Yes, I’m Still Alive

So much for New Year’s Resolution. Regular blog posts. Not a difficult task. Not like getting fit or learning another language, just writing a little more than I’m used to once or twice a week. Ask anyone who knows me–I do not have trouble writing. If anything, I write too much.

But I have learned that, for me, blogging is less like writing and more like public speaking, and I’ve never been any good at that. Even when I write my books, I never think about anyone actually reading them until I reach the editing phase. Writing is not a social interaction. Books exist to bring readers to the story; the author is barely involved in that relationship. And that’s the kind of relationship I’m used to. The kind where I’m not in it.

Zing. Take that, me. Roasted.

However, one thing this blog has taught me is that I LIKE connecting to my readers. I know it may not seem like it when I go a month or more in total radio silence, but the fact is, I just don’t know what to say. Nothing has changed from the last post. Still editing Tooth and Claw, and no, it shouldn’t take this long, but there’s been the usual ups and downs with my health. Sometimes I can power through the downs (I have found that being sick really benefits me when writing a good dream sequence) and sometimes I just can’t.

So progress has been slow, but I am still working. I’m sorry that I’m not as active on this blog as I should be…because I SHOULD BE. This blog exists for YOU. It’s important to me ONLY because it connects me to you and it should really be more of a priority in my life.

Looks like I’ve got next year’s New Year’s Resolution ready. In the meantime, Tooth and Claw is coming soon. The premiere of Everything Is All Right, Part Four: New Faces, Old Bones should follow right after, and maybe this year will be the year I finally get my act together.

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No News Is Good News, Right?

Nothing new to report on either the Lost Tales of Arcadia: Tooth and Claw front (I know I said I only had one chapter to go, but I’ve written four of them and there’s STILL one chapter left! The book is stretching out like the hallway in a horror movie), or on the FNAF fanfiction front, but I do want to keep this blog active, so please enjoy this sneak preview from Tooth and Claw!

A foot kicked her in the ribs, waking her out of a dream in which she slept in the mud into exactly that same reality. Nona rolled over and frowned at a bleary-eyed soldier as he cut the tape on her wrists and ankles before moving on to rouse a handful of other women from their sleep-huddle.

“You’re on kitchen duty,” he informed Nona’s group, already walking away. “You four get wood, you four get water, and the rest of you stay put for now. Hey, Packer! Where’d we put the cigarettes?”

‘No mercy,’ Nona thought, following the other women across camp to the fire where she’d last seen Fiona’s grasping hand. There was nothing there now but smoking ashes and drag marks in the mud. ‘This is not about incapacitating them long enough to sneak away. There is no away here and no point in sneaking. Take them out.’

Good advice. She wasn’t sure how to do that, though. She hadn’t hit anyone since high school and she’d never done anything more serious than break a nose or chip a tooth even when she had. She did not consider herself a violent person, but she thought about killing these people now, thought about it without rancor or excitement, but only as the first step in a procession that led to her certain demise. She had to kill them and kill them so fast that they didn’t even have time to think about catching her, but only took her down. If they caught her, they’d torture her. They’d made the other girl, Fiona, scream in ways Nona could not have imagined coming out of a real human being and they hadn’t even had a reason to do it. Whatever Nona did, she had to do enough of it to make them panic, make them shoot her in the head, end it quick. So none of that baby-shit. No slapping, no punching, no ball-kicking. Murder.

She got comfortable with the idea. It wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be.

And what does this image have to do with that scene? Read the book…

 

And heck, since you’re here, how about a sneak previous for Everything Is All Right, Part IV: New Faces, Old Bones?

***

Ana started walking, but changed direction after just a few steps, moving away from the shady back end of the building and heading instead all the way around to the front side. It was a long walk, maybe no longer than the walk to the loading dock would have been, but with the afternoon sun shining its full punishing force onto her head and the asphalt frying her boots from below, it felt longer. At last she reached the lobby doors, now resting crooked in a frame so new, she could still smell that new-door smell. She raised a hand, hesitated, then raised it higher and knocked.

She heard something immediately on the other side—the whir of old motors echoing in the empty lobby. The doors shuddered, then scraped open just a crack, showing her the thinnest stripe of brown fur and the startling brilliance of one backlit blue eye. The eye blinked. The doors shuddered again and one of them groaned open on a badly-bent hinge, supported by Freddy’s massive paw.

“SO. IT. WAS. YOU,” he said, ears facing forward but tilted back in cautious surprise. “WHEN. I. COULDN’T. HEAR. YOUR.” He paused, clicking, then continued, “CLUCK. COME. ANY. CLOSER. I. DECIDED. IT. COULDN’T. BE. YOU. AFTER. ALL.” He paused again, but didn’t search for a soundfile. Tiny servos whined as his eyes searched hers. His face, far too expressive for plastic parts, showed strain. “AN-N-A. I—”

“Why are you still talking like that?” she interrupted. She didn’t want to hear anything he had to say when it came after her name when he said it like that. “Bonnie was supposed to fix you.”

“HE. CAN’T.”

“I left the keys!”

“IT. ISN’T. THAT. SIMPLE.”

“Yes, it is!” Fear, grief, confusion and a thousand other emotions she couldn’t acknowledge and hardly knew how to name came boiling out all at once in and choked, angry rush: “And if that was all you ever wanted from me, you should have just asked! I’d have done it! I’m easily that stupid! I’m here now, aren’t I? But what in the hell was all that family crap? Don’t you talk to me about home and…and love and…and burying my fucking dead aunt when all you wanted was the keys! You had no right!”

“AN-N-A—”

“You had no right!”

He stopped trying to talk. She wasn’t sure how to start. Desert insects drilled up the desert air; apart from that, it would have been uncomfortably silent.

“My truck ran out of gas,” she said finally. “That’s why you didn’t hear it. I’m not trying to sneak in.”

“PEOPLE. WHO. SNEAK. DON’T. KNOCK,” he agreed.

They stared at each other some more.

At length, Freddy twitched and said, “WOULD. YOU. LIKE. TO. C-C-COME ON IN, KIDS! WELCOME TO FREDDY-DY-DY FAZBEAR’S PIZZERIA!” He shook his head, grumbling, and added, “I’M. SORRY. I. THOUGHT. I. WAS. READY. FOR. THIS. BUT. BONNIE. WAS. SUPPOSED. TO. HAVE. THIS. PART.”

“What?”

“I. THOUGHT. YOU. WOULD. GO. AROUND. BACK,” he explained, releasing the other door (it sagged at once, leaning slowly open until the wind gusted and banged it shut) as he stood aside to let her in. “BONNIE. IS. WAITING. BY. THE.” He clicked to himself, looking away with the same embarrassment as a man might show if he had to stop mid-sentence to burp, and came back with, “HICKORY-DICKORY-DOCK. I. WANTED. HIM. TO. TALK. TO. YOU. FIRST. I’M. NOT. GOOD. WITH. THIS. SORT. OF. THING.”

“I don’t want to talk to Bonnie,” Ana said quickly. She hadn’t moved, hadn’t put even one foot over the threshold, although he’d given her plenty of room to get by without touching him. “I’m just here to get my stuff.”

Freddy started to speak, but his first word became a growling grunt as his attention snapped out to the road. Ana caught only a glimpse of sunlight dazzling on a couple of bicycles before Freddy dropped a paw on her shoulder and propelled her inside, pulling the doors shut behind her. They wouldn’t close; He tried three times, then stood, tense, a door in each hand, holding them together with just a narrow crack between them through which to watch the road. She knew the bikes had gone on to the quarry by the way his ears relaxed. He grunted and fiddled with the doors some more, heaving them around on their bent hinges before he managed to shut them and keep them shut.

“I. MISS. THE. BEAR. ARCADE,” he grumbled, backing away from the doors with his hands up, ready to catch them if they should fall open again.

“The…? Oh. The barricade. Yeah. I’ll see what I can do. Don’t read too much into that,” she said as his ears went up and his eyes narrowed. “I just…I don’t want anyone else getting in.”

“OR. OUT,” Freddy guessed, but then simply moved on without looking to see if she followed. “BONNIE. SHE’S. HERE. CHICA. YOU. MIGHT. AS. WELL. WAKE. UP. THAT’S AN ORDER.”

Chica’s violent convulsions, coupled with the sound of something big crashing through the storeroom, prevented her from noticing that Freddy had moved away from her, but the little creak of the West Hall door opening cut across it all.

Freddy was leaving. She could hear Bonnie’s hurried footsteps in the kitchen now, each one closer than the one before. She could hear his hands beating on the cupboards and the oven for balance, even see the pale glow of his eyes growing brighter through what remained of the hanging sheets of plastic. She’d see him in a moment. He’d see her. And Freddy was just leaving them to it.

“Where are you going?” she blurted, taking half a step after him, a full step away and two steps back into the lobby, to the effect that she pranced in place and fell against the gift shop wall. “I said I didn’t want to see him!”

“I’M. GOING. TO. GO. GET. FOXY,” he replied. “WE. SHOULD. ALL. BE. HERE. FOR. THIS.”

“For what? There is no ‘this,’ I just want my stuff and I’ll leave! Don’t!”

Then Freddy was gone and in the very next second, Bonnie was there, tangling up his ears in his impatient push through the plastic and trying to brute-force his way free. This succeeded in pulling the plastic off the door’s frame, but gravity only caused it to fall over him and either a slight static charge or the perverse nature of inanimate objects made it cling tighter. He staggered out into the dining room, pulling at the loose ends, which forced folds of plastic into his joints, wrapping himself tighter and tighter. “Oh for—really?!” he exclaimed right before he fell over.

Chica and Ana both started toward him, stopped, looked at each other, and both stepped back, as perfectly synchronized as clockwork figures when the hour is struck. To punctuate this awkward exchange, the camera on the stage wall snapped on, throwing a dirty spotlight over the whole scene.

It focused on Bonnie first, attracted by his thrashing, but didn’t stay on him long. It aimed itself at the stage directly below it next, where Chica stood tapping her fingers and avoiding its one-eyed gaze, then moved to the empty spot where Freddy ought to be singing, given that this was the end of the five o’clock set on a Thursday, then panned slowly around the room until it reached Ana.

It seemed to Ana that it ‘stared’ at her for a long time, considering that she wasn’t moving or making noise or doing anything that should keep its attention, but it did eventually return to its home position and switch off, right before the West Hall door opened.

Freddy limped in and stopped short, looking at Bonnie, still thrashing on the floor. “REALLY.”

“Yes, really!” Bonnie snapped. “It’s this new act I’m working on where I wrap myself in plastic and fucking faceplant on the goddamn floor! What do you think?”

“I. THINK. PERFORMANCE. ART. IS. UNDER. RATED. FOR. A. REASON,” said Freddy, but he headed over to start peeling Bonnie out of his trappings. “HOLD. STILL.”

“CAN I PLAY TOO?” Chica asked, stealing another glance at Ana before carefully descending the stage steps. “I LIKE TO HELP MY FRIENDS!”

“Oi.”

Ana looked back as Freddy and Chica wrangled Bonnie onto his feet and saw Foxy still in the shadowed corner of the West Hall.

“I’ll g-g-give ye one chance, luv,” he said with a wry slant of a smile. “Give me yer hand-d-d right now and I’ll carry ye off to P-P-PIRATE COVE. I’ll get-t-t ye drunk and do wicked things to ye that ye won’t remember and we never has to t-t-talk about. Ye can skip this sorry sh-sh—SHOWTIME!—show altogether. What say ye?”

“Still the same speech settings,” Ana said to herself. She looked at the stage and saw the glint of metal there on the grungy pad. The keys, untouched. “He didn’t fix any of you. How could you leave them like that?” she demanded, turning on Bonnie.

Before Bonnie could answer, before he was even fully upright, Freddy said, “AN-N-A. THAT’S ENOUGH. WE. CAN. TALK. ABOUT. THIS. BUT. WE. ARE. GOING. TO. DO. IT. LIKE. ADULTS. SIT. DOWN.”

“Who said I was talking? I’m getting my stuff and I’m leaving!”

Freddy nodded. “FOXY.”

A cold metal hand closed around Ana’s tattooed arm, covering the ravens, Thought and Memory, from view. “Told ye it were yer last-t-t chance,” said Foxy, leading her away from the doors to the stage. “Rest yer nethers, lass.”

“I’m not sitting!”

“On the stage or on me knee, luv,” Foxy replied implacably. “Them’s yer only say on the matter.”

Ana sat. On the stage.

“OKAY,” said Freddy, limping over. He glanced once at the camera on the wall—dark now, blind—and then faced her with a bearish grumble and folded his arms. “LET’S. TALK.”

 

And what am I working on today, you ask?
Well, to be honest, today, I did this.

So…yeah. Books are coming soon! I RLee-Promise!

Serial Saturday Update

Welp, here it is two days before the New Year and it should surprise exactly no one that I have once again failed to live up to my promise. Between the drama with Amazon, the death of my old laptop, the necessary and thankfully unexciting job of training a new laptop to serve me in the manner to which I have become accustomed, the usual health-related string of crises, and of course, the discovery of a massive flaw in the final chapters by my betas, resulting in an equally massive last-minute rewrite, I will not have Tooth and Claw available before the end of the year as promised. I’m trying to stay cheerful about this (thanks so much to all of you for your words of support), but honestly, I’m depressed. I tried so hard to get this done and in doing so, I shelved my FNAF project, so THAT isn’t done yet either, so two days before the year’s end, I have already broken two New Year’s promises.

2018 is off to a great start.

But you know what? Is it what it is. Now, I hate that phrase. I hate it with a passion, because it too often is used to justify apathy in the face of an entirely fixable problem. Well, in this case, fixing the problem starts with accepting the new parameters of the situation. I missed a deadline. I missed two, in fact. Now it’s time to get over it and get on with it, so that’s what I’m going to try to do. I can’t promise I’ll never bitch about it again (even if I did, I’d only break my promise), but I’ll try to tone that down, too. It’s not helpful. I’ve only got one New Year’s Resolution this coming year and it’s to be more positive, damn it.

So! I’ll be ending the year with the final chapter of Children of Mammon. I couldn’t have timed that better if I’d tried. Everything Is All Right will continue, I promise (eesh, there’s that word again), with Part IV: New Faces, Old Bones, but hell if I know when. Not next week, that’s for sure. I’ll know better once Tooth and Claw is finally up and I can give the fanfic the attention it deserves. So enjoy the last snippet for a while, and then head on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org to read the last chapter for a while, and hopefully I’ll have better news than this the next time I blog!

In the meantime, here’s wishing you all the best for 2018!

 

Freddy waited for her on the show stage, standing by the half-hidden door in the back wall, his head bent and eyes shut. He opened them when she climbed onstage with him and, when he saw her change of attire, he nodded once. Not in agreement and certainly not in approval; it was a nod Ana recognized too well, one that said, ‘Well, the ball’s rolling. Might as well get behind it as stand in its way.’ He turned and opened the small access panel, staring for a few seconds into the red light now glowing out above the keypad. He glanced at Ana as she joined him, grunted wordlessly, then deliberately pushed eight buttons: 1-2-0-8-1-9-8-3.

“Holy shit, will that be easy to remember,” she said, startled into an anxious laugh.

He looked at her, his finger hovering over the Enter key.

“It’s my birthday,” she explained, then quickly shook her head as he twitched, to forestall an unscheduled outbreak of birthday songs. “Not today. August 12th 1983.”

He looked at the keypad, his brows drawing minutely together.

“You know, it’s like if you wrote it out as the day, month and year…never mind. Just go, Freddy.”

Still frowning, he pushed the enter-key.

A faint tone sounded and the red light turned green. The door seemed to draw itself on the wall in thick black ink a fraction of a second before it suddenly swept up, releasing a shower of choking dust. It latched somewhere above her with a heavy, uncomforting clank. Hot, stagnant air blew out of the dark, stinking of rotten meat and wires…

Serial Saturday Update

It’s going to be a short post tonight, because I’m literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I haven’t had more than an hour or two of real sleep for several days in a row now, due to the utterly unsurprising fact that I am sick again and my tonsils are swollen to the size of golf balls. It turns out that being able to breathe is more or less essential to getting a good night’s rest. Go figure.

Additionally, my desktop computer gave up the electronic ghost last month, which is not a big deal, seeing as I saw it coming and got everything of note off the hard drive before the death-rattle. However, this left me with only my laptop…which is slowly but steadily ascending toward silicon heaven. I’m a little afraid to use it for more than a few hours at a time, which hasn’t really put me out THAT much, since I’ve been flat on my back in bed most of the week gasping for air and gargling with peppermint tea while my cat faces worriedly into the closet, because he’s blind and sound bounces around my room in weird ways.

I am so tired.

So okay, bad news. I am trying like hell to get Tooth and Claw up on Amazon, but frankly, I’m still dealing some other Amazon-related nonsense right now (all…how many? ALL of my books got flagged as corrupted earlier this week. I’ve sent them Scholomance three times and it keeps coming back as ‘cannot open’ and also as having too many typos, meaning the demons’ names, which I’d love to know how they found if THEY CAN’T OPEN THE FILE) and I want to get it taken care of before I add to the shit-list. I still hope to get it up by the end of the year, but it’s no longer a definite thing. Hands up if you’re surprised.

We call them “R Lee promises” around here. As in, “Go to the movies with you? Well, I kinda sorta RLee-promised to help Bob move a couch, but yeah, I’d love to go to the movies!”

Sorry. Believe it or not, I’m really trying. I’m just too damn tired to try very hard. Sick and tired, no less. Literally.

Anyway, I do have another chapter of my FNAFic up on fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org, for those who are reading along. Bad news on that front too. It had always been my intention to keep to a weekly update schedule so that Part IV would start the following week after Part III concluded, but hey, RLee promises, amirite?! Ha! I had to put Part IV aside, unfinished, to work on Tooth and Claw, so now I have two weeks or so to finish, edit, and refine Part IV, and that ain’t happening, so…yeah. There may be a short hiatus between III and IV.

Again, I’m sorry.

So for those of you still reading and not burning me in effigy in your front yard, please enjoy this snippet from the latest chapter of Everything Is All Right, Part III: Children of Mammon.

Like so.

The man looking back at her on the phone’s screen seemed younger than his credentials had led her to anticipate, but he was probably older than he looked. Other than that, it was all there—the dingy trailer interior, the sagging couch, and the tangle of controllers and cables leading to the enormous TV.

“Show me your bong,” said Ana.

He laughed and leaned out of the picture, coming back with a red and yellow glass one with a cannabis leaf etched on the base.

Freddy’s eyes slowly slanted downward.

“Relax,” Yoshi was saying. “I’m so straight-laced and sober tonight, I’m practically Republican. Show me your toy.”

Bonnie gronked, his own eyes slanting inside the cavity of his open head.

“Be cool,” Ana told him. “We both know if I opened my toybox, you’d be in it in a second.”

Bonnie’s eyes rolled, and if that wasn’t creepy enough without a face, his ear-pins waggled.

The first few notes of the Toreador March played and abruptly cut off. Not abrupt enough, though.

“What was that?” the man asked.

“Radio,” said Ana, glaring over her shoulder at Freddy, who glared right back at her. “Let me just turn it off.” She gave him a slap upside his huge head.

His eyes narrowed a little more, but that was all he did.

“What the hell are you listening to?”

Ana’s mind briefly blanked and came back with the right answer. “Carmen. You know. The opera.”

The man in the phone looked her over with a crooked smile. “So you’re what an opera girl looks like, huh?”

“What, I don’t look highbrow to you? I’m wearing my classiest t-shirt and everything.”

Yoshi, Bonnie and even Freddy all took a moment to look at her shirt, which related the sophisticated sentiment Bitch, please in glittery gold letters on a royal purple background.

“That’s classy?” Yoshi asked.

“It says please,” said Ana, underlining the word with her finger and only coincidentally drawing his (and Bonnie’s) attention back to her chest. “Manners matter.

Serial Saturday Update

Another week, gone forever. I spent half of it wrangling with Amazon and the other half flat on my ass in bed, so sick I wanted to die. Now, I’m saying someone over there in Amazon’s Voodoo Department put the whammy on me, but I’m sure not ruling it out.

The issue with Amazon is a two-pronged one. On the first prong is Amazon’s newest ass-headed policy designed solely to make it harder for self-pubs like me to make a living. To wit: In their wisdom, they have decided that anyone who leaves a review AND follows you on social media MUST be a personal friend or relative and therefore, should not be leaving reviews. So they have moderators who delete them (and also block the reviewer from leaving reviews, I’m told, although I can’t personally confirm this). And this, ladies and gentlemen, is horseshit. What do they expect me to do? Unfriend everyone and delete Facebook?

On the other prong is a recurring problem I often have with Amazon. At least once a month, I am informed that my book has been flagged by the Quality Police because I have too many typos. This last go-round, it was Cottonwood under fire. And the typos? All those fun, futurific slang words I pulled out of my ass, like Plastiglass and futurific.

So Cottonwood spent three days being unavailable while I tried to convince the powers that be that those weren’t typos. You should see the nonsense hoops I’ve had to jump through for Last Hour of Gann. All those bits where Meoraq hears English spelled phonetically and slurred together to indicate his incomprehension while letting the reader still sort of follow along? Yeah, I will drive hot pokers up my own ass before I do that again.

Let me tell you, the best part about fanfiction is since I’m not selling it, I don’t have to worry about how to get it past a screening process that absolutely does deliberately single out indie authors and punish them.

Flawless segue.

So it’s upload night for my FNAF fanfiction! If you’re reading it, head on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org and give the new chapter a read! Only a few more before the end and then…well, a hell of a long wait, probably. Sorry about that. I know I’m leaving a lot of you on a cliffhanger, but I am just not one of those people who can work on two projects at the same time. Tooth and Claw got all my attention for the past few months (and no, it’s still not available. I spent all my time trying to keep the books I already have up and running. Still should be up before the end of the year. It is so frustrating to trip at the finish line), but I should be back on it soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this snippet!

Like so.

There was no Sunday for Ana. She seemed to have fallen asleep (just when and how, she could not remember either, but she’d taken a lot of hits to the head and this uncharacteristic fragmenting of her memory did not alarm her) and woken up several degrees removed from the world. There was time—she could feel it pouring out all around her, irretrievable—but no clocks and certainly no calendars.

What happened outside of Freddy’s was no more than a blur of scenery and sound. She went home. She showered. She dressed again (in clothes borrowed from Aunt Easter’s closet, because she had forgotten to bring any). In a moment of almost-clear thought, she went to David’s bedroom and got the hat the Freddy from Circle Drive had once given David and took it with her when she left. She drove to the hardware store and could not understand why it was closed when the sun was still out, she could only drive on to the Lowes in Hurricane. Once there, the sight of other people brought on another moment of almost-clarity; she hurriedly slapped on a mask of concealer from the stash of cosmetics still in the truck, left over from the last time Mason’s boys had beat on her, before going inside where her appearance might have consequences. She bought what she needed, drove ten million miles through nothing and somehow arrived again at Freddy’s, where Freddy himself was waiting for her on the loading dock, holding the broken door over his head so she could come in.

The bags from Lowes were bulky. She had not been trying to hide David’s hat among them, but Freddy seemed not to see it until she juggled it out and gave it to him. His brooding expression briefly showed surprise and then he tried to give it back.

“It’s fine. You can keep it,” she said, picking her way across the cluttered storeroom to the kitchen.

“IT. WON’T. FIT,” he told her, turning it over. “IT. NEEDS. A…”

And then he stopped, staring again, this time at the Velcro patches fixed to the underside of the hat’s brim. Slowly, he put it on, then took it off, his ears twitching at the sound of Velcro that had been perfectly aligned, front and back, pulling loose.

Serial Saturday Update

Well, I had intended to get Tooth & Claw up this weekend, but we had a small family emergency early this week, followed by the loss of a family pet, and I just could not even begin to care about deadlines. I know my readers understand. Next week is still a possibility, though, and by the end of the month definitely. In the meantime, I hope I can assuage your disappointment with this sneak peek:

Nakaroth returned to High Rock in the evening, as the sun was settling and the long night just beginning to gather. He flashed throat in greeting to his chief, then opened his hands and let two objects fall to the ground. Kruin leapt down from his place on the raised rock to better see them, and to force those few males who had been creeping steadily nearer to the humans’ place of rest to give ground before him. They did, and Kruin soon had an unobstructed view of Nakaroth’s troubling offerings. One was a fellcat tooth. The other, the killing tip of a broken metal knife.

Nona looked at this last and huffed laughter. She picked it up with her scarred hand and shook her head. “You went a long way to find this.”

Nakaroth caught that hand up and touched the scars. “Bites?” he guessed.

“Not exactly. I cut myself on its mouth.” She took her hand back.

“Then it was you who killed the fellcat.”

Nona did not answer, but Leila, resting with Heather by the fire, chuckled into her tea and said, “You should have seen her. She ran right at it. Ka-pow.”

Nakaroth’s ears tipped forward. “And you ate its flesh.”

“Tasted terrible, too.” Nona frowned at Nakaroth as other hunters came to stare at the tooth and the knife and the human who connected them. “Is it bad to eat them?”

“It is difficult to make them hold still for it,” Nakaroth replied, amused. “Fellcats have few weak points. You found a new one. Through the open mouth and into the brain,” he added, loudly enough for all to hear.

The wolves of High Pack murmured. Vru stood up and loped closer. Kruin scratched his brooding heart and said nothing.

“You are Earth-born,” Nakaroth said, returning his gaze to Nona, who nodded.

Kruin growled a warning. These questions had answers he did not wish all his pack to witness.

Nakaroth submitted with a smile, content to be silenced now that silence could only rot in the open air.

So be it.

Kruin rose, staring his unrepentant second down, and bluntly said, “How did you come to our world, human?”

“There were some guys,” she said after a moment. “I don’t know who they were. They said something about…a smoking banner? I don’t know what that means. We’re not one of them,” she added. “They took us. I don’t know how. They brought us here. From Earth, like you said.” She paused, then said, “Do you…Do you know if there’s a way back?”

“I know there are not,” Kruin told her. “Even the Great Dragon has forsworn the making of such roads, and I think there are none but he who could now.”

She took that in and finally said, “That you know of.”

He saw no point in pursuing further. She had already made up her mind not to be convinced. Instead, he said, “I know these Men you speak of, these Men of Earth.”

Wariness stiffened Nona’s thin body and hardened her eyes. “How well?”

“Well enough to know the taste of their blood,” he answered. He meant to allay her unquiet thought, but if anything, her guard rose even higher. He tried again, lowering his voice to a soothing growl. “But although I see you are of the enemy’s world, I see also you are not of their kind. Speak truth to me and you have nothing to fear.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“Good. I would not have you be. Now tell me, the enemy…what did they want with you?”

Nona threw the broken blade at the fire, and snapped, “Oh, what do you think?”

Warily, not at all certain he wished an honest answer, Kruin said, “To fight. And if so, I must know, human…What weapons or man-magic have you that Mab herself would tear you from your world to possess them?”

Nona and her two humans stared at him. It was not challenge.

“That isn’t why they took us,” Nona said slowly, now squinting. “They just took us because we were there. They didn’t care who. They didn’t know us at all. They just wanted someone to…cook and…stuff.”

Kruin nodded, acknowledging the things she said and the things she did not say, pushing it all behind him to make room for what mattered. “When these Men held you, was it before their judgment at Dis or after?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

It meant everything. Mab had fled Arcadia, giving her immortal oath never to return. The Great Dragon and his children had also sworn to forge no more Roads. As he had told Nona, the ways to Earth were shut, or should be. Yet Avalon’s wizards had produced many humans who could walk between the worlds and if one of their getting were loosed upon Arcadia, another army may be building even now. Yes, it was far more likely that Nona and her packmates had been stolen before the surrender at Dis, but likely was a fine, sharp edge. Kruin had to know.

“When were you taken?” he asked.

Her defiance faded to uncertainty. “I’m not sure. The days…just kind of blended together.”

“What shape was the moon when you came to this world?”

“I…” Nona tipped her head back to study the sky. The eyes of every wolf around her were fixed at once upon her throat. “Almost half,” she said. “Kind of like it is now. But I don’t know if it was waxing or waning and I know it’s been a while. But I don’t think there’s been more than one. I don’t know,” she finished, dropping her chin to look at him. “Yeah, you don’t like that answer, but you better get used to it, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot.”

She was tired, Kruin told himself. Words spoken in weariness were as rash as those spoken in anger, and she was angry also, because she was afraid. Beyond that, she was lost in this world and very much alone, for to be a chief is to be alone, no matter how many or how few one’s pack. And she was human, a stranger to his ways and deaf to the song of Endless. Kruin knew all these things and could forgive her words, knowing the dark place it came from. But that was what Kruin saw. His pack saw defiance of their chief and their lord, and that was a challenge that must be met.

Kruin advanced on her.

She did not give ground.

“This is my Land,” he told her, very quietly. “And I ask only what I must have answered to provide protections to my people.”

Nona, by the burning blood of the god-chief Quiabe, held his damned stare. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know. You want me to guess? More than thirty days, less than fifty. More than that, I do. Not. Know. I should have paid better attention. I didn’t.”

“How many were these soldiers who held you?” Kruin asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “The camp was huge. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe.”

Kruin accepted the number with a frustrated snort. Many, in other words. So it was for most of his kind: one, two, three, a thousand. “How did you escape?”

Nona shook her head. “I don’t know, I really don’t.”

“She killed them,” Leila said.

“All of them?” Kruin asked.

“No,” said Nona, quiet again. “Only ten.”

Every wolf in High Pack pricked their ears.

“Ten,” said Kruin.

Nona nodded, rubbing her eyes.

“Ten meaning ‘many’?”

She looked at him in that squinting way again. “Ten meaning ‘ten.’ The number between nine and eleven. This many.” She showed him her open hands, all her fingers waggling.

Kruin looked from her to Leila and Heather. “You fought them all together?”

Before Nona could answer, Leila said, “Just her. I couldn’t even move. I should have, I know. I wanted to. I thought of it so many times, but when the time came…it was just her. I’m sorry,” she said to Nona. “You shouldn’t have had to do it alone.”

A short silence followed.

“How?” one of the nearer wolves asked. Henkel, who had fought alongside the horsemen against Mab’s Earth-born army as one of Rhiannon-Ahm’s Aces. He had doubtless killed as many, but not alone and he had not come through unmarked. His scars had brought him much honor, a mate, the respect of ranking wolves and the envy of low ones.

“Any way I could. It got a lot easier when I got this.” Nona pulled her stump of a knife out, then looked at it and chuffed a laugh. “I mean, it had a blade then. I don’t think I could do it again with just this.”

“Would you try?” Nakaroth asked.

Her thin smile split in a human snarl as she looked at Kruin’s second. “Hell yeah I would.”

Nakaroth’s slowly began to wag.

“Anyway, I only killed the ones who were right there. As soon as there was an opening, we ran for it. There were more of us then,” Nona said, tucking her weapon away. Her eyes shone, with challenge and with shame. “I lost them. I couldn’t…I couldn’t keep them safe.”

“Mine is a dangerous Land,” Kruin said. “I can make you no promises of safety. I can only give you the protection of my pack, if you submit to me as lord over you.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Nona said at once.

Kruin was not surprised. He stepped back, again forcing certain of his pack to grudging give back the distance they had steadily closed. He did not look at them, although he gave his claws a meaningful flex. “I know our ways are not the ways of Men. When you are fed and rested, I will escort you to those of your kind who dwell here if you wish it, though I cannot promise they will take you in. Indeed, if they know you come to them through us, they will surely cast you out.”

My kind is on Earth,” said Nona. “Can you escort us there?”

“No. No one can do that. The roads are broken. The way is shut.” Kruin saw no disbelief in her, yet no slackening of resolve, either. He said, “But there are Earth-born in the Aerie Domain if think you would fare better with them. There, I could take you.”

“Would these be the same humans who kidnapped us?” Nona demanded, her eyes blazing.

“They would be the Men who followed Mab, yes.”

“And you’re going to give us back to them if we don’t fall down at your fucking feet and worship you?” Out came the broken knife. “Heather, get Leila on her feet. We’re leaving. And if any goddamn one of you comes after us—”

“Do not threaten me, human,” Kruin said, staring her down as wolves closed in, silent, on every side of her. “I do not threaten you.”

“That is just what you’re doing and if your people don’t back the fuck off in the next three seconds, someone’s going to bleed!”

“Yes,” he said simply. “And with blood ends our council and I think there are yet words you should hear. Put away your weapon. I am not your enemy.”

Her arm lowered, but her grip on the knife did not ease. “No,” she said, not quite sneering, but close enough to bring growls from many of the watching wolves. “No, you’re not the enemy, you just want to deliver us back to them!”

“Not to them. To the lord of the Aerie Domain, who has had their keeping since Mab’s army broke upon the stones of Dis.”

The humans did not react with gladness or with any emotion Kruin could read. They looked at him and at each other, and at last Leila said, “Are you sure?”

This was finally too much for Alorak, who leapt down from his high place on the council rock, hackles bristling. “You dare!”

Kruin silenced his son with a sharp blow to the muzzle, never taking his eyes from Nona. “Very sure. I saw it done. The wizard is slain, his mother exiled, and all their army undone. Those who took you, if they live at all, are now held under the watch of the Dragon’s Own.”

“As prisoners,” said Nona.

“As dangerous humans who have not hesitated to raise weapons against the people of this world.”

A little pink color bloomed, like frost flowers, high in the pale fields of Nona’s cheeks. She put her knife away.

“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?” she said sullenly. “Whether it’s the soldiers or the dragon-people, it all ends in a cage for us.”

Kruin had no comfort to offer. When wolves were driven from their pack, they seldom went alone. Mates and cubs and siblings went also. Would he, Kruin, ever have welcomed back one of those females who had followed Ruaknar into exile? Or a cub sired by the traitor? No, he knew that he would not. Indeed, there were two of his own siring living in Sky Hunter Pack under the false names given them by the chief they would come to call father, if they ever learned to speak again, all because their mother had chosen to follow the Betrayer. He had grieved for them when he thought them lost and rejoiced to hear they had been found, but he had not, would never, send for them or even name them. Better the chief of Sky Hunter raise them as the orphan cubs of some roving bitch than know them for who they truly were. They were innocent, yet treachery stained the innocent as much as the guilty.

“The Great Dragon is lord,” he said. “His law is absolute in the Aerie Domain, as is the Cerosan’s law in the Valley…and mine, here.” He gave them a moment to swallow that and a moment more for the bitter taste to subside, then said, “But I will not cage you.”

“As long as I call you lord, you mean.”

Again, Alorak bristled. Again, Kruin cuffed him silent. “I am lord,” he said calmly, “whether I hear it from your mouth or not. And I tell you now for the third time that I will ask no oath from you this day. Neither will I call you my protected own. I merely offer you a place of rest and healing until winter sheathes its killing claws. If you wish to go, I will not hold you. If you wish to stay until spring, I make a place for your and your pack and share with you what comforts I can.”

“We’re not staying any longer than that.”

Kruin nodded, then deliberately laid his ears flat. “The call to High Pack is the greatest honor of my Land. I do not offer it for pity’s sake to wayward travelers. I give welcome to only the strongest wolves.”

“And their mates,” said Nakaroth.

Kruin looked at him.

“Look, I’m sorry,” said Nona through gritted teeth. “I’m not trying to be rude or ungrateful. I just…” She glared, not at Kruin as much as through him, to all the world a once. “I can’t stay here. I don’t—We don’t belong here. As soon as we have our strength back, we’re leaving.”

Kruin nodded, but Nakaroth said, “And where will you go?”

The human tossed her head, baring her throat briefly and making her dirty hair snap back over her shoulder. “Back to Earth!”

Nakaroth’s ears tipped forward. He laughed just once. “How?”

“I’ll find a way.”

“You don’t answer my question.”

“I don’t have to.” Nona bared her teeth again, her eyes burning without blinking into Nakaroth’s own. “It’s none of your business.”

Wolves shifted, eyeing one another, eyeing this human who dared to challenge High Pack’s second. Yes, memories of Taryn’s time among them were fresh in every mind, she who might have made any wolf chief and lord, if only she could have been taken. As this one might yet be taken.

But Nakaroth smiled, accepting this display of hostility in surprising good humor. He returned to the fire and picked up the fellcat tooth, holding it out to her. “Will you keep it?”

“What for?”

“A trophy. It is our way.” He indicated his own fellcat tooth, hanging bright around his neck. “A mark of a lone hunt.”

“I wasn’t hunting.”

“But you were alone.”

Nona looked at her humans. They looked away. “I don’t want it,” she said. She took Leila’s arm and brought her back to the fire, where she sat and ignored him.

Kruin watched his second closely in the aftermath of that insult. Nakaroth showed his teeth, but it was a smile, not a snarl.

“You may change your mind,” he called.

“Then I’ll kill another one!”

Nakaroth laughed in two short barks. He went to his own den. He kept the tooth.

‘There’s trouble,’ thought Kruin. He did not mean Nona’s insolence or even Nakaroth’s strange tolerance of it. He could not see the shape it made yet, but he could hear it in the song of Endless, like the thunder that sounds in a clear sky, before the coming of the storm.

Oh, and also, it’s Saturday! So another chapter of my FNAF fanfiction, Everything Is All Right, Part III: Children of Mammon, just went up on Archiveofourown.org and Fanfiction.net, so it you’re reading along with those, by all means, head over and get caught up! And hey, have another snippet! Excerpts are how I look like I’m blogging when really, I’m just cutting and pasting!

Like so.

Ana sat up. It hurt her arms, her head, her ribs—her everything. She forced herself to take a deep breath and called, as loud as she could make herself speak, “Foxy?”

Nothing. No answer. No opening door, no thump of metal feet on wooden boards. He wasn’t there.

Or couldn’t answer.

She climbed to her feet, staggered to the wall and held up her watch to the faint silvery shine of an animatronic fish. Five o’clock. It was a testament to Ana’s state of mind that she had to stand there under the glowing fish, listening to the crows, knowing that the source of the dread knotting up her guts stemmed from the fact that Foxy was not putting on his scheduled show, and still had no way of knowing if that meant five in the afternoon or five in the morning.

She limped out into the West Hall, pulling the black plastic away from the windows as Tux complimented her ass on its intelligent and inquisitive demeanor. Sunlight, the pale, piercing sort of sunlight that only follows one hell of a storm. Afternoon, then. Slower to sink in but more important to take note of, the parking lot was empty.

She knew that didn’t necessarily mean that Mason and his boys were gone, but she believed it at once anyway. The building just felt empty.

…the building felt really empty.

She looked at Tux, but it wasn’t Tux she was thinking of.

Keeping one hand to her head to hold the headache in, Ana staggered down the East Hall, checking every door she passed along the way. All empty. Her stuff in the party room had once again been thrown around, but it all seemed to be there. Even her tablet was still on its charger and there was no way Mason would have left that behind. Although robbery might not have been his priority when he came here, he would have considered it his due reward for the thankless task of killing her. But it was still here, untouched, and the job of killing her, unfinished.

Not unfinished. Interrupted. And not by local law enforcement. Sheriff Zabrinsky didn’t like her, but he wouldn’t have left Ana lying on the floor in Pirate Cove after she’d taken a beating as bad as this one felt like. If nothing else, he would have arrested her, too. So that meant someone else had interrupted them…

“Freddy?” she called.

Silence.

Ana continued on the last length to the dining room. The new doors in the lobby had been broken open and could not fully close again. So it was dim, but not dark. And not quiet. Through hidden speakers on the wall, happy music played at a background volume, accompanying the joke-segment of the scheduled act, but no one was onstage.

They had to be here. They had to be.

“Bonnie?”

Something in the kitchen rattled. Then eyes, blessed eyes, glowing at her from the doorway. “IT SURE IS GREAT TO SEE YOU!” Chica said. “ARE YOU OKAY?”

“Oh wow, it’s great to see you, too!” Ana crashed across the empty room and finally fell against the animatronic, who in turn fell back against the wall. Chica grabbed her as much as Ana grabbed Chica; they steadied each other, neither one secure on their own feet. “Where is everyone? Where’s Bonnie?”

“DON’T WORRY, KIDS! BONNIE THE BUNNY WILL BE RIGHT BACK!”

“But where is he?” Ana pulled away in the faint hope that making eye contact would help Chica stay on target, only to lose the question herself. She did not exactly forget Bonnie, but the importance of finding him was hooked violently to one side as she got a good look at Chica’s bib.

Whatever those reddish-brown smears across the playful letters spelling LET’S EAT were, they were not pizza sauce.

“What is this?” she asked shakily. Her mind’s wheels, toothless and unoiled, tried to present options. She refused to look at them. “What…What have you been eating, Chica?”

 

 

Serial Saturday Update

Another week come and gone, and as usual, I didn’t get enough done. However! I have a (hopefully) nice surprise for you!

Behold!

Is it out yet? No, it’s not, but there is a cover and a blurb! Check it out!

 

The war between Mab’s army and the lords of Arcadia is over. With winter comes a season of rest and rebuilding for the people of the Valley of Hoof and Horn. In the city of Dis, the long-displaced Cerosan have returned. Lord Antilles once again holds the throne of his fathers with Taryn MacTavish beside him. The road they built has brought them home. Their story is told.

But theirs was never the only story.

Winter in the Land of Tooth and Claw is no place of refuge, yet it becomes one when the lycan lord Kruin encounters three human females, former captives of Mab’s army, led by Nona, who is as determined to find her way back to Earth as Kruin’s second, Nakaroth, is determined to make her stay.

I’ve got one last round of edits to get through, but it will definitely be up before the end of this month.

I’m sure you’re all wondering why I waited nine years after typing THE END on The Army of Mab to put out another Arcadia book. Well, it’s a long story. I mean, yeah, I’m going to tell it anyway–that’s what I do, I tell ridiculously long stories–so if you don’t want to hear me blather on about the origin story to this book, feel free to hop on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org, where my newest chapter of my FNAF fanfic just went up and read that instead.

As for the rest of you, get some snacks and settle in.

See, the thing is this: Lords of Arcadia was not conceived as a series at all. It was barely intended to be a book. It certainly was never meant to be published. It was just the story I wrote during the last years of Sunny’s life, the world I chose to live in when my own was falling down around me. I didn’t plan any part of it. No outline, no concordance, no nothing.

But a funny thing happened after a couple hundred pages. I had placed Heat and Olivia with an ebook erotica publisher some time earlier and when that relationship fell apart, the self-pub market was just opening up on Amazon and I was just masochistic enough to put myself out there again. In the two years Heat and Olivia had sat on the ebook site, I had sold zero Olivias and exactly two copies of Heat: one to my sister and one to my octogenarian grand-aunt (who read it to her church-group quilting class, no joke; they loved it). I sold twenty copies of Heat the first month it went live. Felt like a shower of gold, let me tell you. I told myself it probably wouldn’t get any better than that, but if I wrote a few more books, maybe I could someday see, like, a hundred sales a month…whoa…and I could maybe actually do this for a living.

At that point, Lords of Arcadia was a mess smeared across about a dozen spiral notebooks. Over the course of typing them up, I began to realize that this was a big honking book and I had better break it down if I was serious about publishing it. And so, blissfully ignorant of the fact that there is definitely a right and wrong way to go about it, I broke my mammoth book in half: The Care and Feeding of Griffins and The Roads of Taryn MacTavish. Then I wrote some more.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before somewhere on this blog, I don’t write in a linear fashion. I write whatever scene is the strongest in my mind and don’t worry so much about putting it in order until the very end. I know, I know. It drives all my betas crazy. Anyway, there’s Care and Feeding, getting longer and longer and nowhere near the end, so I decided to break it down again, and call the latter half The Wizard in the Woods. Now I had a trilogy, which I was actually much happier about than a two-parter.

And then I kept writing. Three hundred pages into Roads, I realize that the war hasn’t even showed up yet and I am going to have to break that book down too. What even is that? A quardology? A four-book trilogy? Eesh. But I did it and The Army of Mab was born.

And then I kept writing.

Three hundred pages into Mab, I stopped and sat myself down for a stern talking to. I was absolutely not going to write the next goddamn Wheel of Time here. Enough was enough. The book could not go on without breaking into a fifth (and maybe sixth) book, so it was time to find some prunable plot branches and hack them the hell off.

So I did.

Four separate storylines were carved away from the series and left to die a lonely death in the oubliette of my Notes file. One of them had to do with the Great Dragon and the ‘native’ human empire nestled around the base of the mountains in the Aerie Domain. One had to do with Reed, now living with the fauns and satyrs in Pan’s Wood. One had to do with the slaugh and the rebuilding of kraal-Masala. And one had to do with this line, buried in this scene where Gabriel broods over his disappearing army:

Gabriel had intended to send a hundred men, or so he’d said, but that was when he’d had a hundred to spare.  A lot of them were sick now, a lot more wounded at the disastrous battle with the centaurs, and the thing in the lake was preying more openly now than it had before Gabriel struck his bargain with the thing, and that wasn’t even all…Another camp had managed to get killed by the girls they were supposed to be guarding, so not only did they lose the men, but they also had to shoot the fucking girls.  So people were dying, but people were also disappearing.

And with these small exchanges, when Nakaroth and Rhiannon are spending a little quality time together in the store-lodge between battles:

“I do not count my worth by the backs that bend beneath me.  I want a mate who stands beside me, fights where I fight.  I want a mate to make others envy me, challenge me.  I want cubs to come after.  I want forever in my mate.”….”It is not you I want, only what you are.  But I think I will not find it again.  Not in this world.”  He sighed and let his hand fall.  “You know you do not need me.”

See, there was going to be this whole epic sidestory with one of the girls from Gabriel’s camp and Nakaroth…but even as it was, The Army of Mab was nearly 700 pages long. I was right to cut it out, painful as it was, but I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

So my computer did it for me, when it fried its own hard drive in a glorious electronic suicide. Oh well. I was never going to write it anyway, was I?

Was I?

About five years later (and four years ago), I joined a NaNoWriMo group and, just for funsies, wrote the story of Nona and Nakaroth. It came in at just under 50k words, as I recall. I proudly posted it on the group’s forum. It received 47 total hits. Thirty of those were me, posting each day. I got two reviews. One read, in its entirely: Good effort. The other one wanted to let me know that they made thousands of dollars working from home by selling herbal supplements. Meanwhile, the riveting tale of how Bella lost her virginity to Harry Potter and Optimus Prime got 17,000 hits and hundreds of ten-star reviews.

Cue me in the closet, crying into the side of a purring cat.

After NaNoWriMo ended, I took the story down and my computer loyally manifested my shame by frying its hard drive again and wiping out all trace of Tooth and Claw.

So another four years go by and here we are again. Why, for God’s sake? Third time’s the charm? Or am I just a glutton for punishment? I don’t know. All I know is, writing the Lords of Arcadia got me through one of the darkest chapters of my life and when I reread it, all I see are the parts that are missing. I want to finish the story, that’s all. If my computer spontaneously combusts, I guess I’ll take the hint. If not…well, who knows?