Something Wicked This Way Comes

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.



Friday, August 29, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #4 THE FOREST LORD

Welcome all! Back once more for FFF, and this week our stories are the prelude to an awesome book release coming up tomorrow. Lily G. Blunt's new book Paint the Sky will be out tomorrow, and I *highly* recommend it to you all.

Now, on with our dark-skinned lovelies, and episode #4 of The Forest Lord. Enjoy!

*

The Forest Lord #4; by Tucker McCallahan:

“I don’t understand why we haven’t left yet.” Kala paced back and forth in the staging area, her restless energy crackling around her with a life that was almost palpable.

“Had the Queen not kidnapped Zakn’yl, we would indeed be on our way.” T’Riss looked up from where he sat beside their few bags and pinned her in place with his irritated tone of voice. “As it is, she holds Ilztafay, and we cannot leave the city without her.”

“I thought we were five.” Kala stalked toward him, a challenge in her walk. “Who is this other female in the Queen’s company?”

T’Riss laugh was bitter. “I did not say she was in the Queen’s company; I said the Queen held her.” T’Riss stared purposefully at the entrance to the staging area, willing Zak to appear. “Ilztafay is Zakn’yl’s mount.”

“For the love of Lune!” A snort from the other side of the room drew their attention. They both turned to see Jhul crack her staff against the floor in aggravation. “Guildmaster Gian has stables of mechanical mounts in every shape and size who could be charged up and powered on for the mage to ride! We’re wasting time!”

A horse’s whinny cut the air, a bizarre sound in the huge underground cavern. The females’ heads jerked up and around to stare at the entrance. Only T’Riss was unsurprised at the sound as Zak rode into the staging area, not on a mechanical mount, but on a Darkelsian horse – an actual real, live, breathing animal. The females gazed wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the tremendous creature as Zak rode it over to their mechanical mounts, brought it up short with authentic leather reigns, and hopped down out of the old-fashioned saddle.

“Is she well?” T’Riss met his mate halfway, his eyes for both male and horse.

Zak nodded, his long, inky hair shaking gently with the movement. “They had her in a royal stable, cordoned off. She kicked their mechanic unconscious. Three grooming engineers were trying to approach and bribe her with honeyed oats. She was having none of it.”

T’Riss grinned – a genuine smile – and rested a forearm around Zak’s shoulders. “That’s our girl. Everything here is prepared. If she’s ready-”

“She wishes to spend no more time underground. She craves fresh air and the sky.”

“So we’ll all be traveling twenty meters behind you then?” Jhulryna’s voice dripped with sarcasm, her face pinched and petulant. “Since you’re riding the bait?”

T’Riss and Zak turned to glare at her. She shrugged and gave her golden staff a careless half-twirl.

“I’m merely pointing out the obvious.”

“Which is what?” T’Riss crossed his arms over his armored vest, his face hard as he scowled at the female who looked so like his estranged wife. “Enlighten us.”

“There’s not a creature alive in the Adintana that wouldn’t gorge itself on horse flesh, living or dead, if given the chance.”

“Tell me, Lady Jhul,” Kala slid in between the two males and the herbalist, “when was the last time you were on the surface?”

“That hardly matters.”

Kala met T’Riss’s eyes and a look passed between them. She abruptly began buckling her armor. T’Riss ran a gentle hand down Zak’s face before turning back to the supplies. Retrieving a pair of heavy saddlebags, he and Zak secured them on Ilztafay. Though the chore took all of three minutes, Jhul’s mouth kept up a steady stream of vitriolic commentary.

Zak hopped up into the old-fashioned saddle and ran an easy hand down Ilztafay’s neck, stroking the heavy cherry hair. The mare whinnied softly, tossing its deep burgundy mane. Zak murmured softly to the horse, the cadence of his voice rising and falling like a sweet musical melody. Kala, riding a huge black mechan, approached Zak and Ilztafay carefully as the group left the Utilities Guild House.

“Was that Elven you were speaking?”

Zak nodded, his eyes downcast. He looped the smooth, well-worn reigns over one fist and drew a length of cloth from his pocket. Quickly, he covered the horse’s nose, making sure not to smother her or put any pressure on her face. The group emerged onto the sparkling wet streets of Chasz’Chalolvir, close to the southern cavern exit.

“I didn’t know you spoke Elven. I speak it as well.” Kala took in each and every one of Zak’s strange actions. “I didn’t recognize what you were saying though. Why are you doing that while we’re still underground?”

“The sharp aroma of the rangpur soap burns her nose,” Zak explained. His voice was so soft and gentle Kala couldn’t imagine him ever casting dangerous or offensive magic. Zak was a war mage, though.
ee
“I see. So… what Elven dialect were you using? Central?”

“Wild.”

If Kala had been walking she would’ve tripped and fallen flat on her face. Zak’s answer was utterly unexpected.

“How in Lune’s name did you learn to speak wild elf? The elves have been embroiled in civil war since before I was born.” Kala gazed at Zak with a touch of hero worship in her eyes.

“The wild elves are the only population still supporting, breeding, and nurturing real horses.” Zak’s fingers slid into the thick hair of Ilztafay’s mane. “She’s very dear to me. I would learn anything I had to learn or do anything I had to do to make her life with me a good one.”

T’Riss rode up between them. Nath, his mechanical mount, was larger than either Kala’s mechan or Ilztafay.

“We’re about to leave Chasz’Chalolvir. We’ll move through the southern caverns and then plunge down into the Div’eari Forest. We’ll camp there this evening.”

Zak nodded. Kala gazed back to where Jhul and Iym rode side by side. She flicked her eyes to T’Riss and spoke in a low voice.

Arisa, are you certain you wish to ride with vipers at your back?”

“Once we reach the Div’eari, I’ll take point and you’ll take rear guard.”

“And Zak?”

“My mate rides with Iym.”

“As you wish.”

T’Riss stared at the young assassin until she met his lavender eyes. “I appreciate your worry for my mate. But understand that it took four phalanxes of the Azure Veil to kidnap Zakn’yl. Sixteen of the queen’s best sorceresses and witches to take one war mage into custody. He’s far from helpless, and once we reach the surface, unlike the others whose power will diminish, Zak’s power will grow.”

“How…?”

T’Riss shook his head and spurred Nath forward. He rode up to meet the guards at the exterior gates of the city. With terrible anticipation rippling through his stomach, his mate by his side, and his new raiding party at his back, T’Riss left Chasz’Chalolvir on the most important mission of his very long life.

*

As always comments are craved and appreciated. This week, I'm featuring an image done by Direwrath that inspired the character of Iym'mice - the Mistress/Priestess of Lune who healed Zak, but whose loyalties are still unclear.





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Friday, August 22, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #3 THE FOREST LORD



After a one week hiatus to get my kids ready to start their new school, I'm back with part three of The Forest Lord. Enjoy!

*

The Forest Lord #3; by Tucker McCallahan:

Zak shivered. Perspiration glistened on his skin like the hoarfrost that fell with the first few bitter mornings of winter. The impossible, unrelenting, crushing weight in his chest had disappeared the instant Iym’s magic sank into him. Now a new heaviness grew inside him, one he recognized.

His magic, nearly snuffed out by the malady the Matron Mother inflicted upon him, had rekindled. Something wasn’t right, though. Instead of feeling well and like himself once more, another layer of sweat drenched his skin. A strange tingling fire raced through his veins.

T’Riss wore an adamantine vest, serviceable and practical, but at the moment Zak was riveted to the reflection of his own eyes in its surface. Usually a pale green, they glowed with a vivid emerald iridescence. Flicking his eyes up at his mate, Zak gazed at T’Riss’s flawlessly masculine face. Suddenly a craving hit, a feeling so intense it stole his breath away with a whistling gasp.

T’Riss was in the middle of a conversation with Kala about surface tensions between the human and elven populations when the unmistakable aroma reached his nose. His nostrils flared, his whole body tightening like a drawn bow. His pupils dilated, and he looked down at the male in his lap. All of T’Riss’s attention instantly focused on Zak.

Mrann d’ssinss…” Zak’s voice was thick with arousal.

Usstan tlun ghil.

Ssrig’luin dos… T’Rissinns, f’sarn flamgra’in, usstan ssrig’luin dos nin.

Zak’s lithe, petite body undulated erotically. Not only could T’Riss scent his mate’s arousal, his thick erection was plainly visible to anyone who looked at Zakn’yl’s snug trousers. Concerned, T’Riss searched for the new mistress-priestess and found Iym standing silently in the shadows.

Since healing Zakn’yl, Iym had retreated to the darkest corner of the room. She’d immediately sank into revelry, the meditation all mages used to replenish their spell energy. At least that was T’Riss’s assumption. Though he had some spellcasting abilities, he wasn’t a wizard or a sorcerer, and the ways of the priestesses were largely a mystery to him.

“Lady.” T’Riss pitched his voice low and stared at the priestess. He shifted, unsettled, as Zak whined and writhed next to him. The desire to penetrate and ravage his mate was almost uncontrollable.

Iym didn’t acknowledge him with words, merely floated forward, her hips swaying from side to side like a well-oiled clock’s pendulum. The wine-colored silk of her gown whispered against her flawless skin. As she reached Zak’s side, she bent forward and placed two fingers over his third eye. Removing her hand she straightened and looked at T’Riss with an impassive face.

“He was so close to passing over I was forced to use a greater healing spell. While it revived his body, it also restored and renewed his magical energies causing an overflow effect.” She lowered her ruby eyes, long platinum hair hanging forward to hide her face. “Forgive me, arisa. I thought only of healing him as you ordered.”

“Will this pass?” Though he was surprised to receive it, T’Riss ignored her apology. “What does he need?”

Iym slowly raised her head, her ruby eyes filled with vast wisdom and no small degree of patience. A wickedly naughty smile suddenly curled the side of her lush mouth. “I believe you know exactly what he needs.” She curtsied so low the ends of her hair touched the floor.

Before T’Riss could reply, Zak’s back bowed, his spine twisting to and fro. His jaw went slack, full lips parting, chest heaving as more sweat sparkled on his onyx flesh. Sinking back to the settee, his entire body quivered as he panted, the arousal rolling off him in waves. T’Riss made his decision, concentrating and gathering spell energy while he still could. He sent a message spell to the Gian, the Guildmaster, and then rose, his hands going to the buckle of his sword belt.

“Leave us,” T’Riss commanded.

Kala, who had been speaking to Jhul about surface plants and their uses, turned and stared at T’Riss. She frowned when she saw Zakn’yl was conscious.

“But we still have supplies to requisition!”

“Gian and Shyntmur’ss are expecting you.”

Kala slowly rose, her face confused and a bit obstinate. “Have you a list for us? Some kind of guidelines for us to follow?”

“Your uncle and I raided surface villages centuries before you were a moonlight dream.” The low lights of the room cast hard shadows across T’Riss’s face as he spoke. His twin katanas slipped to the floor, followed by the two bandoliers of shuriken and the holsters that held his black powder bombs, smokers, and poison darts.

“But-”

Inbau doeb!

The slim assassin jolted at the fury and force of T’Riss’s roar. She stood, automatically checking her weapons, and herded the other females through the room. Iym exited first, then Jhul, and finally Kala crossed the threshold and turned back briefly.

“We shall wait for you at Guild Staging.”

She spun on her boot heel without waiting for a reply.

T’Riss used another small bit of magic to close and seal the door, then wasted no more time shedding his clothing and baring his mate. They’d been apart for two full moon cycles. Even if Zak hadn’t taken ill, T’Riss would’ve ached with wanting him. Now, well, every inch of his mate aroused the bounty hunter, and Zak…

Zakn’yl burned from the inside with the need for release. He whimpered softly as T’Riss quickly stripped him bare, gazing at his mate with those glowing eyes.

“Say something,” T’Riss murmured, “so I know you’re my mate and not some demon pretending to be my beloved.”

“For six months after you mated Micariara I lived in agony, my heart shattered and my life destroyed. She is the only demon who’s ever pretended to be your beloved, mrann d’ssinss.

“Only you could be so blasted melodramatic.”

Vith’os!

“Fuck me? I don’t think so, mate. If I fuck anyone, it’ll be you…”

T’Riss stretched and dropped down onto the settee completely nude. He prowled up over Zak until their lower bodies aligned, a wicked grin on his face. Reaching down, he wrapped a hand roughened and calloused from centuries of swordplay around their twin erections. His wrist snapped back and forth, sliding up and down the two columns of hard flesh.

Zak’s head fell back as T’Riss stroked him. His narrow little hips swiveled and gyrated, grinding helplessly as T’Riss pleasured them both.

“That what you needed, ussta xukuth?” T’Riss thrust through his own grip, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure.

Zak wrapped his thin but muscled arms around T’Riss and hung on, purring as the magic and the erotic bliss filled him like a cup until there was no more room within him. T’Riss spilled them both over the edge, overflowed the cup until it poured ecstasy all over them.

Che dos… Che dos, Zakn’yl,” T’Riss whispered.

“I love you, too.” Zak pressed his soft lips to his mate’s. “Let’s dress. Females left unattended for any length of time are trouble.”

*

At the Chasz’Chalolvir Utilities Guild, the three females catalogued the pile of equipment assembled by Kala’s uncle, the Guildmaster, Gian.

“Why do we need nets?” Kala plucked at the heavy netting in disgust. “We aren’t going to capture anything.”

She stalked away and drew the tremendous scimitar from her back. Hefting the adamantine blade in both hands, she swung it deftly, spinning in a deadly arc.

“We’re going to kill it.”

Jhulryna laughed, a merry, high-pitched sound. Shyntmur’ss, second-in-command at the Utilities Guild delivered the last of the gear and bowed deeply to them. Iym made the sign of their goddess before him and he departed. Jhul glanced around, and then pushed the door to the small room closed behind him as he left. Kala frowned as she did so.

“It’ll get very warm in here.”

“We haven’t much time.” Jhul leaned on her golden staff, her pink eyes gleaming as magic crackled around her. “Listen, sisters.”

Kala and Iym gathered closer as Jhul enclosed them in a bubble of magical silence.

“You know that we travel to the surface on some fools’ errand to hunt something – or someone – who has killed humans and elves.”

Kala and Iym nodded. “It was a coveted assignment. We haven’t had a surface raid in over a century,” Kala said.

“Raid!” Jhul made a rude noise and spat on the floor. “This is no raid and that male, that Unmentionable, is no arisa!”

“Everyone in Chasz’Chalolvir is aware of the events that occurred between House Riz-LiNeer and House Rilyn-Tlar.” Iym’s voice was soft and level. “The tale is practically a cautionary fable now for young females looking for mates. You can lead a male to water, you can shove his head into the pond, but you can’t make him drink water if what he craves is wine.”

“They will pay,” Jhul said, gritting her teeth. “Both of them. It’s been vowed and witnessed. This trip may succeed or it may not. We may kill whatever is taking lives in the Adintana Forest or we may become its next victims. But this much is certain, sisters.”

Jhulryna Rilyn-Tlar slammed her golden staff into the ground and a pure bell tone rang out. Her pink eyes blazed as if they’d caught fire as she stared at her companions.

“Neither Unmentionable will ever return from the Adintana Forest alive. So swears House Rilyn-Tlar in the name of vengeance!”        


Glossary of Drow Phrases

Mrann d’ssinss – male lover

Usstan tlun ghil. – I’m here.

Ssrig’luin dos… T’Rissinns, f’sarn flamgra’in, usstan ssrig’luin dos nin. – I need you. T’Rissinns, I’m burning, I need you now.

Inbau doeb! – Get out!

Vith’os! – Fuck you!

ussta xukuth – my heart

Che dos… Che dos, Zakn’yl – I love you… I love you, Zakn’yl 


Arisa - commander                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    *

Once again, because I like to provide an image to go with my story, this week I'm posting the drawing Direwrath did that inspired the character of Kala. Comments are, as always, craved and appreciated. Have an awesome remainder of August and enjoy sending your kiddies back to school!



Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:

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


Free Fiction Friday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Be Well - Tux