Ancestral Portals #Writephoto

image by Sue Vincent

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.
And by my DNA results from Ancestry.com

 

Ancestral Portals

Infinite portals illuminate the hollows
of forgotten origins, lost migrations
my fingers sift through foreign sands
seek the spirals of phantom generations
I wander the helices’ halls of time
and stir ancestral dust

I am of the taiga’s endless twilights
ribbons of color on midnight snow
a land of trolls and crescent cliffs
of the highlands’ merlin and castle ruins
from heathered moors to seaside charm
legends of stone and spring, an Avalon king
I journeyed with giants through emerald hills
by sacred rowans and fairy wells
where Eirinn’s magic veil lay thin

I am of wooden shoes and stepped roofs
creaks of windmills over tulip fields
a place of dikes and storms restrained
of Aegean’s islands and sun-bleached shores
a pantheon of gods where the acropolis soared
and Odysseus sailed through Homer’s tales
I hail from bullrings and faith and flamenco
terracotta rooftops scaling the hills
where towered cathedrals pierce the sky

I am of the crossroads of trade routes
temples, mosques and fairy chimneys
a chiseled warren of underground cities
of endless beaches and mangrove forests
tea gardens embroidering hills of jade
rickshaws, sampans, and floating markets
I lived by golden mountains and volcanic waters
an icy wilderness of pillars and geysers
clouded in the City of the Dead

Through ancestral portals ancient mothers
threaded strands of mitochondrial pearls
protozoa and bacteria, single-celled organisms
beyond the Earth and sun’s formations
I trailed my fingerprints
to the dust of stars

Soul Swallowers: Writing children into adult books

pixabay compilation

I love writing children into my books. They add a bit of light-hearted tenderness and comedy between all the adult intrigue, betrayal, and gore.  They offer a fresh perspective on the adult characters around them and raise the stakes for those battling for peace and kindness.  Children don’t show up in all my stories, but they play a small role in Soul Swallower.

You’ve met, Raze, Johzar and Danzell, and Sajem.

This little snippet introduces Chellai (age 6) and Thanelan (age 4).

***

Raze carted the empty basket along the path while Chellai skipped ahead picking coneflowers and snowy oxeye. Thanelan rode on his shoulders, the blond four-year-old gripping Raze’s forehead.

“I didn’t see the witch, me lord,” Chellai said, her voice comically high.

“Lanya teases you. You mustn’t wander alone, but there’s no witch in the forest. And I am Raze. I’m not a lord.”

“Lanya says we’re to call you lord, me lord.” Chellai still sorted through Lanya’s many rules and pursed her lips at the contrary instructions.

“We don’t have to,” Thanelan said from above. “’Cause we’re free. Raze made me mum and me free before we come to Kestrel. Mum says Lanya is uppity on workin’ for a lord. That’s why she says it.”

Raze adjusted the small hands edging over his eyes. “Lanya can call me a lord if it helps her feel uppity, but you should call me Raze.”

“Mum says Lanya is a meddler,” Thanelan said. “And Lanya says me mum is a gossip.”

“I will keep that in mind.” Raze chuckled. The two women worked in the hearth, and the room was toasty enough without their squabbling.

Chellai stopped to collect another flower, her bouquet almost complete. “Lanya says you will be the king of Kestrel when Lord Rydan dies. And so I should show respect and say ‘me lord’ now.” She twirled and skipped ahead.

“Chellai!”

The girl spun with a wide-eyed pout.

Raze tempered his exasperation, set the basket down, and lowered Thanelan to the path. He beckoned to Chellai with a smile, and when she edged closer, he squatted down between the two. “Now, I will tell you a thing I want you to remember. I am only Raze. I’m not a lord, and I will never be a lord. We live in conquered lands ruled by an Ezari empress, and she doesn’t appreciate talk of kings. I raise horses and make carvings in wood. You help in the hearth and the garden. We all do our part, like kin. I am free and you are free. We are the same.”

“Criminals and cravens says me mum,” Thanelan added. “And the poor. We was the poor.”

“True enough.” Raze dropped a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I am the descendant of robbers and cutthroats, no doubt. But those years are long in the past, and we can decide our destinies today, can’t we?”

“Me mum and da and me could leave whenever we want,” Thanelan said to Chellai, “because we’re free.”

“I don’t want to leave, me lord,” Chellai’s voice squeaked.

Raze sighed. “Then you may stay, of course.” He picked up the basket. “Now, let’s be on our way. Samoth and I need to bring in the horses, and you both have chores to finish. Let’s not keep uppity Lanya waiting.”

The Optometrist and the Dragon #writephoto

photo compliments of Sue Vincent

A man of science, Irvus the optometrist didn’t believe in enchantment. But a dare was a dare, and he wasn’t about to cede his convictions to a bunch of old-timers at the Pickled Sow. It was the 5th century, for Heaven’s Sake. The last known dragon had gone extinct a hundred years ago.

The climb up the scree to the cave was steeper than it appeared from a distance. His borrowed twin-bladed battle-ax weighed a ton, and if the rusted iron weren’t strapped to his back, he would have abandoned it on the dirt track below. Sweat dripped into his eyes and plastered his hair to his scalp. He renewed his determination to begin exercising, again… maybe.

Then he spotted the old skull.

His boot crunched on a human spine twisted like a skeletal snake. Farther up, a rubble of sun-bleached bones littered the loose stones below the cave’s gaping maw.

Irvus paused, tongue idly exploring the gap in his front teeth. A bear or a mountain lion, surely. Had to be since dragons didn’t exist. He wrestled out of the straps crossing his back and hefted the intimidating ax, his pluck rallying with the weapon in hand.

Other than the racket of sliding and tumbling stones, he crept silently up to the cave and peered inside. His breath hitched.

There, bathed in shadow, sat the princess that the wrinkled fellows at the Sow had dared him to rescue. A genuine princess with a perfectly forlorn face, pink lips, and crown of golden curls. She rested on a chunk of stone, her delicate frame draped in azure and emerald silks.

No dragon in sight, he hissed at her. “Psst! Over here.” She jolted up, eyes flashing with surprise. He beckoned with a frantic hand.

She glanced behind her and tiptoed toward him, careful to avoid the sunlight. “Are you a prince?” she whispered.

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

“Oh.”

“I’m here to rescue you; I think.”

“Indeed, you’re very noble. But for me to escape this horrid place, you must first slay the dragon.” She tilted her curly head toward the cave’s interior.

He arched a skeptical eyebrow. “A real dragon?”

She nodded, tears glittering in a pair of startling and beautiful gold-burnished eyes. “I’m trapped by an enchantment, captive here for all eternity or until a brave soul sets me free. Are you truly he?”

Irvus considered her predicament and decided that the whole situation was rather implausible, but there she was, an honest to god princess. She seemed sincere, and so far, he hadn’t seen anything more menacing than a rabbit. Best of all, she’d implied he was “brave.”

He sucked in a breath, stepped into the shadow, and halted. A deep snuffle of warm breath wafted over him from the black of the soot-smeared cave. His eyes adjusted rapidly due to his exceptional vision care, and he gasped. A dragon slept curled in a nest of straw among the jagged rocks.

A magnificent beast, its scales glistened in hues of azure and emerald. A serpentine tail curled around its body and webbed wings folded against its back. Curved claws glinted like shards of ice, and scimitar spikes thrust from its spine. With each restful exhale, puffs of smoke snorted from a horned snout.

The princess threaded her arm through his and gazed up at him with those disconcerting golden eyes, eyelashes fluttering like feathers. In all his years of optometry, he’d never seen eyes so… avian. “Please,” she murmured. “Slay it, free me, and you will win my heart.” She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his sweaty cheek.

He swallowed, kissing a pastime sorely absent from his hectic life. He gathered his faltering courage and inched toward the dragon. The slumbering monster shifted and sighed, blasting him with heated air. His hands tightened around the haft of his battle-ax, and he glanced behind him, chewing on a lip. “Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.”

The princess winced at the pun and crept up behind him, her eyes alight with a strange glow. She waved him onward and pressed her slender hands to her heart. He faced the beast, raised his ax to his shoulder, risked another step, and kicked a stone. It rolled and clinked against a deadly claw. He froze.

The dragon’s eyelid quivered and rolled up. In a tremendous surge, the colossal beast reared. Wings unfurled and thundered against the cave’s ceiling. Its scaled tail uncoiled and swept the cave’s debris, flinging stones and raising the dust. It bared its fangs and blew a stream of fire over Irvus’s head as it scrambled back against the wall.

Irvus shrieked and turned to run. The princess met his charge and heaved him back toward the dragon. “Kill it,” she screamed. “Slay it now! Kill it.” She blocked his way out, stalked toward him, hands raised to force him into a fight. “Kill it, or I’ll be trapped here forever. You can’t leave me here.”

He thrust the ax at her. “You kill it.”

“I can’t,” she cried, shoving it back. “The enchantment won’t permit it. It must be you. Please.”

He faced the dragon, sweat drenching his body, his hands slick on the ax. The dragon writhed against the back wall, massive chest heaving. Its tail thrashed and slapped the rocks of its nest. Fire flared with each breath, burning the walls. It extended two sets of razor claws, poised for an attack or… Or warding one off?

“Kill it,” the princess urged over Irvus’s shoulder.

Irvus hesitated, mesmerized. The dragon blinked at him with wide doe eyes, the most beautiful nut-brown, liquid eyes he’d ever seen. The beast probably had a family history of healthy eye care, a diet rich in dark leafy greens and fatty cold-water fish. The smoke wasn’t good, but the cave’s shade provided protection from the sun’s damaging rays.

“What’s the matter?” the princess cried. “Kill it! Hurry! Don’t leave me here. Break the spell.”

He hefted the battle-ax. The dragon looked at him with those soft chestnut eyes. The heavy ax head slipped in his sweaty hands. He tightened his grip and raised it over his head to fling at the beast. As much as he cringed at the thought, he couldn’t forsake the princess to a cave-bound eternity.

“Yes,” the princess hissed behind him.

The dragon shuttered its sublime eyes, lowered its scaled head, and stilled as if awaiting the fatal strike.

“No, I can’t.” Irvus’s arms relaxed. Suspended behind his head for the killing blow, the heavy weapon sagged. The weight of its iron blade pulled him backward. His balance teetered, the haft slipping through his fingers. He lurched over the stones, struggling to find his footing, and the weapon slid free. A gasp and thump behind him loosed a shudder that rattled his bones.

He spun around and gaped at the dead princess, the ax blade embedded in her forehead. He slapped his hands over his mouth in a panic.

Then her body began to bloat, clothes splitting at the seams. Irvus stumbled backward as scales erupted on her skin and a spiked tail snaked from her back, elongating across the rubble. The princess’s fingers lengthened, joints swelled, and nails curled into crystalline claws. Her face contorted, nose and jaw jutting into a horned snout. Limbs bulged and crooked, every inch of her transformed except the sightless golden eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Thank you.”

He yelped and pivoted. A brown-eyed woman sat on the black stones of the dragon’s nest, her human nakedness wrapped in a blanket of glittering azure and emerald scales.

“You broke the enchantment,” she said. “You set me free.”

“You’re the princess?”

“A librarian,” she said. “Are you a prince?”

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

She gathered the serpentine skin around her and stood. “And the kindest man I’ve ever met.”

He smiled, puffed up his chest, and offered his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

They walked to the sharp rim of sunlight at the cave’s entrance where he rearranged the dragon’s pelt to shade her face. The gray-beards at the Pickled Sow might accept his tale about accidentally slaying a dragon, but they’d never believe those perfect brown beauties, not until they spied them with their very own eyes.

***

This rather long and silly story was inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt: Shelter

 

Soul Swallowers: Sajem

 

The WIP is getting closer with another chunk of editing checked off.
I’ve introduced the main character, Raze.
Also Danzell and Johzar.
I hope you enjoy getting a peek into Sajem (from Johzar’s perspective).

***

The Black Gull’s door stood ajar, and in contrast to the sea’s fresh scent, the tavern reeked of spilled ale, rancid grease, and sun-ripened sailors. The stink didn’t bother Johzar as much as the sight of Sajem and six slavers deep in their cups. One of the man’s crew, a woman with serpents inking up her arms, spotted him. Heads turned and Sajem laughed, a calloused paw beckoning him in. “Ah, my friend, join us. How went your travels in Tegir?”

Johzar ambled to the table and claimed a seat across from his quarry. Finding Sajem had proved easier than expected, but the conditions didn’t befit murder, a point working equally well to his advantage. “A troublesome time for the empire. I would have thought you knowledgeable of all the sordid details.”

Sajem grunted. “Tegir’s bloated with rules and soldiers. I like the Vales. The law here is like water, fluid and easy to direct.” He growled at a server for another pitcher. “The raiding is healthy for the purse, and the ladies and lords look the other way as long as we don’t get personal. Our Governor Benjmur hasn’t forgiven you for stealing his daughter.”

Johzar shrugged. “He wrote the rules.”

“You got caught.” Sajem cracked his knuckles. “Out-matched by a girl.”

“True.” Johzar let the taunt slide. “Speaking of getting caught, eventually those ladies and lords will tire of you. And when they tire of you, they’ll tire of me.”

“Then we kill them in their sleep.”

“Kill them?”

Sajem’s smile thinned at the slip. “Capture them, sell them.”

“How’s our friend, the governor?” Johzar topped off a tankard. “Are you still his dog?”

The slaver’s red eyes tightened. “If the chits are the right color.”

“So, you’re an assassin now?”

“We’re not assassins,” the woman said.

Johzar arched his eyebrows. “Who benefited from Ezalion’s death? Who gives Sajem his orders?”

“I don’t take orders,” Sajem snarled.

“Unless the chits are the right color.” Johzar chuckled. “Still hearing voices? How many souls is it now?”

Sajem’s lip rose at the corner, baring a filed fang. “Enough to get what I want.”

“Here’s my problem.” Johzar leaned forward. “You’re a slave to the madmen in your head. They may bear the skills you desire, but they’re impulsive and thick as planks. Your rampages through the Vales don’t go unnoticed, even in Tegir. I made a mistake with Benjmur’s girl, but she lied about her identity. You don’t care if your victims are political, and we always stayed out of politics. It was cleaner that way. Follow the laws, keep our knives belted. Remember?”

“Times change,” one of Sajem’s men said.

“You know how many of my crew I’ve lost in the past ten years?” Johzar asked. “One. How about you?”

None of the slavers replied, and Sajem emptied his tankard down his gullet.

“I’ll warn you once.” Johzar addressed all seven of them, “My crew and I don’t appreciate change. We plan to go on living and getting rich. You make that difficult for us; we’ll make it difficult for you.”

Author Interview: D Wallace Peach

Over my break, I answered a few questions about The Rose Shield series for Kathy Wagoner’s blog. Kathy’s another speculative fiction writer. If you have the time, stop by to say hi and check out her blog. And have a wonderful weekend!

KL Wagoner

Author D. Wallace Peach infuses her speculative fiction with vivid prose and intriguing plots. Her twelve published books are divided between two four-book series and four standalone novels. Kari’s Reckoning (2017) is the fourth and final novel in her Rose Shield series, a storyline that explores flawed and compelling characters, a sentient landscape, and a magic system that allows for manipulating emotions. Learn more about Diana and her writing on her website/blog MythsOfTheMirror.com and her Amazon author page, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@dwallacepeach), and Goodreads.


What was the initial spark for the Rose Shield seriesa character, the setting, a what-if question?
For any of my books, my initial spark is usually something related to a magic system. I’m a fan of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson and enjoy the structure he brings to the magic in his books, including how he integrates his…

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Woodland #Writephoto

My husband and I head out in our hiking boots when the dawning sky slides from lavender to blue. He treks up the hill ahead of me, and we squint when the sun twinkles through the trees.

“Stop!” I shout, too late.

My husband shrieks and bolts behind me. “What?”

“Oh my God, you stepped on it.” I suck a breath through my teeth.

“On what?” Nature boy peers over my shoulder and then checks the soles of his boots for dog turd or deer duds. But poop isn’t the problem.

I creep forward and squat down for a closer look. The thing is squashed, imprinted with his zig-zag tread, opalescent wings mashed into the pine needles. I poke it to see if it’s alive.

“What is it?” he asks from a safe distance.

I look up at him, the horror of our situation congealing in my chest. “We’re in such big trouble. You stepped on a fairy!”

“A what?” He inches forward as if the fairy’s going to leap up, whip out a wand, and shrink him into a toad. “Is that bad?”

“Of course, that’s bad!” A wing flutters, and we share a glance. “It’s not dead. We have to do something.”

“Throw it in the bushes.”

“No! We have to help it.” I gently scoop the fairy onto a fern, and we head downhill. “We need to call someone for advice.”

“Take it to the vet,” Mr. Helpful suggests.

“The vet?” I shake my head. “I’m calling Colleen Chesebro. She knows about fairies.”

“The swamp-fairy whisperer lady?”

“She doesn’t live by a swamp anymore. I think her fairy knowledge has expanded.” We push through the screen door, and my husband fills a shoebox with toilet paper as if he’s adopting a gerbil.

“Really?” I blink at him. “Toilet paper?”

“It’s soft and fluffy,” he explains.

I rest the fern on the soft, fluffy toilet paper and call Colleen. With the phone on speaker, we chit chat our greetings and get to the issue at hand. “Colleen, my husband crushed a fairy and—”

“He what?”

Hubby jumps in, giving me the skunk eye. “I stepped on it by accident.”

“Anyway,” I say, “It’s still alive, but it’s sort of squashed, and we don’t know what to do.”

“First thing,” Colleen says, “leave it in the woods where you… squashed it.”

The hubby and I wince in unison and look down at the shoe box. “Umm…” I say into the phone.

Colleen sighs. “Okay, scrap that. New first thing, bring it back to where you found it and leave it there.”

I grimace at the phone. “That doesn’t seem very compassionate.”

“Fairies are magical,” Colleen explains. “Trust me.””

“What if the raccoons get it?” my husband asks.

“The raccoons won’t bother it?”

“Cougars?” he asks.

I worry he’s going to list off the entire contents of the animal kingdom, and apparently, Colleen does too because she nips that recitation in the bud. “Animals don’t harm fairies. Nature is symbiotic. You probably have a forest fairy, part of the same ecosystem as the ferns, moss, and trees. The Earth will heal it or transform it.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I guess that makes sense. Are you sure?”

“If I’m wrong you’ll only be cursed for life.” She chuckles. “Just kidding.”

Great, a comedian, but I have to ask, “How will we know if you’re right?”

“We won’t be cursed,” my brilliant husband replies.

“You’ll know.” Colleen smiles through the phone line. We give her our thanks and hike back up the hill with the shoebox. The sun shoots spears of warmth through the evergreen, and we gently rest the fairy and her fern a little to the side of the path. The least we can do.

The next morning, coffee in hand, we climb the leafy path to check on our charge. The fairy is gone, but the forest is alive with butterflies.

pixabay images

Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt, and to Colleen for letting me insert her in my story.  I hope you enjoyed my fairy tale.

Soul Swallowers: Danzell and Johzar

As my current WIP sloooowly progresses, I thought I would offer a peek into some of the characters.

You might have met the main character Raze here.

Danzell is a soul-collector, one who swallows multiple souls. In her case, wise ones.
Johzar is a slaver of questionable morals and allegiances.

I hope you enjoy this snippet.

***

The glowing soul rolled in Danzell’s palm, and she tilted her head. If only she could pry into the sphere, truly know the person bound within, their succulent secrets, forbidden dreams, and ripe desires. The wise of the world weren’t without their idiosyncrasies, the blades of madness that cleaved the mundane to unleash visionary brilliance.

Johzar watched her, a pendant on the Temple’s table between them, the one she’d given him as a gift. The soulstone still shone with the light of the soul within, her gift thus far rejected. Was he a fool or a wise man? She remained undecided, wary.

The Temple was her haven for the moment. She and the slaver sat by the window on the eighth level, too high for the common wanderer, and she kept her cowl up, face in shadow to all but him. “Why are you here, Johzar? Why the interest in imperial affairs? Why now? Why accompany me like my guard dog? What do you know? What do you want?”

He mulled over her questions, the gears grinding in his head as if visible to her eyes. Did he invent excuses or parse through her questions for the ones he’d answer?

“Curiosity.”

“And?”

Another pause. “Boredom.”

“Aah.” She chuckled and dropped a hand to her lap, fingers tickling the hilt of her knife. “And profit? Are you for sale?”

“Now and then.”

“Now?”

He shook his head. “I’ll stick with curious.”

“Did you or someone from your crew kill my sister?” She wrapped her hand around the hilt of her dagger.

“Nae.”

“Do you know who did?”

His gaze pointed to her hip as if the table were transparent. “I may not tell you if I did, but my answer is nae.”

“Did you betray my friends to the soldiers?”

“I saved their lives and mine by turning over the girl. She’s Benjmur’s weakness, and he’ll protect her. I’m sure of it.”

Danzell sighed. “I should have killed them all in the catacombs and added their bones to the vaults. They’ve complicated my plans.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“The voices in my head.” She smiled and rolled the soul.

He slid the pendant toward her. “I gift this back to you. I don’t need to listen to a voice inside my head tell me what I already know.”

“Such arrogance from a slaver, Johzar. Do you claim to possess the wisdom of the ancients?”

“Far from it.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “But I know myself, and I know what I need to do.”

“Hm.” She draped the pendant around her neck, eyes returning again to the pearl of light in her palm. Her hesitation surprised her, the sensation new. Had she reached her limit? Was she edging toward the brink of madness from which she couldn’t return?

She hadn’t suffered conflicting opinions in her head until recent events required choices for which the outcomes were unclear. When it was all passive speculation, the answers were easy, reflecting a hypothetical black and white world without a broad palette of grays. Taking action was much more nuanced.

She popped the sphere into her mouth and swallowed. Johzar leaned forward, studying her. Her eyes closed, she surrendered to the sensation radiating from her stomach. The heat streamed through her veins, tingling her fingers and toes, and rushed into her head in a dizzying wave. She envisioned a room full of chattering, the newcomer mingling, ideas bouncing off others, temperaments clashing and merging. Similarities and differences flailed about with practiced words. She’d thrown another stone in the pond, created a chaos of ripples. She breathed through it, seeking the inevitable peace as the waters stilled.