A Villainous Perspective

“How the crimson tide burned inside of him, wracking him! He must feed it, and soon.”

I removed the following excerpt from Wyldling Snare because I wanted to restrict the narrative to three points-of-view. However, I feel that it provides a taste of this novel without revealing too much of the plot. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

The golden shafts of suns-light streaming through the interrupted canopy deep in the untamed depths of the Darkenwood Forest remained unappreciated by the panting, dark-featured figure that creeped across the drawbridge of the ancient fortress. Once inside the castle walls, a pair of sinewy arms applied themselves to the wheel that lowered the gate over the entrance. Wraithlike, the dark figure darted down a passageway when the fortress was barred against the outside world, relieved to be out of the daytime light and heat.

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Although he detested the necessity to venture underground, the assassin was grateful to be deep in the hollow heart of the fortress where the shadows lay thickest, coiling sinuously like living things, so that he could finally remove the talisman that maintained his disguise. Torches seemed to march along with him in an eerie procession down the chilly, winding corridors, nearly stifled in the pulsing, oily blackness. And yet, life dwelled there within the stronghold, though a fusty odor of mildew and decay clung to its walls, its many chambers and its tunnels and dungeons. A colossal survivor of a long-forgotten age, the castle clung to its molding foundation, whereas its kin had long since declined into the ruined, crumbling corpses of an extinct race.    

Running his tongue over his fangs, the assassin slunk along the narrow, dank hallway that led to a heavy oak door pitted with gouges and reinforced with steel bands. Hackles raised and pelt rippling with anxiety, he tried not to think about the foul denizens inhabiting the lower levels of the fortress, the ones who whispered and taunted and promised delights. He set his jaws into a terrifying rictus to scare off the shadows around him; however, they would approach, and test his control yet again. After what seemed an age to the assassin, he stood before the huge door, motionless, uncertain of his welcome. He had not yet succeeded in his primary objective. In the dimness behind him, he could hear the steady drip of water as it seeped through cracks in the superstructure.  He twitched his whiskery mustache and raised a hand to scratch at the door.

“Well, enter, you idiot!  You’ve been standing out there long enough.”

The assassin’s tail went rigid behind him, and his fur stood on end at the sound of the angry voice, loud and clear even behind the huge door. He snarled at himself, gathering his courage, and then shoved a shoulder against the door, pushing it open with enormous effort. He had been sent to gather intelligence and he would report the information he had gleaned – just as he had been instructed. It was good to serve a master; in addition to the talisman that allowed him to move unregarded amongst the Kadorei, Milord gave him potions that kept the crimson madness at bay.

At least, they had used to.

Mostly.

Slipping through the opening, he yanked his tail inside as the door slammed shut like the valve of a diseased heart. He wrinkled his snout at the mingled scent of burnt candle wicks, ancient mildew and rancid sweat laced with rotgut spirits as he blinked his dark eyes at the unaccustomed light, dim though it was. Guttering tapers held the deepest shadows at bay in the corners, held upright in pockets of their own melted wax.

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A tall, dark-bearded man with a thin face and sharply pointed ears hunched over a huge, leather-bound tome that covered the entire surface of the wax-smeared worktable. Candles of varying thickness and heights surrounded him, the light they provided tumbling down and around the folds of his silky, blue-black robe like water off a waterfowl’s wings.  Even in the dim, golden light it was easy to see that his skin was not simply corpse-pale, but as gray as old ashes. He smelled of persimmons and frustrated rage.

Off in a dark corner, the assassin perceived a figure in dirty gray robes sprawled out upon a shabby divan, drinking out of a bottle and swaying in time with the ribald ditty that he softly sung. He smelled sour, of rotgut whisky, festering secrets and bitterness. The assassin’s eyes passed over him; that one was no threat in his present condition and was easily dismissed.

Now that he was within the confines of the chamber and away from the whispering, beguiling shadows, the assassin could wait patiently, even if he was uncomfortable deep in the bowels of the moldering fortress. It had been almost a fortnight, and the crimson madness was stirring again. He could feel it burning like acid at the back of his throat and tickling at the base of his skull. And the shadows kept whispering…whispering…

His fingers twitched. Joints popped and crackled. He felt his claws lengthen.

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The tall, dark-robed man continued to ignore him for a moment longer, obviously intent on his reading, seemingly a harmless scholar. Weak and vulnerable. Easy prey.

The assassin knew better. Oh yes, for his sins, he did know better.

Trembling, the assassin cleared his throat. “Milord?” he said.

Now the man turned from his volume and regarded him imperiously down his nose, one dark eyebrow raised. “You have news to report?” he replied in the assassin’s natal language.

The assassin hated that little tickle of dread at the base of his skull, but he would endure much worse in order maintain his tentative grasp on sanity. “Yes, milord,” he said. “As instructed, I have been watching and listening.” He avoided looking directly into the man’s eyes. To do so would be to challenge him. It was much the same amongst his own people.

“Good,” the man said without a trace of emotion in his voice. “Continue.”

“The boy is in the woods now,” he rasped. “He is on his way to that…that wall…but he is not alone this time.” Dare he trust that calm tone? The quiet mien?

“He returns to it,” the tall man said, one hand absently stroking his short, spade-shaped beard. His eyes glittered in the candlelight.  “Yes. I can profit from this…”

Gathering courage, the assassin stepped closer. How the crimson tide burned inside of him, wracking him! He must feed it, and soon. “Milord…” he said. “Perhaps I overpower the companion, bring the boy to you…and when you are done with him, I devour him?”

“Silence!” With a casual wave of his hand, the tall man sent the assassin flying into the wall, knocking off his wide-brimmed hat. He had not physically touched him, but the tattoos on his hands were writhing like a tangle of black, spiny worms.

“Your orders,” he continued in his resonant voice, “are – as they have always been – to watch and listen. You have done well in eliminating the old man. When the time comes, I will give you further instructions regarding his ward.”  

Suddenly the thin face – twisted with rage and black symbols crawling across ashen skin – and its fierce eyes filled the assassin’s entire field of vision. A visceral pain clawed through the assassin’s insides, and in spite of himself he doubled over, whimpering and groaning. After what seemed to be seasons passed, the agony disappeared as if it had never been. He straightened up again, his yellow eyes flashing with indignation and resentment.

“This is the order of the Dreadlord,” the man said, once he saw that he had the brute’s full attention. “You are not to molest the boy in any way. Do not disobey me in this. You have caused enough trouble already in sating your…hungers. If you compromise your mission, there will be a very object lesson in store for you. Do I make myself clear, eresh’gulkah?”   

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Eyes wide, the assassin choked down his terror and mortified anger at the Nehmwight appellation for slave. He managed a curt nod. “I am your eyes and ears, milord,” he choked out. “Your very obedient…slave.”

The tall man rewarded him with an enormous, shark-like grin. “Very good,” he purred, tossing a small metal flask to the assassin. “Here is your medicine. Now, leave us.”  Seemingly of its own accord, the huge door creaked open behind the assassin.

Trembling, the assassin clutched the potion to his chest. Backing away, he snatched his hat off the floor and scuttled out of the room. The door slammed shut behind him and narrowly missed crushing his tail as he fled.  

Curses! Foiled Again!

I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who have been “cat-blocked” from their laptops and paper notepads from time to time.

My cat smells ambition and seeks to squash it…along with my chest.

A large, handsome, brown and white tabby tom cat with green eyes is sitting on my chest and blocking access to my laptop.
The ongoing, nefarious plot of Doctor Purr-nassus to block my writing attempts has once more succeeded. To the left and behind you see some evidence of work done: my storyboard for the Wyldling Series.

Did the Erin Hunters have this problem while crafting their Warriors series, I wonder? I’d like to think so. I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who have been “cat-blocked” from their laptops and paper notepads from time to time. As you can see, this has not stopped me from typing. The Doctor doesn’t seem to mind that my arms – across which his butt and head are draped – keep shifting back and forth.

Well, since I’m already on the topic of cats I suppose I’ll just stay on it. I’ll share my opinion about that Warriors series by Erin Hunter that I mentioned. No, I am not going to provide a review with nitty-gritty details, but overall I would recommend the series for tweens and teenagers. The books are written for younger readers, after all. Also, if you don’t mind reading kid’s books as an adult – and you like cats – then I’m sure you’d enjoy reading it. The first series especially is well-crafted.

My eldest son started reading the Warriors books last year (he’ll be sixteen come September of this year) so of course I had to check it out and make sure that it was “appropriate” for my impressionable children.

Well, that was stupid of me.

Now I have the first six books and some of the “super editions” downloaded to my Kindle, and I’ve bought physical copies of books in the later series from second-hand bookstores. I couldn’t stop reading these books, even though the subsequent series were not as well-edited, I thought, as the first was. But, all plot inconsistencies aside, the books in the Warriors series are all worth reading.

If the story is good, I make note of any errors in my mind but I don’t let it keep me from enjoying the novel. I think to myself: this author (or authors, plural, in this case) has taken the time and effort to write a great story with engaging characters and I’m going to see it through to the end. And hey, they got published and have a pretty large following amongst young readers and adults alike, so they must be doing something right.

However, as Levar Burton would say: “Don’t take my word for it.”

Go check the books out for yourself.

By the way, the Doctor got sick of the rocking motion so he is no longer blocking me from my laptop. Hooray!

Well, that’s all for today, folks. Back to work for me!

Here’s a little something I wrote during my “salad days,” i.e. college

Originally, this was going to be a fantasy novel tentatively entitled Bride of Callahan, but then life happened.

The half moon glinted coldly down on the strange, shambling, three-fold figure dragging itself across the dormitory parking lot. Two young women walked stooped over with the weight of their drunken companion distributed between them, the toes of his sneakers scraping over the asphalt. Every so often, he would try to walk, throwing his friends off balance.

“Darn it!” Samantha hissed as she nearly fell. “This is the last time I help drag your boyfriend’s sorry butt home from a party.”

“Hey! Hey…it’sh not my fault…he drank so much.” The other girl giggled, staggering a little herself, her brown hair falling into her eyes. “Well, maybe it ishh…”

“We’re just lucky we got away before the cops came, Becca. Or have you forgotten that we’re underage?”

“Not like you drank nothin’ to get into trouble. Good old Sam, the deshignated driver!” Becca giggled again.

Breathing heavily, Samantha managed, with the fumbling aid of her inebriated friend, to muscle the young man up against the side of the building near the back entrance. Grinning inanely, he slid down until he plopped down on the lawn. “I’m a wee free balloony boy!” he crowed happily, and promptly keeled over on to his side and started snoring.

“Darn it, Joey!” Samantha restrained an urge to kick him.

Becca just laughed. “We can shtill take the elevator, right?”

Consternation writ large on her face, their sober companion looked around to make sure that no one was watching them, and then pulled out her key to their dorm building. “Not unless we want the RA at the desk to see how drunk you guys are.” She turned the key in the lock. “No sir. We’s gonna go up the backstairs m’dears.”

In spite of their predicament, Samantha couldn’t help but grin. Watching other people get drunk had been rather amusing, even though her efforts to restrain her friends had failed. She had wanted to leave long before they did, but she had felt honor-bound to make sure that Becca and Joey had gotten back safely.

It was with that thought in mind that Samantha and Becca doggedly dragged Joey up a flight of stairs to the dorm room he shared with a nice Irish Catholic boy named Eric Callahan, to whom they passed on their burden. He helped Samantha flop Joey down in his bed, and then dug the tarp and barf-basin out from underneath his own with an ease born of much practice.

“See if you can sober him up,” Samantha said, wearily rubbing her brow when they had finished. “Dunk his head in a toilet…or something.”

Becca laughed in delight.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Eric grinned with a mischievous glint in his eye. “I’ll make him regret he ever smelt alcohol.” He looked at Becca, appraising her condition. “Why’re you even dating him, Bex? He’s just turning you into what he is.”

“A leprechaun?” Becca snorted with laughter at her own joke.

“No, a freaking loser.” Shaking his head, Eric closed the door behind him.

Whaaaat? Ish he saying I’m a freakin’ loosher?” The dark-haired young woman turned to her friend.

Sighing, Samantha grabbed her hand. “C’mon Bex,” she said. “It’s time for bed.” With an arm around her waist, she helped Becca up the stairs to the women’s floor.  “Kim’s gonna be pissed at you, y’know,” she muttered. “I bet she’s sick of you coming home drunk every Friday night.”

“That’s what roomies are for. Getting pissed at. And with.” Becca groaned, clutching at her middle. “I think I’m gonna puke.”

There was one other student in the bathroom, brushing her teeth, when Samantha propelled her green-faced friend into a stall. She even held Becca’s hair back while she vomited; like Eric, she had gotten good at it due to the frequency of its occurrence.

“Bex drinking again?” called the other girl from her sink.

“Yeah,” Samantha called back.

“That makes four weeks in a row,” the other girl observed. “She ought to ditch that loser boyfriend. He’s going to get her into serious trouble.”

“Easier said than done,” Samantha grated out from between her teeth.

Why couldn’t she have dated Eric, instead? She wondered, and not for the first time. What does she see in Joey? And why am I still hanging around with them?

Disgusted with them and herself, Samantha helped her friend clean up and led her to her room. She knocked on the door. Fortunately, Kim wasn’t in. She had started playing it smart by going down to the community center—what students called “the Basement”—or watching movies with her friends on the weekend nights. Samantha envied her.

Becca managed to unlock her own door and trudged into her dark room. She collapsed onto her bed, burying her face in her pillow. “Dear God,” she groaned. She sounded almost sober. “What am I doing?” She rolled over on her side, gazing at her friend, limned in fluorescent light on the threshold. “Go ahead.  I can feel you judging, Sam. Say your piece.”

“What good will it do?” Samantha replied softly. “You’ll just do it again tomorrow night, and next week, and the weekend after that.”

Becca tilted her face to the side, her dark hair falling in waves against her pillow. She’s so beautiful, Samantha mused, but her eyes are filled with sadness.

“It’s not much fun for you, is it?” Becca said, and sprawled out on her back. “But you’re still here.”

Knowing that was the closest thing to an apology that Becca would ever give to her, Samantha went over to her and hugged her, golden hair mingling with brown on the pillow.

“Yeah,” Samantha said. “I’m still here.”

Becca pulled Samantha down next to her, squeezing her tight. Her body shook, wracked with sobs. Samantha held her until she quieted into slumber, and then rose from the bed. She smoothed her friend’s hair back from her face with gentle fingers.

This has to stop, she decided. You should be with Eric. He’ll treat you right and keep you on the right path. Resolved, Samantha left the room, closing the door softly behind her. She turned toward the stairwell, and saw Kim coming down the corridor.

“Is she out?”

Samantha nodded. “Yep. Like a light.”

“Thanks. G’night, then.” Kim smiled at her.

“G’night, Kim.”

Feeling waves of depression welling up inside her, Samantha walked past her own room, two doors down from the back staircase, and down the stairs to the men’s floor.

Eric’s face registered a pleased sort of surprise when he opened the door. “I didn’t expect to see you back here tonight.” He peered down at her distraught expression. “Is Bex okay? Are you okay?”

“I…I think so.” Samantha peered past him into the dimly lit room. “Is Joey…still sleeping?”

“Out stone cold.” Eric grinned. “Come in.  I’d offer to take you down to the Basement, but my cousin is coming over. We’ll go once he gets here.”

“Oh! I can go…”

“Nah, he won’t care.” Eric waved her in. “He likes meeting my friends.”

Samantha found herself sitting in an elderly orange bean-bag chair while Eric sorted through his manga collection for a volume he was dead certain that she’d find interesting. Behind her, Joey noisily sawed logs.

Samantha stared at the back of Eric’s head, the way his black hair tapered down neatly to the nape of his neck. “Eric,” she said. “You like Becca, right?”

He froze, a book in hand. He turned to face her, his blue eyes wary. “Yeah,” he replied slowly.

“I mean like like her,” continued Samantha, feeling lame.

“Yeah.” The young man glanced over at his roommate, as if to be sure he was still asleep. Snoring, Joey remained oblivious to their conversation. “What’s your point?”

Feeling her face heat up, Samantha looked down into her lap, confusion clouding her resolve. “You’re nice.  I just wish…Becca was with you.”

“Well, she’s not.” Eric’s voice was brittle. “We could wish the stars from the sky, but it’s not gonna happen.”

“Sorry.” Samantha felt ashamed for hurting his feelings. Eric wasn’t a close friend, but she cared about him all the same. Tears burned in her eyes.

“Shoot.” He crouched down beside her, an awkward hand on her shoulder. “Please don’t cry, Sam. You can talk to me.”

Her heart in her throat, Samantha looked up at him, and was just opening her mouth to speak when the call buzzer went off by the door. Eric mouthed an obscenity and went to the speaking grill. Samantha wiped her eyes with the hem of her T-shirt.

“It’s me, Eric!” A distorted male voice spoke loudly through the grill, and Samantha started, her heart palpitating.

“Okay, I’ll be right down. With a surprise!” Eric shouted back into the grill. He turned to the despondent young woman in the bean-bag chair. “He’s here.  Maybe you should come with me. I don’t want to leave you alone with my drunken roommate.”

“Are you sure? I could just go back to my room.”

“I already promised him a surprise. That’s you. C’mon.” Eric jerked his head toward the door. “We’ll cheer you up. And no booze, I promise.”

Samantha laughed and awkwardly lurched to her feet. Spontaneously, she hugged him. “Thanks, Eric.”

“No problem,” He said, blushing. “Hey! I’ll race you there.”

Suddenly feeling happier than she had for days, Samantha bounced down the stairs behind him, a strange giddiness bubbling within her breast. It was odd, the way her emotions were swinging around tonight. For a fleeting moment, she wished that Eric liked her the way he did her best friend, but she hastily banished that thought. She wasn’t even sure if she liked him in that way; the young man she was interested in was a fellow biology major with artistic aspirations. As far as she knew, Greg seemed like a nice enough guy. She grinned to herself as she rounded the last bend on Eric’s heels, and crashed into him when he stopped suddenly to avoid trampling a group of girls coming up the stairs.

“Whoa-ho, Callahan!” one of them yelled, leering at the two of them.

“Hey, it’s Samantha!” another girl exclaimed, reaching out to snag her arm and disentangle her from the embarrassed young man. It was Mary, one of her upperclassman friends. “You wanna watch a movie with us? Your cute friend is welcome, if he wants.”

“Uh, no thanks, ladies,” Eric responded, blushing furiously. “Sam and I are meeting my cousin…unless you’d rather go with them?” He glanced at Samantha.

“Maybe tomorrow, Mary,” Samantha told her friend. “I promised Eric I’d meet his cousin.”

“Have fun, Sam!” Mary winked at her. Continuing up the stairs, the other young women laughed amongst themselves, as if they knew a secret that Samantha did not.

“Sheesh,” she said. She felt her face heat up as her eyes met Eric’s.

Eric shrugged. “They’re just being girls. C’mon.”

With the echoes of the group’s laughter echo receding behind them, the two emerged into the lobby. As they passed the front desk, the RA on duty looked up from her paperback book—something by Stephen King, Samantha noted in passing—long enough to say “your cousin’s here again, Eric.”

“Thanks. And have a good night.”

“You too. Oh, hi Sam.”

Samantha smiled and murmured something polite before following Eric to the front door. Peering into the vestibule, she could see someone leaning up against the wall. Her heart froze in her chest.

It was a cop.

And that’s all I have. So, what do you think? Does it have novel potential or is it crap?