Something Wicked This Way Comes

Friday, October 10, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #7 THE FOREST LORD


Thanks for joining me again for the next installment of The Forest Lord. Enjoy!

*********
The Forest Lord #7; by Tucker McCallahan:

The small party, its number increased by one, moved cautiously through the outer boundary of the Adintana Forest. T’Riss rode Nath out in front, the pair of them utterly silent. Further back, Zakn’yl and Iym rode side by side, a dampening spell surrounding them. It served multiple purposes: maintaining stealth, hiding their magic, and preventing Ilzatay’s scent from escaping into the woods. As Jhulryna pointed out before they left Chasz’Chalolvir, the aroma of fresh horse drifting through the Adintana Forest would be like using walking bait.

Whether it was her dislike of that aroma or because she wasn’t speaking to Iym, Jhulryna rode behind the pair, her staff in her hand and her disposition worse than ever. She was steaming mad, mostly because Smoke, the arisa’s new human pet, rode a huge, black, mechan stallion right beside her. Next to a human was the very last place Jhul wanted to be. A strange, cloying scent hung about him and as they rode, he kept up a continual warble in a low, deep baritone.

Suust!” Jhulryna hissed. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

“What was that you spat, darlin’?”

Jhul’s eyes were angry rubies in the forest darkness as she glared at Smoke. “I told you to be quiet,” she whispered.

“You hiss just like a lil’ wet kitten. So angry and small and offended and cute all at once.” Smoke smirked at her and lifted his left hand, wiggling his index finger. A large gold ring sat there, looking perfectly at home on his big hand. “See that beauty? Makes me impossible to track. Wipes out scent, sound, the ol’ girl’s prints…” He patted the side of his mechanical mount.

“That’s fine and good for you, human, but it doesn’t help me.” Jhul managed to maintain her haughty visage as she motioned to the others with a quick jerk of her golden staff. “Or the rest of mine.”

“Sure it does.” Smoke’s smile, very much like a permanent smirk, never wavered. “Ring’s got a radius effect, sugar. You stay nice and tight on me and she’ll protect you, too.”

“Darling? Sugar? Are you incapable of using my name?”

“Don’t know your name.”

When she didn’t respond to that, Smoke went back to singing. This time his low, sweet voice growled out a song about hunting a deadly black hare. During the third verse when the fearless hunter dove under the apron of a young barmaid with his gun drawn to pursue the black hare, Jhul finally realized just what Smoke was singing about. She jerked, her back going ramrod straight in the saddle. As her head swung around toward him, her scarlet eyes nearly shot laser beams through the darkness.

“Foul, filthy beast!”

He broke off singing and nodded sagely, holding her gaze. The force of his dark eyes shocked her. No man had ever dared look her in the eye.

“Black hares can be dangerous. No doubt you know something of that, eh?”

His smirk was back. Without removing his full attention from Jhul, Smoke deliberately checked over his shoulder to find Kala guarding their rear.

“Oh yes,” he murmured, his head still nodding. “Deadly indeed.”

“Males of worth do not speak of such things.”

Smoke’s smile grew wider, but his eyes hardened like black diamonds. “Darlin’, none of us is worth more than the price of the next bullet.”

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” But Jhul’s slate-colored skin was flushed and sweat covered the valley between her breasts. Her brows furrowed as she huddled on her mount. Confusing creature! It had to be his scent, an odd, heavy, almost sweet smell of sassafras mixed with the thoroughly chemical odor of his gun powder and solvent. She’d never smelled anything like it before, ever.

Chuckling, Smoke gave Jhul a tiny bit of space. He couldn’t give her too much, though; he’d been honest about that. The ring wouldn’t protect her if he let her ride off alone. Smile firmly in place and every sense on alert once more, the gunfighter resumed his bawdy song.

The attack came without warning from every side.

The great, massive oak trees came alive. Roots rippled through the soil and snaked over the path. They tangled around the legs of the mechans, bringing the big mechanical beasts down with startling ease. Ilztafay screamed as they tried to ensnare her, rearing up and pawing at the air. She threw Zak from her back and the slight war mage tumbled to the ground in a flurry of her mane and crumpled, dead leaves.

T’Riss in the front and Kala in the rear managed to jump free before their mounts crashed to the forest floor, but Iym and Jhul ended up under their mounts, trying desperately not to be crushed as the wicked tree roots wrapped around legs and necks in an attempt to pull the mechans apart. T’Riss tried valiantly to see through the chaos, to make sense of who was attacking, from where, and how he could best help both his mate and the group when the huge limbs of the oaks came crashing down to deal death upon them from above.

A massive branch caught T’Riss directly across the chest, knocking wind from him and sending him stumbling several steps backward. His sword in hand, T’Riss struggled to breathe and looked down to see one of the adamantine plates of his vest crumpled like parchment. Cold fear flooded his veins as heat and fire lit up the night from the western flank.

Zak stood with Ilztafay at his back at the edge of the trees, fierce determination on his face as liquid flame poured from his hands onto the roots that covered the mechanical mounts. Kala whirled in a deadly semi-circle behind Zak, her tremendous scimitar severing roots and shearing off branches as they came at the mage.

Satisfied his mate was safe, T’Riss waded into the battle to rescue their priestesses. As he began to move forward surrounded by the bizarre rushing leaves and roaring sound of the evil treants, he caught sight of Smoke. A jagged rip in the gunslinger’s leather coat showed where a branch tried to impale him, but the big human was otherwise untouched. Jhulryna hung over one of his broad shoulders and he backed slowly out of the fray with both of his large odd guns firing round after round at the gigantic, swinging branches.

T’Riss’s eyes swept the forest floor. Two of the mechans lay in pieces, gears and parts strewn along the ground mixed with bits of leaf and swiftly rotting tree material. He didn’t see Iym anywhere. A tingle along his neck was T’Riss’s only warning, and on instinct he dove. A fist-sized gnarl slammed into the ground where he’d been, and one of the attached limbs whipped across T’Riss’s face cutting deep into his flesh.

Move!

Zak’s frantic psychic cry nearly rent T’Riss in two. He had little choice but to obey, leaping away from the battle area. His heart ached at the idea of losing the only true priestess they had with them, but he couldn’t sacrifice his life for hers. Somersaulting free, the rush of heat swept over T’Riss’s back as Zak poured more fire onto the trees.

“Clear!” Smoke shouted.

T’Riss turned in time to see the human lob a black powder bomb directly into the center of Zak’s magical fire. The heat ignited the powder and the bomb exploded with a concussion that shook the ground. Fire flared out in a wide circle, scorching all the treants.

Silence blanketed the forest once more.

The three remaining mechans returned when summoned. T’Riss glanced around at his companions to assess injury. “We should move off from the battle site before we see to wounds.”

“I can heal you now, arisa.

At the sounds of Iym’s voice, T’Riss whirled around. The mistress/priestess of Lune stood there, no worse for wear, holy symbol in hand.

“I… lost track of you during the battle,” T’Riss said quietly as she placed one hand to the deep slash along his face. A few murmured words and a bit of warmth restored him, and Iym gave him calm, guileless eyes.

“I was trapped under my mount and had to use a spell to free myself. I wasn’t able to do anything else, I’m afraid.”

T’Riss nodded. Smoke walked up leading his mount, Jhul laying over its back. T’Riss nodded towards her. “How badly injured is she?”

“Hit her head. Don’t think it’s too bad, but if we have healing…” Smoke shrugged.

T’Riss’s eyes narrowed, his gaze constantly flicking around the forest. “We need to move. We’ll set up camp in a click and treat her there.” He looked at Iym. “You’re welcome to share my mount, Sister.”

She bowed her head. “You’re too kind, arisa. But I shall share Kala’s mount. There will be more room to maneuver should we be attacked again.”

Without any more wasted words, T’Riss took to Nath’s back and once again led his group deeper into the Adintana Forest, unaware that their presence had already been marked.

 **********

So I found the most awesome depiction of the monster that T'Riss and Co. faced in this installment. I need to say first that this image is copyrighted by Thunderstone for the Alderac Entertainment Group. Done by Shane Tyree, this is an evil treant. 

 If you're impressed by Shane's work, you can see his complete portfolio here.

Thanks so much for reading! Comments are, as always, craved and appreciated. 

Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:

Follow all your favorites and read the first 100 words on the group’s website: 


Be Well ~ Tux





Friday, October 3, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #6 THE FOREST LORD



Welcome once again to my Free Fiction Friday post. Sorry I missed a few weeks. I had a nasty virus invade my laptop - the bane of all writers everywhere! Thankfully I didn't lose much work, and was able to recover almost everything that I'd saved to a flash drive. Moral of the story? Save, save, and save again!!

So without further ado, here's the latest installment of The Forest Lord!

**********


“It’s hideous!

“Where did you find it?”

“Are they all that large? I didn’t know they grew that big.”

The females stood in a semi-circle around the figure Zak and T’Riss had trussed up like a wild hog on the ground in the center of their tent. After leading Ilztafay out and safely stabling her with the mechanical mounts in the other tent, Zak returned and took his place between T’Riss and Kala. He gazed down at the human male with critical eyes.

“He’s not that large.” Zak rested his hand on T’Riss’s wrist. “He’s at least two full inches shorter than our arisa.

Kala took a bold step forward, one hand on her weapon. Frowning, she looked down at the bound and gagged human.

“Is it normal for its kind? It seems… disproportionate. Bigger on the top than it is on the bottom, like an ogre.” Kala turned to T’Riss and Zak, her head cocked to one side. “Does it walk hunched forward as well, the way an ogre does?”

Zak’s hand over his mouth didn’t entirely stifle his laughter. T’Riss shot him a dirty look.

“This human has an overdeveloped upper body, likely the result of hard physical conditioning or labor. We removed several curious weapons from his possession. I’d like you to examine them.”

Her head dipped in submission. “Of course.”

“How might I be of service, arisa?” Iym’s ruby-red eyes shone in the heavy darkness.

“Is there a spell that would compel this male to speak truthfully?” T’Riss glanced between Iym and his mate. Zak had finally recovered from his choking laughter. He and Iym stared at each other before they both nodded, yet neither spoke. T’Riss frowned.

”Why the hesitation? This human has knowledge of our kind. If he has other knowledge, particularly of the Adintana attacks, we must discover it.”

Iym cast her lovely eyes down. Her voluptuous breasts rose and fell as she took a great breath, though no sigh escaped her. Without meeting T’Riss’s eyes, she nodded, and spoke staring at the ground. “As my arisa commands.”

Zak’s face twisted and he bit his lip. T’Riss’s frown deepened. Standing side by side, Zak’s distress dug into T’Riss like a dull dagger. T’Riss turned to his mate and wrapped a cool hand around his nape.

Telanth ulu uns’aa,” T’Riss purred.

Zak tipped his head up. He met T’Riss’s lavender eyes, his small form melting into his mate’s embrace. T’Riss held him, entreating Zak again in their native tongue to speak to him and tell him what was wrong. Zak glanced at Iym. Her ruby eyes flashed, and she minutely shook her head. Zak burrowed into T’Riss’s chest, ignoring the press of the cold, hard adamantine plates of T’Riss’s armor against his face.             

“Place the prisoner in the center of the circle.” Iym threw her cloak off and shook her mane of true platinum hair back behind her shoulders. The cloud of silver and white hair settled down her back, errant strands of purple, red, and black catching the gaslights before fluttering back into the mass.

Kala moved without T’Riss issuing an order. She bent forward and grasped the magically-enhanced rope running between the human’s expertly bound hands and feet. With one easy heft, she lifted the man completely off the ground and hauled him over to where Iym sprinkled powdered silver onto the hard-packed earth.

Jhul stood off to one side and leaned against her staff. A sour scowl pinched her face. Iym moved around the circle pouring out the pulverized metal, murmuring prayers to the Moon Goddess Lune. As she passed nearby Jhul, the lesser Sister reached out a hand to Iym.

“You don’t have to do this. I have herbs. I can poison it and make it talk.”

“Poisoning doesn’t guarantee truth; it’s no better than torture.” Iym didn’t even pause, her voice dripping with irritation. “Besides, you might very well kill him before we get any answers from him, true or otherwise.”

“But you shouldn’t have to do this! The cost-”

“Is mine to bear.”

“Sister, please…” Jhul again entreated Iym to halt the spell with an out-stretched hand, her face full of abject pleading. This served to only infuriate Iym further. She straightened to her full height and glared at the lesser Sister.

“Mind your place, Jhulryna.”

T’Riss followed the odd exchange, fascinated. The secrecy of the spellcasters annoyed him, but he wasn’t about to beg for details. Zak would say something when he was ready and not before.

Jhul’s scowl deepened and when it became clear Iym had no intention of stopping the spell, Jhul growled audibly. “I refuse to stand here and watch you lessen yourself!” She slammed the butt of her staff into the floor. Purple bolts of electricity shot up in a crackling net around her. Ripping the staff free, she spun, twirled the long golden pole in a dangerous arc around her, and swept from the tent with all the bearing of a Matron Mother.

T’Riss watched her go. His eyes flicked over Zak, who stood tensed, ready even now to form any sort of magic necessary and sling it at his opponent, be they friend or foe. T’Riss passed his mate over, his gaze landing on Kala. With a subtle jerk of his chin, he indicated the flaps through which Jhul had just disappeared. “Guard the perimeter while we question this human.”

Kala again moved without comment, hefting her huge scimitar and vanishing through the tent flaps. Zak moved unconsciously into a more advantageous combat position across from T’Riss as Iym stepped inside the silver circle. It snapped closed behind her with an audible hum.

As the two males watched, energy gathered within Iym forming a halo around her entire body of pure radiance. At the same time, energy built along the ring of powdered silver glowing brighter and brighter. Holy symbol clenched in her hand, Iym stood in the center of the circle beside the bound and gagged human male, ancient Drow falling from her lips in a rhythmic cadence.

The energy within her body and the force contained by the silver circle drew closer and closer together as the power built until it collided within the still form of the bound and gagged human male in an explosion of blinding brilliance. His bounds snapped, his body rising and stretching out like a sacrifice, consumed by unadulterated moonlight. Iym uttered a sharp command word and the light churned, whipping around like a whirlpool. Then as if a hole opened directly under the human’s heart, the light poured inside him with a roar like a waterfall.

As quickly as the spell began, it was over.

The circle of silver was gone, consumed utterly by the spell. The human and Iym both lay insensate on the floor. T’Riss went to the prisoner as Zak saw to Iym.

“Are you well?” Zak helped Iym up and aided her in straightening her robes.

“Weak, but that’s to be expected.” She gently shrugged free of his hands. “Thank you.” She turned and faced T’Riss and the prisoner. “He should freely answer questions now, arisa.

T’Riss gazed down at the human. Iym had seemed twice as affected by the spell as he did, but T’Riss trusted the mistress/priestess. He gazed down at the man.

“What are you called, human?”

“Smoke.” The man answered instantly and without hesitation.

“That’s an odd name for a human.”

“It isn’t my name; it’s what I’m called.”

The corner of T’Riss’s lip curled and he shook his head. He understood how spells of this nature worked. He should’ve expected an answer like that and would have to be more careful of his questions.

“Very well. What is your name, human?”

“Samaris Stonecutter.”

“What is your occupation, Samaris Stonecutter?”

“I’m a gunfighter.”

T’Riss’s eyebrows raised and he glanced at the pile of weapons they’d removed from the human earlier. Now that all made more sense.

“A gunfighter… not a bounty hunter?”

“I occasionally take on bounties if the reward’s good enough.”

“When you entered the tent earlier this eve with the elf female and her companion, how did you know there was a third present?”

Smoke’s eyes cleared sharpened momentarily on T’Riss before sliding out of focus again. “I came into the tent looking for traps and illusions. I saw through your shadow shield.”

“How did you know to look for such a thing?”

“I saw through the mage’s illusion in the tavern.”

T’Riss turned to Zak, who looked as shocked by that answer as T’Riss had been. “To the best of your knowledge, has anybody ever seen through one of your illusions?”

Zak thought about the question and then nodded slowly. “Yes, ‘chev. Several of my masters and mistresses at the Crystal Palace were able to see through all illusions. They stated it was a matter of familiarity with magic and the wisdom to recognize it.”

T’Riss gave Smoke his undivided attention again. “Is this how you detected Zakn’yl’s illusions?”

“No.”

T’Riss frowned, his hands on his hips. “You’d seen a shadow shield before?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve fought Drow before.” Since this was said as a statement, Smoke neither confirmed nor denied it, merely sat passive under T’Riss’s glare. “Did you have something to do with getting the Drow blamed for the Adintana attacks?”

“The Drow are to blame for the Adintana murders.” For the first time since the casting of the spell, Smoke showed both personality and emotion.

“I assure you we are not. But perhaps you could share with us why the human and elven populations seem so certain of our guilt.”

Again, the mist cleared from Smoke’s blue-gray eyes. He scrutinized T’Riss for a long moment, and then nodded.

“We ignored the first few people who died. After all, traveling in Adintana isn’t without risk. There are all sorts of natural predators. But then a few elves died and they asked for a summit. When our leaders met, a specific similarity came to light.

“A shadow glyph had been found at or near the scene of every murder. When our authorities tried to investigate, they discovered more of the shadow glyphs spread throughout the forest. Our mages and the Elven High Council identified the glyph as an ancient Drow glyph.

“Before a letter or collective envoy could be assembled, a series of brutal murders occurred one after another, bringing the death toll to thirteen. Our leaders and the Elven King issued the notice that the Drow had violated the Adintana treaty.”

Smoke’s eyes narrowed and suddenly he looked very sober. “You and your party of females will not escape this camp alive. The bounty on your heads is enough to make any man rich for the rest of his days.”

Zak glanced up from where he tended Iym and gazed at Smoke. “Did you see any of these shadow glyphs?”

Smoke shook his head. “No, but I know Adintana as well as any hunter or trapper. I know where each murder took place and where the lone glyphs were found.”

“You have a map?” T’Riss stared at Smoke intently.

Smoke cocked his head and tapped it. “Here.”

Zak looked at his mate. “Several creatures use such symbols. I must see these so-called shadow glyphs.”

Kala and Jhul swept back inside the tent. “We must either leave swiftly or be utterly silent,” Kala said. “The humans are returning in gangs.”

T’Riss nodded. “Silent. Once they’ve passed out we’ll take our leave in the swiftest possible fashion.”

“Can Iym travel?” Jhul’s face was haughty.

“I’ll be fine. I can sit my mount.” Iym sat wrapped tightly in her cloak, sipping from a flask Zak provided.

“And him?” Kala indicated Smoke with a jerk of her head. She fingered her tremendous blade. “When do you want me to dispose of him, arisa?”

T’Riss stared at Smoke, who stared right back. His voice drifted out as a deadly whisper. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t let Kala gut you from groin to gullet.”

Smoke offered him a cocky smile. “I’ll give you two. My sister was one of the thirteen souls claimed by the Adintana killer, so I have every reason to want justice for her.”

“And the other?” T’Riss asked.

“Your spell didn’t work, and I answered your questions honestly anyway.” Smoke rose fluidly to his feet, aware of the five deadly Drow surrounding him. He ignored everyone but T’Riss. “Can I have my guns back now?”

**************************

As always comments are craved and appreciated. I so wanted to put up a pic of Smoke, but I don't have one that looks good enough on the blog, so I'm still looking. As soon as I find one, I will definitely post it up to give you all an idea of my inspiration for my human gunfighter. 

In the meantime:

Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:

Follow all your favorites and read the first 100 words on the group’s website: 









                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Friday, September 12, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #5 THE FOREST LORD



For your reading pleasure... the newest installment of The Forest Lord.

*

The Forest Lord #5; by Tucker McCallahan:

“Remind me why we sit here in the wood?” Jhul wore her usual scowl as she spoke, her voice little more than a whispered hiss.

“The arisa ordered us to wait, so we wait.” Kala knelt in a thick copse of heavy growth. Iym and Zak stood with Ilztafay and the remaining mechanical mounts, cloaking them in illusion and silence.

The early morning sunshine barely penetrated the dense canopy of the Div’eari Forest. The raiding party had followed the Amazu River south through the forest to its mouth at Lake Tizoc. Now the party waited, concealed, as T’Riss scouted the settlement he insisted would be lakeside. As was becoming customary, Jhul argued with him and continued to argue even in his absence.

“We are wasting time.”

Zak couldn’t stop the disgusted snort that escaped his mouth. He shook his head and turned to gaze upon the disgruntled priestess. “What is this obsession you’ve developed with time? Since we departed the Azure Palace you’ve done nothing but harp about wasting time. Tell me, Jhulryna, is there some time shortage of which we’re all unaware?”

Sunlight flashed and glinted off Jhul’s staff as she brought it around in front of her, its magic flaring to life. Zakn’yl’s green eyes blazed and a wicked smile twisted his perfectly formed mouth. His hands flickered with the lightning fast reflexes of a trained war mage. Darkness that was not darkness welled up from his palms; he caged the energy with both hands, prepared to shape it into defensive or offensive magic, whatever would most benefit him.

Before the two could let fly with immolation spells and death magic, Kala stepped between them, her massive scimitar drawn and in her hands.

“I should let you kill each other. But the arisa would be cross if a spell battle in the northern trees alerted the humans to our presence.”

Jhul gave Kala a withering glare, but the staff returned to rest position. “As I’ve stated half a dozen times, no settlement exists on or around Lake Tizoc. You know this. It’s on none of our maps.”

Kala turned to Zak and raised an eyebrow. Zak shrugged rather elegantly. “The humans know our city exists and it is on none of their maps.”

Kala hid her smile as she turned and slipped back through the brush to her spot. Zakn’yl’s point was well made and Jhul’s fury was obvious as she fumed. Kala had hoped Zak’s barb and his demonstration that he wasn’t afraid to use magic against the Sister of Lune would render her silent, at least for a little while.

She should’ve known better.

“If there is a settlement,” Jhul was no longer making any effort to whisper, “and by saying that I am in no way admitting the existence of such a place, but if one did exist, then the Unmentionable should’ve sent you to scout it, Lady Kala. After all, that is why you are with us, for infiltration.”

“I’m sure the arisa had his reasons for going himself,” Kala murmured.

“Which he should’ve shared with the rest of us.” The purring tone of Jhul’s voice elicited an almost touchable quality. “If he does not trust you to do this one small thing, then how can you be sure he will trust you in the heat of battle? When your backs are to the wall, how can you know he is honest if he is not honest with you in this?”

“Sister Jhulryna, the sun is high. If this settlement is at the side of the lake where the arisa believes it to be, then even with all my prodigious skill I could not infiltrate it until tonight, after sunset.”

“Why not?”

“Like you, I was raised underground, away from the poisons the human filth belched into the water, sky, and earth. The naked sun burns my skin as it does yours. I move best on the surface at night, in darkness and shadow.”

At Kala’s words, Jhul made an attempt to glance up at the mostly covered sky, but quickly pulled her hood tighter. The gesture covered her small jerk as the vast emptiness above her nearly swallowed her whole. She would never admit to experiencing such a common fear.

“How is it that he is immune to the burn of the sun’s light, then?” Jhul hadn’t yet used T’Riss’s name or his title, though she knew better than to name him Unmentionable again. That particular curse had been lifted from him and Zakn’yl both.

He is not.”

T’Riss stepped into their midst as though he’d appeared from nowhere. Indeed, he managed to take them all, save Zak, by surprise, and the soft feminine gasps and hisses were like a chorus of sweet birdsong, lightening his heart.

Kala slowly shook her head, that strange smile on her face. “I wish I knew that trick.” She glanced up at T’Riss. “How long have you been out there, listening to us?”

His sharp chin jutted out. “You tell me.”

“I detected something on our eastern flank, but it was small…” Her eyes narrowed. “Tricksy, arisa. Very tricksy.”

“The settlement?” Zak asked.

“They’ve moved around the lake, almost all the way to the mouth of the Iruka River.”

“They aren’t going into Adintana, are they?”

T’Riss shrugged wordlessly as he swung up into Nath’s seat. “Mount up.” He looked at Iym. “Are you able to maintain a sun shield if we move slowly?” She nodded wordlessly. T’Riss tipped his head to his mate. “An illusion then, Zak.”

The tiny war mage nodded and moved to the center of the group beside Iym. “We’ll all need to stay close, and keep the mounts as close to the water’s edge as possible.”

Jhul made a disgusted sound as she moved ahead of the two casting. She mumbled and groused as the group left the safety of the Div’eari Forest and cantered down onto the sandy dirt surrounding the western edge of Lake Tizoc.

“Madness. Moving about in broad daylight. We’ll be sun-scorched in under an hour. Nobody can hold an illusion over this large an area, as it moves, when another is already working magic on part of the space. Ridiculous.”

“Jhulryna, if your hands did half as much work as your mouth, this mission would be guaranteed success.” Kala delivered the line cheerfully, but her red eyes were hard when she turned on her mount to glare at the priestess.

Suust!” T’Riss hissed the command for quiet. “I will slay whoever makes the next sound.”

Their progress around the lake was slow, with frequent stops for rest breaks. Jhul wasn’t strong enough in her gift to cast a sun shield, though she was able to use her priestess energies to bolster Iym. Zak simply created an illusion that spread the lake water several meters further inland, using the glint of the sun off the water to confuse mortal eyes.

By day’s end they’d reached the human settlement of Tizocana. Comprised of several dozen buildings, it was bordered by the Iruka River to the south and west, Lake Tizoc to the east, and to the north, a shanty town of clapboard shacks, tanner and trapper sheds, and tents of all types. A low stone wall with a sturdy wooden gate surrounded the entire disgusting, stinking collection of humanity.

The very first thing the group saw, posted clearly on the first lake willow tree that provided enough shade for them all to crowd beneath, was a large “Wanted” poster.

Wanted
For the cruelle torchure & murder of 13 innocent soules
All Dark Elves, Drow, & Monsterous Creatures of Adintana Forest
DEAD OR ALIVE
$$$$

“And we came here why?” Iym murmured.

“Information. We must know why the humans believe us guilty,” T’Riss whispered.

“I shall be back momentarily, then, with a human to provide you with you seek, arisa.” Kala looked all too eager as she caressed the hilt of her tremendous blade.

“No. Not you.” T’Riss glanced past her at his mate. “Zak?”

“You’re going to send the mage?” The incredulity was clear in Jhul’s voice.

“I cannot believe I’m agreeing with Jhul, but arisa… surely I’m the better choice.” Kala almost let her pride show.

“I’m sorry, Kala, but no. Not for this. Zak, you know what we need.”

“I do. Take Ilztafay and pitch a tent. We’ll find you.”

Heedless of the three females with them, T’Riss pulled Zak to him and bent forward, tasting his lips in a gentle kiss. “Che dos.”

Che dos, mrann d’ssinss.” Zak stepped back and looked at the others. “You’ll have two minutes before the invisibility wears off.” With that and some mumbled words, he vanished.

“Follow me.”

T’Riss led the group swiftly through the darkening shanty town to the area where the tents were set up. Mostly, they were left to themselves. Few tents showed any signs of life.

“Where is everybody?” Iym asked. “Are they all asleep?”

“Getting drunk,” T’Riss said. “Here. Pitch the two large tents and get the mounts out of sight into one.”

“What about the walking bait?” Jhul asked acidly.

“I’ll see to Ilztafay.”

The females set up the two tents, magical and larger on the inside than they were outside, then one by one they led the mechans into one of the tents. T’Riss waited until the females were out of sight. He held Ilztafay’s bridle and quietly spoke the command word. The Darkelsian horse sparkled, the burgundy fur melting away and the cherry mane shortening until all that was left was a long fall of luscious hair on a beautiful human female. She smiled at T’Riss.

“You are gorgeous, as always. Inside, pretty girl. Zakn’yl will have need of us both when he brings the human back.”

Oh yes. Of that, T’Riss had no doubt. He sat down beside Ilztafay and tried to be patient as he waited for his mate. He didn’t have to wait long. He heard Zak before he saw him.

The tent flap flung back and a tall, broad set of shoulders came through, trailing a dark head that laughed and stank of ale.

“See?” Zak’s voice was velvety and lovely. “I told you I had a tent. And there’s my gorgeous sister, just like I promised.”

The head came up and the eyes, bleary, found Ilztafay. T’Riss, from his spot in the shadows, noticed that this human was extraordinarily well-built. Damn Zak for always going after the lovely ones.

Zak came in, pushing the human onto his knees. Only Zak wore an illusion of a human female, only his long inky black hair was the same.

“You sure weren’t lyin’. Dang.”

Before Zak could secure his wrists behind his back as he’d planned to do, the “drunken” human suddenly flipped over and slid on his ass into the corner directly opposite T’Riss. From out of nowhere, shiny silver guns appeared in each of his hands, one trained on Zak and the other on the corner where T’Riss was not quite concealed anymore. The human squinted eyes that weren’t bleary any longer and sighted down each of his barrels.

“You didn’t say anything about this being that kind of party, Sugar.”

Zak slowly raised his hands. “I-I don’t-”

“How ‘bout you move real slow there. I’d hate to put a hole in you by accident.”

“As I’d hate to put one in you,” T’Riss said, leaning forward with his crossbow aimed.

“God damn. A dark elf.” The human’s face went ice cold. He instantly swung both guns toward T’Riss.

Before he could squeeze the triggers, Zak spoke a single word, and the man collapsed, unconscious, to the ground. The guns fell from his hands. The two drow stared down at him as the moonlight caught his unshaven jaw. It was perfectly square and very strong.

T’Riss looked at Zak. “You do have a talent for finding the pretty ones.”

Zak grinned. “Tie him up.”

*

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Monday, September 8, 2014

THE FEYWILD JOURNEY: NOT SO MUCH A FAIRY TALE

Those of you who follow my tweets and this blog know that for the last year and change I’ve been shopping my Feywild Faerie Tales series, specifically the novel, Soul Alchemy, which began as a short story that won the 2010 Literotica Winter Story Award. Its sequel, Soul Shadows, was on the Literotica High Score and Most Read Lists for nearly a year after I posted it. Both stories were very popular among my readers, and I truly didn’t foresee much difficulty in selling them (rewritten and edited into full-length novels), along with a third novel called Soul Forge, to a publisher.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The stories – like most of what I write – are character-driven, cross-genre works. This is, apparently, not what male/male romance publishers are used to receiving in their submission slush pile (what they call subs that come in from writers who do not have a pre-existing relationship with an editor or an agent) as I soon found out. From my “top two” publishers I received the following: an outright rejection from one, and from the other, a very lovely, personalized letter, letting me know how much they loved the novel (I’d subbed Soul Alchemy only), that four different editors had read it and they all agreed my writing and technique were nearly flawless, but that in the end they could not find a place for the novel in any of their publishing lines, and could not effectively market it were they to accept it. They invited me to submit to them again at any time, gave me an editor to submit through directly (always a plus) and were extremely professional. Despite it being a rejection, I counted that one a win.

But the Feywild Faerie Tales still had no home. So I began submission round two. This time I received two rejections. I took them in stride and immediately went to round three. Now please bear in mind that it takes a publisher anywhere from one week to four months to review a submission and get back to an author. So by the time I started round three, I’d been at my submission process for eight months. By the time I received my third round of rejections, I’d spent just over a year shopping the novels to six different publishers.

In June of this year, despite some misgivings because of negative press, I chose to submit both novels to Ellora’s Cave. I was well aware of the issues they’d had with their new accounting system, and how some of their authors were crying foul because once-monthly royalty checks were late. I also knew they’d changed EICs and experienced some internal turnover. But I did some research and chatted with half a dozen of their current authors. Satisfied, I submitted. A week later, I was offered a three-book contract for the Feywild Faerie Tale series.



Of course, I moved at the end of June, so things were put on hold until I got settled into my new home. But in August, the EC Contracts department sent me a twelve-page document with detailed instructions that they wanted filled out in triplicate – one for each novel. According to them, they didn’t do multi-book contracts (despite what my editor offered me). I would be signing three separate contracts.

This was where the real problems started.

What follows is some basic, general advice for all writers regarding contracts. Pay attention. There will be a test. It’s called when you’re miserable and trying to get your rights back later or when you’re wondering why you need a lawyer. If you are repping yourself, if you do not have an IP lawyer, then you must educate yourself. Read on.

RIGHTS

Check out this rights section from the EC Contract and see if you can tell me what’s wrong with it.

Author exclusively grants to the Publisher the right to publish, print, sell, distribute, and license the Work throughout the world, and in any and all media and forms of expression now known, and all subsidiary rights granted in the Subsidiary Rights clause hereunder.

This is what’s known as an “all rights” contract. I didn’t know they still existed. When you sell all rights to your work, you can never use the story again. While you are still the copyright holder, you have no rights left to sell. To resell the novel, you would have to create a substantially different version; you'd basically have to rewrite it. In addition, the purchaser of "all rights" is free to reprint your material, sell it to other publications for reprinting, include it in an anthology, post it online, or sell it to some other agency, all without paying you any additional money.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS

Now check out this section regarding subrights. If you thought the rights clause was bad, this one is terrible!

Except as otherwise provided below, Publisher shall credit Author’s account with a royalty equally divided between Publisher and Author of all net revenues actually received by Publisher for the exploitation or disposition of the Subsidiary rights in the Work.

Subsidiary rights include the following:

Mass Market Paperback, Trade Paperback, Hardcover Edition and any other reprint edition (before or after first publication in whatever format), Book Club editions, Syndication, Second Periodical Rights (after first book publication), serialization, digest, abridgement, condensation, excerpt, Anthology and Other Selection Reprint, in whole or in part, in complete, condensed, adapted, or abridged versions.

Publication in the English Language worldwide, Publication in Other Languages (translation) worldwide, First Periodical Rights (prior to first book publication), Motion Picture, Television, Radio and Dramatic Rights, Commercial Adaptations and Tie-Ins, Audio Rights, Multimedia Rights, Display rights (the right to electronically display the text of the book in whatever format and over whatever media).

Author shall not have the right to review or approve any foreign edition of the Work, and such editions may be altered by the foreign publisher at their discretion, including editing the work for length and content.

Author acknowledges that subsidiary or secondary rights licenses may continue after termination of this agreement and that Publisher may enter into such licenses at any time during the term of this agreement regardless of the termination date of the subsidiary or secondary license. In all such cases, Publisher shall continue to credit Author with Author’s share of income from all such licenses, and agrees to revert rights to that particular license to the Author upon termination of the license.

I offered to make the following rights available to Ellora’s Cave: First World English Print, First World English Electronic, Audio Rights and Publication in Other Languages (Translation) Rights. They countered with offering to strike the following rights from the subsidiary clause: Motion Picture, Television, Radio and Dramatic Rights, Commercial Adaptations and Tie-Ins.

Just process this for a minute. At their most basic level, my novels are explicit gay male stories about faeries. Now just WHO is going to abridge those stories? What book club exists that is going to take my gay faeries? Where are my gay faeries going to be serialized? A publisher who asks for subsidiary rights that they have no intention or ability to ever utilize or sell and who will not relinquish those subrights when specifically asked raises a huge RED FLAG.

I also took issue with their caveat that forbid authors from reviewing or approving foreign editions, and requested that clause be stricken. They told me they couldn’t strike it, because they didn’t see foreign editions before they were printed, and so had no ability to allow authors to approve such editions.

I explained my concern was that as the author of LGBT works, since the contract explicitly stated a foreign publisher could edit for content, then by those terms they could, if they so chose, change one of my male characters to a female and make my male/male story a heterosexual romance. The legal department never answered this concern.

INDEMNITY

Indemnification essentially means that the author agrees to become an insurance company for the publisher. The section either included with this or immediately before it is the warranty section, where the author guarantees the Work in question is original and completely his, that it doesn’t infringe on anybody else’s copyright, and that it is in no way libelous or violative of any third party’s right to privacy. The indemnification clause exposes the author to a great deal of risk, and should always be read carefully. When I read EC’s I discovered this little gem lurking within it.

In the event of any Claims, Publisher shall have the right to suspend payments otherwise due to Author under the terms of this Agreement as security for Author’s obligations under this Section. Any payments withheld by the Publisher pursuant to this paragraph shall be released to the Author after a period of one (1) year in the case of any Claim, action, or proceeding that is threatened but not pursued, or within thirty (30) days of the discontinuance of any Claim, action or proceeding.

Now I don’t begrudge the Publisher the right to be paid if an author screws up and gets them sued. The part of this that bothers me is where they get to keep my royalties, presumably in their bank account where they can earn interest on them, for an entire year, over any claims that are “threatened but not pursued.” That would be frivolous claims or claims without merit. Basically, they’re going to keep my money for a year as insurance just in case… And I don’t agree with that at all.

I requested this clause be inserted in place of theirs: The Author’s indemnification obligations will apply only to an actual breach of any of the Author’s representations and warranties, as determined by a court. They responded with a resounding and spelled out in all-caps, “NO.”

A publisher’s unwillingness to negotiate over something where you, the author, are the one taking all the risk and your money is at stake, is another RED FLAG.

OPTION OF FIRST REFUSAL

This allows the publisher to have first dibs on your next work. Nearly all writers’ guilds, groups, agencies, and organizations advise against such an option. It holds you to the publisher, who may or may not be the best publisher for your next work (ex: they specialize in hot steamy male/male paranormals, and your next work is a sweet contemporary with few explicit sex scenes and a het subplot). If your first work with them sells extremely well, you may be stuck with terms that are less than what you would get if you went somewhere else (ex: they give you 35% on royalties and you turn out to be the next Hugh Howey, so another publisher offers you 65% to sign with them). And finally, it’s a time suck. They normally have anywhere from 60 days to six months to consider your next work before making an offer, during which time you cannot shop it to anyone else.

The EC Contract included an option; this confused me. Obviously, I would be fulfilling the option in the first contract with the second book, and fulfilling the option in the second contract with the third book (since they were insisting on three separate contracts instead of a multi-book contract). Which really meant only one of the three had any teeth (or meaning) at all. So why bother including any of them? If I published an entire series through one publisher and wrote a fourth book, it would make sense I’d want it at the same publisher as the first three.

Here’s the EC Option Clause: Author grants Publisher an exclusive option on any works of erotic romance or erotica fiction of length over 7,000 words that are a sequel or prequel to or part of a series with the contracted Work or that make use of the characters of the contracted Work.

Author will submit to Publisher a proposal and material for the Author’s work as defined above, prior to submitting the Work to any other publisher and prior to offering the rights to the work to any other publisher and prior to pursuing self-publication of the work. After submission of the option Work, publisher will have sixty (60) days in which to consider the option work during which time the author shall not submit or offer the work to any other publisher. Should publisher make an offer, both parties agree to negotiate exclusively with each other regarding the terms of the option work’s publication. Should they fail to reach an agreement within sixty (60) days of publisher’s offer, the author shall be free to offer said option work to other publishers.

As I’ve already mentioned, this didn’t make much sense to me. I’d be signing two contracts where this clause was rendered fulfilled simply by the existence of the remaining contracts. From my perspective, it was a sign of good faith on my part that I was willing to sign a contract for all three books. I could’ve just said forget it, and demanded new negotiations with each novel. Since I was willing to negotiate the three as a series, I expected an equal sign of good faith from the publisher. I wanted the option of first refusal clause stricken from all three contracts.

Not only did they refuse to remove it, they pointed out that I had read their clause incorrectly. Have you caught my mistake? I assumed their clause was a standard one, and misread it as such – that they’d get first look at any work I wrote that had the same characters, or was part of the series. I missed that “s” after work.

If I signed the contract with the clause they refused to remove, I would owe them right of first refusal on ANY AND ALL FUTURE RELATED BOOKS. Not just the next one. They would get first dibs on any Feywild book or short story over 7000 words that I wrote, forever, based on these contracts. Any clause in a contract that ties you to a publisher indefinitely or puts you in a position in which you owe a publisher something for an indefinite period of time is a RED FLAG.

As if these things weren’t enough to convince me not to enter into a publishing agreement with this house, the auto-response from the contracts & rights department to acknowledge email receipt included this: We are currently overwhelmed with emails. We’re sorry for the delay. If you have sent an inquiry regarding rights reversion, it has been received and is in the queue. We have six months to respond.

Really? An author’s rights only revert when the work has been out as an e-book for 18 months, as a print/audio book for 12 months, and the sales from all sales channels, in all editions, in all available formats are so abysmal that they don’t exceed 100 copies in a 12-month period. So from this auto-response I can extrapolate that EC’s sales are in such dire straits that its authors are flocking to the rights department in droves to get their rights back. A simple check of EC's sales figures on Amazon verified this.

To put the icing on this melting, lopsided cake… I happened to check one of the forums I follow where other authors dish about publishers and what’s going on behind the scenes. As it turns out, while Contracts was offering me the world’s worst deal for three books, over in the main building, the EC Execs were firing the entire freelance staff. Yes, you read that correctly. My editor, the very person who acquired those three books, was fired, and will be gone by mid-September. They’re only keeping three editors plus the Publisher, who will be trying her hand at editing, or so the rumor goes. They also fired all their freelance designers, and now all covers will be done “in-house,” which apparently means by whoever has the most Photoshop experience.

Needless to say, I sent a letter officially declining the EC offer. I’m already preparing my fourth round of submissions for the Feywild novels. I’m sure they will find a home out there somewhere. I owe M.A. Church an apology. Whether through simple experience or some uncanny divination, she told me in June I didn’t want to sign with Ellora's Cave and I argued otherwise. I should’ve listened to a lady who communes with aliens. However, I can now proudly claim to be a superhero.

I am faster than the speeding bullet that was Ellora’s Cave and which was aimed directly at my head. 



Just call me Tucker “Superman” McCallahan.