Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Okay...Here's a Peek

With the re-release of the newly edited Scarlet and the Keepers of the Light and Dragon's Burden under Banjo Publishing now only a month away and the third book still five months out, I thought I'd give fans of the series a couple little treats to tide you over.  But first a bit of business: I've been doing a great deal of juggling lately with work, school and writing and so I've been a bit absent from facebook, twitter and the like.  It always seems like life happens in spurts.  If any one of these events had occurred last year, I wouldn't have had much juggling to do at all.  Then again, I like juggling (refer to past posts) so I'm having a great time.  If you have written to me lately, with questions or comments, I promise I will get to your emails and tweets.  Please be patient.  Also, during the month of September, the month following the re-release, I'm setting a goal of 2500 novels sold.  It's a bit of a undertaking, but with your help, spreading the word and sharing the adventure, I know we can reach it.  Now to the fun parts:

If you look above, you'll find the finalized covers for Keepers of the Light and Dragon's Burden.  I gave you a peek at the prototype in my last post, but these are the final product.  I'll let you on a little secret...the third book's cover is completed as well and with that cover of course, comes a title.  Scarlet and the Queen of the New World.  Now as much as I'd love to give you all the ins and outs of the new book, I wouldn't want to ruin the experience of reading it, so you'll have to wait.  I will tell you that all the characters are back for the third installment along with a few interesting creatures and places you'll be reading about for the first time.  Scarlet's certainly got her work cut out for her this time around as the scope of the story, the dangers and her responsibilities grow exponentially.  One thing I've continued that those who've read the first two books will remember is starting each book with a preface that gives a glimpse into the world of Satorium before the events of the novel's main story.  Which brings me to my second treat.  Below, you will find the draft of the Preface from Scarlet and the Queen of the New World which gives a bit of insight into the origins of Brennan.  Now I can't guarantee that there isn't an error or two or that it won't change ever so slightly, but I thought I'd share all the same.  I hope you enjoy.    

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Preface: A Conquered’s Choice

Kalista sat down in the hard dry earth hoping that her masters wouldn’t happen by and notice her resting.  Luckily the slavers were off site and would not likely return for a while.  Possibly not until tomorrow if she was lucky.  The group of Doran slavers in charge of the quarry was notoriously lazy and would often disappear to the nearby town to get drunk and lewd.  Last month Kalista and her Conquered companions had been left alone for three whole days, which would have been a blessing if it hadn’t been for the extreme violence they were subjected to upon the slavers return.
Kalista reached down and ran her hands over her swollen belly.  The baby would be coming any day now.  The thought brought tears that ran hot down her dust-covered face leaving streaks on her cheeks.  Looking around at the quarry, dotted by a few dozen slaves working endlessly in the hot afternoon sun, Kalista felt a wave of guilt.  She was going to bring a baby into this world.  This world of suffering and servitude.  Her child was condemned before it was even born.
Kalista let her eyes close and for a moment, she let her mind wander to a different place.  Her place.  Not from memory because she had been born a slave and knew nothing else, but a place she had invented.  It was a secluded section of woods by a stream with a small log house.  There was always light smoke rising from the chimney and a ripening garden in the lawn out front.  Her love was there, tending to the garden or stoking the fire, waiting to welcome her in his strong arms.  It was a wonderful place full of peace and hope and about as far from her reality as she could possibly imagine. 
“Kali,” Kalista heard a distant voice call through her reverie.  She did not immediately open her eyes or leave the tranquility of her secret place.  The voice that called to her was her love’s and he could only be in this daydream.  The slavers had separated them months ago and sent him to another slave camp.  A camp that was many days travels from where she toiled.  “Kali, wake up,” came the voice again.
Reluctantly, with more than a touch of irritation, Kalista opened her eyes, promising herself that she would return soon.  The sight of the figure standing over her made her gasp, first with shock and then with impossible elation.  He was here, standing right in front of her.  Her love.
Unable to speak, Kalista rose to her feet and practically threw herself into his arms.  “It can’t be,” she began to sob against his chest.  “Evander, are you real?”
“Of course I’m real,” Evander said, holding her tightly.  Kalista was shaking with the tumult of emotions that were raging through her.
“But they sent you away,” Kalista sobbed.  “They took you away from me.”
For a long moment Evander held her and let her release the anguish that she had been holding back since the slavers had separated them.  She was going to need her wits about her and her emotions under control for what was to come.  After a long while, Kalista raised her head off of Evander’s chest and looked up at him with red swollen eyes.
“Why did they send you back?” she asked, confusion mixing with her euphoria.
“They didn’t send me back,” Evander answered simply, giving Kalista a weak smile.  It was going to be difficult to keep her calm once he told her what had happened.  What he had done.
“I don’t understand,” Kalista said, a look of worry deepening the lines on her face.
“Kali, my love, we don’t have much time.  I need you to listen carefully and you can’t argue with me, not about this,” Evander said, a little too desperately.
Kalista’s frown became more like a scowl as she looked up at Evander.  Despite the fact that Kalista was tall for a female Conquered, Evander was even taller, standing over seven feet.  His blond hair was wild and matted, raggedly cut at his shoulders.  His eyes were like multicolored marbles, deep and ever changing.  Normally those eyes could melt Kalista with a single glance, but on rare occasions, like this one, Kalista was entirely immune to Evander’s gaze.
“What is going on, Evander?” Kalista said sternly.
Evander placed his large hands on Kalista’s shoulders and leaned down so that they were eye to eye.  “I’m not going to have our child be born a slave.  Have him live and die as a slave.  Not our child.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Kalista said confused.  “That is what we are…the Conquered.
“No, Kali.  That’s not what we are.  That’s not what we have to be,” Evander said, his voice almost forceful.
“Did you…oh, Evander,” Kalista shuddered, shaking her head in disbelief.  “Did you escape?  Did you run?”  Evander didn’t have to answer; Kalista could see from the look on his face.  “They’re going to kill you.”
“No, they’re not.  We’re both going to escape,” Evander began.
“But, Evander____
“No…no buts.  We’re going someplace safe.  Somewhere where they can’t find us.  Where we can raise our child to be free.” 
There was a glint in Evander’s eyes that Kalista had never seen before.  It spoke of hope and wild passion.  Looking into his eyes she realized that there would be no swaying him.  He had made up his mind.  Kalista’s hands went to her stomach nervously.
“The slavers will be back soon.  They’ll notice me missing and they’ll send out a hunting party.  They’ll find us before we get out of the outer quarry.”  Kalista made a point of looking down at her stomach.  “Look at me.  There is no way I can outrun a hunting party.”
Evander looked down on the ground for a moment and Kalista thought she saw shame in his eyes, if only for an instant.  “The slavers won’t be coming back anytime soon,” Evander said solemnly.
“What do you mean?” Kalista asked, almost afraid of the answer.
Evander turned away from her and looked out over the quarry.  Of the dozens of slaves working the camp, only he and Kalista were Conquered.  As far as he knew, he and Kalista were the only Conquered left in the whole of Satorium.  That might have been why he had done all this.  Why he had run.  Why he had fought.  Why he had killed.  He just couldn’t let the last Conquered born to live its life as a slave.  He wouldn’t allow that.
He turned back to Kalista.  “Until the slavers are reported missing, there will be no one coming for us.  We’ll have days to get a head start on any hunting party the slavers send.”
Kalista began to cry again.  This was all too much.  She was overly emotional as it was with the pregnancy and now, her world was being turned upside down.  She was struggling against everything she had ever known to accept what Evander was asking her to do.  She had been born a slave.  She had accepted her fate.  But she loved Evander.  Loved him with such ferocity that she had been willing to risk the harshest of punishments to be with him.  And now she carried his child whom she already loved equally as much.  The thought of the unborn child inside her suffering for its entire life in servitude hurt her more than the most severe whipping she had ever received.  Could it really be possible that she and Evander could find another life?  Could raise their baby away from all this pain and sorrow?
“You killed them?” Kalista asked, her voice a touch firmer than it had been moments ago.
“I did,” Evander answered, raising his eyes to meet Kalista’s.  The shame was gone from his eyes, replaced by resoluteness that gave Kalista strength.
For a moment, neither spoke. 
“Let’s go,” Kalista responded, suddenly.  “We are wasting time.”
“Then you’ll come with me,” Evander exclaimed, unable to hold back his excitement.
“Of course I will, my love.  I’ll follow you anywhere,” Kalista answered.
That was all Evander needed to hear.  Wasting no more time with discussion, he took her hand and began leading her toward the northeast section of the quarry, in the direction of Caelesta and beyond.  The other slaves who had paid little attention to their conversation, now focused intently on Kalista and Evander as they approached the edge of the quarry and the boundary of the campgrounds.  A few shouted protests at the fleeing couple; all slaves were punished when there was an escape attempt.  Evander trudged on, oblivious to the cries of the others.  He and Kalista could not afford delays, nor could they risk trying to convince the other slaves to join them.
As they left the quarry behind, Evander felt a twinge of guilt for what would eventually happen to the slaves back at the camp.  They were not his responsibility however, Kalista and their baby were.  Besides, they had the same opportunity as he.  If they wanted to, they too could attempt escape. 
The rocky ground of the quarry gave way to sparse woods.  Soon the trees would begin thickening as they approached the Dreary Mire, which connected the great river of the Southern Woodlands with the Conquered Bay on the southwestern coast of Satorium in a massive coastal plain swamp.  Few would chose the Mire as a route from the coast to Caelesta, choosing instead the more forgiving landscape of the eastern pass, avoiding the Mire and the Southern Woodlands.  It was for this very reason that Evander choose to take Kalista into the Mire.
Cypress, black gum, juniper and water ash trees dominated the landscape as the ground became wet underfoot, making each step Evander and Kalista took all the more challenging.  Soon night would fall and they would have more than just exhaustion to deal with as the Mire’s varied wildlife emerged from their dens in search of food.  There weren’t many creatures that would view Evander and Kalista as a potential meal, but the few that would were vicious. 
Tiranthropes were not unheard of in the Mire nor were the occasional Incruetatus, but the Kaprosukas, territorial reptilian creatures that resembled long legged crocodiles with boar like tusks and teeth growing six inches long or more, were numerous.  The Kaproes, as most in Satorium called them, reigned at the top of the food chain in the Mire, growing up to twenty feet long and able to move their thousand pounds of sheer muscle with disturbing speed.  Running across one of the Kaproes would mean certain death for those venturing through the Mire.  Evander and Kalista’s only chance would be to avoid any areas that looked like Kapro hunting or breeding grounds, cross their fingers and hope for the best. 
There were also a great many creatures that were deadly despite not finding the two Conquered as suitable meals.  Luckily, the Conquered where immune to the poisonous plant life that populated the low growth of the Mire, however, although they would be less susceptible than others, the poisonous snakes that called the Mire home could prove highly debilitating.  All in all, it was not a pleasant place to visit.
As the sun finally disappeared beneath the western canopy, the Mire came alive with a cacophony of voices.  Insects, small reptiles and amphibians all began to call out in competition to have their voices heard.  In the distance, the low deep grumble of the Kaproes could even be heard.  Evander quickly began searching for somewhere they could spend the night in some manner of safety.  The had spent the entire day trekking into the heart of the Mire and any search party the slavers could mass would still be at least another day from forming.  Although a part of him wanted to press on, adding to the distance between them and the slavers, he knew better.  To continue traveling the Mire at night would be foolish and deadly.
Evander soon found an ancient water ash whose crooked branches began low and continued thickly and healthily sixty feet above.  He helped Kalista get to the low branches and guided her half way up the tree, finding a comfortable spot at the crook of two connected limbs.  At this height, the Mire seemed different.  Less dangerous somehow, as if the peril was merely part of a play being performed below them.  Although Evander wasn’t sure they were quite as safe as that, he did know that Kaproes couldn’t climb trees.  Anything else he would take as it came.
Kalista fell into a deep sleep with her head against Evander’s chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her.  Evander allowed himself a moment of peace from the reeling thoughts of his mind.  From the moment he had decided to escape, the moment he decided that his child would not be born a slave, Evander’s head had been a tumult of schemes, plans, fears and dared hope.  With Kalista, his love, resting against him, he felt the storm inside him calm.  Despite his best efforts, he too slipped into a quiet slumber.
The sounds that woke Evander were not loud, but his eyes snapped open as quickly as if someone had screamed in his ear.  He lay silent feeling the weight of Kalista still against him and for a moment, there was only the sound of her breathing.  Evander was beginning to think that it had been a dream that had woken him when the sounds came against.  Not loud, but out of place for the Mire.  Figures that did not belong, skilled as they might be, were moving through the swamp and they were coming closer.
Fearing that Kalista might make a noise before he could warn her, Evander left her sleeping.  He craned his neck and tried to see through the dark.  He thought he could make out shapes moving through the trees, but the Mire was filled with the shadows of thousands of living things.  Then the figures Evander had heard made their first mistake.  It was barely a whisper, but against the backdrop of the Mire, with only nature filling the air with its sound, the voices carried directly to Evander’s ears.  Slavers.
It didn’t seem possible, but slavers had followed Evander and Kalista into the Mire.  How had they discovered their escape so fast?  Evander was sure they would have at least a day’s head start.  And who in their right mind, other than he and Kalista, would venture into the Mire?
As the slavers came closer, Evander could begin to make out their shapes more clearly.  The hunting party was made up of seven large slavers.  Evander couldn’t be sure in the dark, but they looked to be armed with an assortment of weapons, some carried long poles that Evander knew would be the barbed spears the slavers carried to debilitate the legs of the escaping slaves.  A few would also be carrying whips.  Although not an effective weapon for a wilderness environment with tightly clumped trees, they would be carrying them nonetheless for the fear the whips struck in the memory of slaves.  The slavers came within a few yards of Evander and Kalista’s tree and stopped.  Evander’s breath caught in his throat.
The slaver’s seemed to be resting, although their silent posture gave their appearance a more ominous feel.  It could just as easily be that they had heard or seen something and were just waiting to hear it again.  Evander drew in a slow breath and said a silent prayer to anyone who might listen that Kalista didn’t wake or stir.  After several long, torturous minutes, the hunting party gathered themselves and began moving, passing directly underneath the water ash.  Just as the last slaver passed and Evander felt a small twinge of relief, Kalista stirred, letting out the slightest of murmurs.  Evander quickly clasped his hand to her mouth, meeting her shocked eyes with a look that pleaded with her to be silent.  The fear she saw in Evander’s eyes spoke more clearly than if he had shouted at her, and she clamped her eyes and mouth shut, as if the slightest gap in either would betray a sound.
The murmur had been enough.  Like the sounds that first alerted Evander to the slaver’s presence, her soft, sleepy mumble had been out of place in the Mire.  It just didn’t belong.  There was a quick shuffling of fabric as the slavers began gesturing to each other with hand signals.  How they could see each other clearly enough to understand one another, Evander couldn’t guess, but the hunting party spread out and began methodically searching the area back in Evander and Kalista’s direction.
Seven large slavers.  Evander was larger than any one of them and stronger by far, but seven together…it was a fight he was not likely to survive.  Evander wondered whether by just remaining silent, if he and Kalista could wait the slavers out in their tree.  No…the hunting party would not give up.  Certainly not one so motivated as to have entered the Mire to search for them.  Not after hearing Kalista’s voice.  They would keep searching in circles through the area until the sun rose and then there would be no darkness to hide them.  In that terrible moment, with Kalista shivering against him, their child growing inside her, Evander knew what he must do.
Evander placed his lips against Kalista’s ear and in a voice that was barely a whisper he said, “I love you.  No matter what happens, don’t move, don’t make a sound.”
Evander didn’t give Kalista a chance to protest.  He slipped out from beneath her, and crept down the tree and then out onto a branch as far out as he dared.  Evander took in a full, deep breath and then leapt from the branch into the darkness.  Landing hard on the damp earth with a wet thwack, Evander was on his feet in an instant.  He ignored the sharp pain in his ankle and trudged loudly through the thick vegetation, instantly drawing the pursuit of the hunting party in his direction and away from Kalista.  He planned to run as long as he could, hoping that at least by the time they caught up with him, the slavers would be so far away from Kalista’s tree, they wouldn’t think to find their way back.
The Mire pulled at his feet with every step, making his legs burn and work twice as hard.  Evander’s only consolation was that the hunting party would be having the same difficulty.  Ahead of Evander was an endless expanse of shifting shadows.  Evander ran, headless of any danger or fear of running into trees or pits or murky water.  All that mattered was the distance he could put between the slavers and Kalista.  The chase lasted most of an hour before Evander’s legs finally began to fail him.  He had slowed to a trudging march and could hear the slavers behind him.  Taking a final step, Evander turned, deciding that the time had come to face them.  He would take as many with him as he could before he died.  He would make them sorry they had ever pursued he and Kalista into the Mire.
A low rumbling sound came from the direction he had been running.  A sound that both filled Evander with terror and elation.  Evander wouldn’t be the only thing the slavers would face this night.  The Kaprosukas had unknowingly joined his cause.

Kalista huddled in the bough of the water ash, cradling her stomach and weeping, helpless, silent tears.  She understood what Evander had done.  The sacrifice he had made for her and their baby.  She understood that he would not be coming back.
Finally, the sun rose above the eastern tree line, lending dappled light to the Mire.  There had not been a sound in the Mire for hours.  The morning was quiet and calm and as telling as a eulogy.  Kalista made her way down the tree, feeling her sorrow deepen with each cautious step toward the swamp below.  It was as if up in the tree she could still hold onto to the fantasy that it wasn’t real.  That the night before had been merely a nightmare.  But once she reached the ground, the fantasy would fade completely. 
She sank against the trunk of the tree, oblivious to the wet earth that seeped through the fabric of her skirts.  She wept without any concern for who might hear her, about how far her wailing would carry through the Mire.  It took her nearly a half an hour before the sobs began to subside and she could get to her feet.
Kalista had no idea which way to go.  The only direction she was sure that she could not go was back.  It wasn’t just that the slavers would punish her, probably even kill her for running.  More than that, she couldn’t bear the thought that all of this had been for nothing.  That it had meant nothing.  Her eyes fixed on the trail of broken branches and disturbed earth leading away from the tree.  Evander had run in that direction and against her better judgment; she began to follow the trail.
It took her three hours before she reached the end of the trail Evander and the hunting party had carved through the Mire.  What she found left her numb.  The bodies of all seven slavers lay dead in a scene of carnage and violence.  In a daze she walked amongst them, tears falling hot against her face that she did not even know she was shedding.  She left the slaver’s bodies behind, following a new set of tracks that led away from the carnage.  Perhaps fifty feet away from the slavers, Kalista found Evander. 
Evander lay motionless, half of his body underneath the chest of a massive Kapro.  Evander’s arms were still clutched around the great reptile’s neck.  Kalista approached Evander, her eyes fixed on the lifeless eyes of the Kapro.  It was difficult to figure out what exactly had happened, but somehow, Evander had killed the massive beast.  Had strangled the life out of the monster.
Kalista knelt down beside Evander’s head and began to comb his hair from his face with her fingers.  As if waking from a peaceful sleep, Evander’s eyes opened.
“My love,” he rasped, managing the weakest of smiles.
Kalista bent down and kissed his eyes.  She could not find her voice.
“You have to get our baby to freedom,” Evander managed, each word he spoke seeming to take a colossal effort.  “Our child will be born free.”
Kalista nodded, continuing to stroke Evander’s hair.
“Promise me, Kalista.  Promise me you’ll get to safety.  That you’ll find a safe place,” Evander said, his own tears falling. 
“I…I promise.  He will be born free,” Kalista sobbed.
Evander reached up and touched Kalista’s face.  “He?” he smiled.
“It’s going to be a boy, just like his father.  I just know it,” Kalista replied.  “Brave and strong.”
Evander’s eyes closed. 
“No…please no,” Kalista panicked.  “Not yet, please.  Just one more moment.  Oh, please.”
Evander opened his eyes and gave Kalista one last smile.  “What will you name him?” he asked, his voice fading.
Kalista kissed Evander and whispered into his ear as he faded away, “Brennan.  Brennan, free son of Evander.”

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Scarlet Hopewell