiness, adaptability, ability to thrive in adverse conditions, trust, and serve as a call not to be closed off or be paranoid of others.

Ravens

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The Cave of Wrykirk is near a waterfall called Raven Falls, so named because of the colony of ravens that roosts there. Ravens have been regarded through many cultures as harbingers or messengers representing wisdom and knowledge.

They can also mean the shadow self, one of Carl Jung’s classic archetypes. The shadow self refers to a person’s inner darkness, fears, desires, shames, and weaknesses.

Many characters in The Brumal Star are forced to confront the darkest parts of their personalities as they go through their individual journeys.

Do you use animal signs and symbolism in your writing?