on Heartfire

Hi there!

One of the best parts of storytelling is crafting worlds to suit your narrative. This doesn’t just apply to speculative fiction; every story is, in a way, its own world. It’s a place your reader can settle into like a favorite chair – or an iron throne, depending on what sort of world you’re building. 😉

Today is the Winter Solstice, ie: Heartfire in the world of Catalyst Moon. This is the longest night of the year, when the darkness is at its strongest. After tonight, though, the balance of light and dark will tip again, and the light will return.

What follows is a deleted scene from Catalyst Moon: Breach featuring the myth of Heartfire. I chose to remove this scene from the final novel in favor of weaving the myth into the narrative at various points, thus allowing the reader to find the story in their own time. But there’s something to be said in seeing it all laid out in one go.

Enjoy, and stay awesome.

Lauren


Kali toyed with the hem of her sweater, trying to remember how exactly the tale went, then took a deep breath and began. “They say the world was new. Back then, the gods walked among the trees like mortal men and women, though they were not mortal, of course. But they existed in much the same way as we do now. They quarreled. They laughed. They loved.

“They say Amaranthea, the goddess of all things bright, loved the god Tor. They say Tor loved her as well, deeply, and without reservation.” Of their own accord, Kali’s eyes flickered to Stonewall. He was watching her. She tried not to think about that and continued. “They say all was well for a long time…until the Laughing God saw Amaranthea’s light and wanted to snuff it out. The Laughing God dwells in darkness, you see, and wanted to shape the One’s world similarly.

“One night, while Amaranthea slept, the Laughing God crept to her bower and covered her. They say–”

“Wait,” Beacon broke in. “Sorry to interrupt, but I never understood that part. ‘Covered her?’”

It was Flint who answered. “He raped her.”

“He?” Milo said, frowning. “I thought the Laughing God was neither a man nor a woman, like the One.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Flint said darkly.

“Doesn’t it?” Beacon asked.

Flint shook her head. “The point is, the Laughing God violated Amaranthea. Her light faded. It doesn’t matter how. Now be quiet, frip, and let the mage finish.”

Kali had followed the exchange, but chose not to comment. “As Flint says, Amaranthea’s light faded after the Laughing God had finished with her. She lay alone in her bower for many days, such that the sky remained dark and the world grew cold. At last, Tor, having returned from a task that had sent him far away, came home to his love and found her in deep despair.

“’What has happened?’ he asked, dropping his traveling pack as he knelt beside her.

“Amaranthea, too stricken with grief and shame, did not reply at first, but his presence soothed her heart, and at last he coaxed the tale from her. Upon hearing her account, Tor’s face grew dark with anger and his fists turned hard, like stone. He rose from her side and strode away.

“’Where do you go?’ she called.

“He did not turn as he said, ‘To avenge you.’

“’I have no need for vengeance,’ she replied. ‘Please, stay.’

“But he left. He picked up his pack and journeyed far, all the way to the entrance to the Shadowlands, where they say the Laughing God lives. There, he–”

“Where’s that?” Milo interrupted. “The ‘Shadowlands?’”

“It’s not a real place,” Kali replied. “I think it’s a metaphor. Probably for the ‘darkness within,’ or some such.” Milo stared at her blankly, so she made a dismissive gesture. “It’s just a story. It’s a made-up place.”

“No, it’s real,” he said. “If it has something to do with the gods, it’s real.”

Kali fought the urge to roll her eyes. She had little desire to poke holes in the younger man’s beliefs. Likely, that would happen without any help from her, probably too soon. “Then it’s somewhere very far away from here,” she said. “May I continue?”

He winced. “Aye, of course. Sorry. Here,” he added, holding out the flask. “Your throat must be getting dry.”

She accepted; the whiskey burned her throat, but sent a pleasant warmth through her belly. She took only a small sip, then passed the flask back to him. Milo offered it to Sadira, who refused, though Beacon and Flint each took a drink. Stonewall did, too, after a moment. Rook declined. Milo didn’t drink any, either.

Kali continued the tale. “They say Tor traveled all the way to the Shadowlands alone, on foot, spurred on by the anger in his heart at what had been done to his love. They say he neither ate nor rested, only traveled until he reached the edge of the Laughing God’s home and bellowed a challenge into the black abyss. At first, silence was the only reply, so he called out again, urging the Laughing God to meet him in a fair and honorable fight. At last, a shadow seemed to separate itself from the darkness of the cave, taking the form of a woman with long, dark hair and skin the color of the deepest night.”

“Nox,” Flint whispered. Her blue eyes were very wide and round.

Kali nodded. “Aye. Nox came forth and beckoned Tor with her staff. But he stood his ground and met her eyes and said, ‘Where is your master? Where is the Laughing God?’

“Again, Nox beckoned Tor. Again, Tor demanded to speak with the Laughing God. The goddess beckoned him a third time. Anger had coiled about his heart like a serpent, but he kept his voice from betraying his feelings and instead held Nox’s gaze as he said, ‘I will go no further until I see your master for myself, so that I may avenge what was done to my soul-bonded.’

“He’d supposed that Nox would merely beckon him again, and so prepared to make his way forward without her guidance, but to his surprise, she relented. Nox bowed low and faded into the shadows. They say a voice emerged, then, a voice unlike any he’d ever heard. It filled him from the inside-out, turned his insides into ice and set fire to his blood. It was the Laughing God, whose words are ill luck to repeat and whose language is unknown to us now.

“But Tor heard and understood that the Laughing God had agreed to his challenge. All he had to do was step into the shadows, where the Laughing God promised to meet him in honorable combat. Though Tor had reservations, his conviction was strong as his blade, and he stepped forward until the darkness consumed him, utterly. And he…”

Suddenly it was difficult to speak, for her eyes burned and her throat tightened, and she had to clench her hands into fists to keep them from trembling. Why had this silly story affected her so?

“And he what?” Flint’s voice was soft, her expression rapt. She looked so young. Milo leaned forward intently, gaze fixed on Kali. Beacon watched her, too, as did Sadira. She didn’t look at Stone or Rook.

Instead, she took a deep breath to calm herself. “He was lost.”

Milo sucked in his breath and looked at his sister, who hugged her arms to her armored sides. “What happened, then?” he asked.

“Amaranthea found him, didn’t she?” Flint said, brow furrowing faintly.

Kali nodded. “But not for some time. Tor disappeared for a long while – some say days, others say decades. But eventually, Amaranthea came looking for him. She still grieved, but the thought of losing the one she loved was a worse pain than reliving her own grief in her mind, so she set herself the task of finding Tor. She knew his ways and knew where he had gone, so she journeyed far until she, too, came to the Shadowlands.

“They say she stood at the yawning chasm and looked into the darkness, gathering her courage, before she took a step forward. It was then that Nox appeared, holding her staff across the cave’s entrance as if to block Amaranthea’s passage.

“’Let me pass,’ Amaranthea said.

“Nox only stared at her with eyes like the void, then shook her head, slowly.

“’Please,’ the bright goddess said. ‘I have no quarrel with you. I only seek the man I love – my soul-bonded. Please let me pass.’”

“Again, Nox shook her head.

“Anger bloomed in Amaranthea’s heart. Anger for Tor, at what he’d set out to do so foolishly, so nobly. Anger at Nox, for hindering her path. Anger at herself, for not protesting more when the Laughing God had come to her. But above all of these was anger at the Laughing God, for rending her life so completely. Anger bloomed inside of her heart like the fire before us now, and she felt its power surge through her very bones.

“Amaranthea did not realize the light came from her until Nox reared back in shock, her dark face suddenly illuminated by an unfamiliar glow. Cast in such light, Nox looked older and more frail than Amaranthea had realized, and she felt pity for the other goddess. She glanced down and saw the bright glow burning from her heart – some say the light was gold, others silver, others say pink or red or orange, or all of them together. It matters not. Light poured from Amaranthea, illuminating a path through the Shadowlands. The bright goddess brushed passed Nox and went forward alone and unhindered.

“Time passes differently for the gods than for mortals, so we do not know how long Amaranthea traveled through that shadowed country. But they say it was long enough for her anger to fade; long enough for exhaustion to slow her steps and tug her eyes closed. She found no sign of Tor. She found no one at all–”

“No guards or anything?” Milo broke in. Flint elbowed his side and he winced. “Sorry. Shutting up now.”

Perhaps Kali should have been annoyed, but she could find nothing inside of her but pleasure at the knowledge that the story had captured the audience’s attention so fiercely. It reminded her of playing her viol to an appreciative crowd.

“They say the bright goddess met no others on her travels though the Shadowlands,” Kali went on, giving Milo a warm look to let him know she wasn’t annoyed. “But the longer she traveled, the more tired she became, and her light dimmed. The shadows grew thicker around her. The Laughing God’s desire had come to pass when she’d chosen to descend, for with Amaranthea’s absence from the world, all light faded and the shadows ran rampant.

“They say Amaranthea could feel the despair of Mara, Ea, Llyr, and all of the other gods. She could hear them cry out to her, ‘please return!’ Many times, she made to turn back. But each time, she thought of Tor, her soul-bonded, the love of not just this life, but all lives, and her resolve grew strong again. So she traveled. So her light dimmed and dimmed, and she grew weaker and weaker, until she crawled on hands and knees, groping through the darkness to take her next step.

“They say when her light went out, she collapsed, too heartsick to continue.

“But her hand, which had been extended to feel the way forward, touched something familiar: Tor’s traveling pack. Startled but hopeful, Amaranthea pulled the pack close and began to rummage through, searching for something that she might use. The contents had been crushed, as if under the weight of some heavy stone, so there was nothing but a single candle. It was enough.

“With a final burst of strength, Amaranthea lit the candle. It was a small flame, barely anything at all, but it drove the worst of the shadows back and revealed a trail of blood on the ground, leading further into the darkness. Despair clung to her for a moment, for surely Tor was injured – or worse – but she clutched the candle and began to follow the trail. It led her through the Shadowlands, into they very heart of the Laughing God’s domain. It led her to Tor.

“They say she found him lying at the gates of the Laughing God’s fortress. She thought him dead at first, until she marked the rise and fall of his chest; he was broken, bleeding. But alive. Amaranthea knelt beside Tor and tried to revive him, though she was certain the Laughing God would arrive at any moment and she was not strong enough to fight.

“’Tor,’ she pleaded, touching his face. ‘Please wake up. We must leave.’

“They say after some time, he opened his eyes and regarded her with wonder. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.

“’I came after you,’ was all she could say before a dark, echoing laughter filled the shadows around them, pressing down upon Amaranthea’s heart with dread. ‘Get up,’ she urged Tor. ‘We have to leave at once.’

“I cannot protect you,’ he said. ‘You should leave this place, alone.’

“But they say the bright goddess grew angry again at these words. ‘Enough of that,’ she said, helping him to his feet. ‘You are mine and I am yours. We leave together, or not at all.’

“He acquiesced and leaned on her shoulder, pressing his weight against her. The warmth of his body comforted her, so when the laughter came again, she was prepared. They say the bright goddess drew strength from herself and from Tor, and her heart blazed like the sun, shining upon the Shadowlands enough to cast them into light. They say she caught a glimpse of the Laughing God, who was not laughing now, in the moments before she and Tor hurried back the way she’d come. They say her candle was still lit, but it was love that showed them the way out of the darkness.”

Silence reigned for some moments until, to Kali’s surprise, Flint sniffed once, then swiped at her eyes, blinking furiously. “Ea’s balls, I love that fucking story.”

New content sneak peek!

Hiya!

It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the US, and I have so much to be thankful for. In an effort to give something back, and because I love you, here’s a sneak peek of an upcoming Catalyst Moon novella featuring a character you don’t know, but will meet in Book Four. Atanar was originally in Catalyst Moon: Incursion, but his story, while awesome, didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the narrative. So I removed him from that book with promises that he’d feature in another. He was a bit cross at first, but mollified once he learned he’d get his own novella. 😉

Atanar is a Canderi warrior whose impact on the events of the Catalyst Moon series can’t be overstated. I had a blast fleshing out more of the Canderi culture, language, and history, and I’m excited to share the full story with you soon. Atanar’s novella is written, but needs editing and a beta (or two!), so if you’re interested in taking a look, drop me a line at lalogareads@gmail. 🙂 I hope to have his book out after Book Three and before #4.

So without further adieu, please enjoy this sneak peek from my upcoming novella, Catalyst Moon: Exile.

Thanks for reading, stay awesome, and happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends! 🙂

Lauren


(Disclaimer: As stated, this is a relatively rough draft, so please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors, and anything else that feels “unpolished.”)

Atanar stood at the edge of the kulkri camp, hands bound behind his back while Sivoy and Tikaani argued a few paces away.

“He ruined the ambush,” she was saying. “And tried to strangle me!” 

            “In self-defense,” Atanar could not help but reply. He turned his cheek so that the afternoon sunlight fell upon what would surely be a nasty bruise. “And you–” 

            She cut him off mid-sentence. “He’s dangerous, just like I said. Utu, don’t you see now why we must send him away?”

Tikaani’s reply was quiet. “Atanar, what have you to say for yourself?”

Sivoy crossed her arms before her chest with huff, but her grandfather ignored her and kept his gaze upon Atanar. It was tempting to lower his gaze, to sink into that shame, but Atanar kept his chin high. “I will tell you what I told Sivoy,” he said slowly, carefully. “Hunting Aredian merchants is a coward’s ploy. They are little more than children; no doubt young Corvac could best any of them in a fair fight.”

“Hunting as we do is the way of our people,” Sivoy replied.

Atanar shook his head. “Not my people. Not Canderi. We abandoned those ways many generations ago. There is no strength needed to snap twigs and saplings. A true warrior, a true Canderi, only faces foes who are an even match.”

“By that logic, you would not hunt deer or rabbits,” Sivoy shot back. “Are you ‘true Canderi’ cannibals, then?”

Heat flooded Atanar’s face, causing his bruised cheek to burn. “Hunting as you do is lazy and cruel. You may as well steal milk from the mouths of babes. What sort of example are you setting for Corvac and the other young men and women? What kind of pride can you lay claim to when your lives are full of theft and trickery?”

She snorted. “Says the man who lays snares for rabbits and deer!”

“It’s not the same thing.”

“Isn’t it?”

Tikaani raised his hand in a plea for silence. When Atanar and Sivoy looked at him, he rubbed the bridge of his nose before glancing at Atanar. “You laid hands on my granddaughter, on our leader. Some of the others are calling for your death.” Atanar opened his mouth to reply, but the elderly man cut him off with a glare reminiscent of Sivoy’s. “Your own family has cast you aside. While you live among our family, you must act appropriately. You must follow the lead of our samaat, or you will be tossed back into the storm.

“And you,” Tikaani said to his granddaughter, who flinched. “You retaliated in anger. You acted violently and without judgment – do not try to argue, child. That is not the way of a proper samaat.

While Atanar would have liked to take pleasure in Sivoy’s visible discomfort at Tikaani’s reprimand, he could only hear Tikaani’s words echoing in his mind. “Your own family has cast you aside.

The elderly man sighed deeply. “Sivoy is our samaat, but as the clan elder, I have some measure of authority. And I have claimed responsibility for you, Atanar. So, then, Sivoy,” she looked up at her name, “if you wish to kill Atanar for his transgression, you must kill me as well.”

She blanched, then glared at Atanar. “You know I won’t do that, Utu.

“So what will you do?”

She was silent.

Tikaani sighed again before withdrawing a small knife from a sheathe at his waist. With one deft move, he cut through Atanar’s bonds. Blood prickled Atanar’s hands and forearms to life as the elderly kulkri replaced his knife and looked between the two younger folks.

“If we are to be a strong clan,” Tikaani said. “We must learn to work together for the greater good. Atanar is strange to our ways, Sivoy, but he has much to offer us – and you. Atanar, you have no other option than to remain with us; you must learn to appreciate our way of life. I think the two of you together would be like the strongest steel: able to withstand any foe. But you each must take care not to cut each other to pieces.” He straightened. “You are not to return to the main camp until you have reached an accord. Is that clear?”

Atanar shot Sivoy a sideways glance. Surely as samaat, she would object to being ordered? But she only offered a quick bow in the Aredian fashion and a quiet, “Yes, Utu.

Tikaani turned his pale eyes to Atanar, who spread his palms out to his sides in a proper Canderi gesture of assent. Tikaani nodded once before making his way back to the main body of the camp.

Atanar and Sivoy were alone.

The moment her grandfather was out of earshot, Sivoy muttered, “Ea’s tits!”

“At least swear like a Canderi,” Atanar grumbled, rubbing feeling back into his wrists.

“I’ll swear however I choose, vorunn.” She glared at him again, but it was short-lived, for she sighed deeply and slumped against a nearby tree.

Having nothing better to do at the moment, Atanar joined her. “What, exactly, does he expect us to do?”

She startled him with a laugh. “Wed.”

Pride and anger fled. Atanar gaped at her. “Wed? Us? Are you mad? Is he?”

“That’s what he meant with all that ‘the two of you together’ talk,” Sivoy said. “Didn’t you understand?”

Atanar groaned and closed his eyes. “Must have missed that.”

“Well, I didn’t,” she said grimly. “He’s been after me to wed for years. I got him off my back for a while, but I knew, the minute you came to us, he’d bring it up again.”

“Is that why he was so…eager to have me stay?”

She sighed again. “Aye. Well, one of the reasons – at least the only obvious one to me. I can’t see that you’d have any other uses besides fathering fat, blond babies.”

It was Atanar’s turn to laugh, and laugh he did. Unexpected, it bubbled up from some place within his belly and leaped out of his mouth, startling a pair of crows from their roost in the tree. When he glanced at Sivoy, she was frowning at him.

“Why is that so funny?” she demanded.

“Perhaps I could father babies,” he replied, still chuckling. “And in truth, I think I would like to be a father – one day, a very long time from now. But the act of fathering is not one I’m interested in…” He cleared his throat. “Well, with a woman.”

Understanding flashed in her eyes, and a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You prefer the company of men?”

“Very much so.” He considered her again. “Not that you’re–”

“Oh, shut up,” she replied, waving her hand. “Don’t pretend you like me or care what I think.”

“I have no wish to insult you as a woman.”

“Only as a hunter, a warrior, and leader.”

Atanar sighed. “There are many reasons I would not be a good husband to you.” Or to anyone. He kept that thought to himself.

She leaned her head back against the pine. When she spoke again, her voice was soft. “I would be a terrible wife to you.”

“No doubt.”

He’d said the words without thinking and expected a retaliatory remark, at least a glare, but she only stared up at the needles of the pine tree they rested against. “Though I would like children, too, I have no wish for a husband.”

The tone of her voice gave her away; within it, Atanar heard his own experience echoed. “You prefer women,” he said.

She nodded. “Utu has said it is a feeling that will pass, but it’s not passed after eighteen summers. I see no signs of change.” She sighed again, heavily. “He only wants me to bear children and continue our clan. But…”

The words died in the air between them, but Atanar understood. Too well, perhaps. His reply was slow and halting. “My mother felt the same way.” When Sivoy glanced at him in surprise, he grimaced. “She was the samaat of my clan. She is the one who named me voruun.

Sivoy’s face drained of all color. “But you said–”

“Yes, I murdered innocents,” he said. “But I broke her heart long before that night.” Not until the words left his mouth did he realize their truth, nor the way they cut him to the quick.

Neither spoke for several long moments until Sivoy exhaled and glanced back at him. “Corvac told me how he found you on the cliff. Did you want me to have you killed today?”

No trouble to meet her gaze now; no difficulty to speak the truth. “There is nothing left for me in this world, Sivoy.”

She looked away again. “And you call us cowards,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“I never said I wasn’t one,” he replied.

She grunted in what he imagined was reluctant humor before she turned so that she faced him, leaning her shoulder against the tree and crossing her arms before her chest. “So what happens now?”

“You ask as if I have the answer.” When she did not reply, Atanar glanced away from her, letting his gaze fall across the bustling camp. More than a few kulkri looked away quickly, though a few continued to stare openly. No doubt word of the foiled hunt had spread like fractures on a frozen lake.

Atanar considered a pair of kulkri tending to the horses before looking back at Sivoy. “You know,” he said carefully. “The Aredians do not share our people’s distaste for preferences such as yours and mine.”

Her pale brows arched in surprise, though she schooled her face to disinterest almost immediately. “Why should I care what Aredians think about anything?”

“There was a pair of traders my mother used to favor,” Atanar went on as if she’d not spoken. “Two women. They were married – to one another.” Sivoy sucked in a breath and Atanar felt a smile tug at his mouth. “They brought us some of the finest leather I’ve ever seen; soft as butter. Not to mention the chocolate…”

“Shock-ah-latt?” Sivoy stumbled over the foreign word.

Atanar nodded. “It’s food. I think. Well, it tastes wonderful. It’s made from some sort of bean the Aredians grow in the southern province.”

“A bean?” Sivoy pulled a face. “We have no use for those here.”

“Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But Aredians are quite inventive – as you’ve seen.” He gestured to the kulkri camp. “And many of them are eager to trade with us. Our steel is worth a great deal to them, as are the furs and meat we can easily hunt here.”

She frowned. “Surely even Aredians can hunt for those things.”

“Some of the hardier ones, perhaps. But most of them won’t travel this far north. And none of them would know what to do with an atsuula or caradoc.” He took a deep breath. “Have you ever considered trying to trade with them?” When she did not answer, he added, “Your family has much to offer.”

“None of us can speak proper Aredian,” she said at last, waving a hand in dismissal. “Besides, it’s too much trouble to gather items to trade when we can simply take what we wish.”

“I can speak enough Aredian to trade,” he replied. “My mother often called upon me to take on that responsibility. And as to your sort of hunting…”

He fought back a surge of anger at the notion of the kulkri‘s methods; even so, he felt the stirrings of vorunn within his heart. To counteract the feeling, he laced his hands together and dug his nails into his skin, letting the pain redirect his focus away from thoughts of violence. “How long can you sustain such a practice? Even Aredians have their limits. Eventually, they will come looking for the ones who’ve broken the Avalanche Truce.”

“I’m not afraid of their paltry armies.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have the numbers necessary to face an army, even an Aredian one.”

“Many other kulkri clans hunt as we do.”

“I know,” he said. “And you are all Canderi in the eyes of the Aredians. If one clan brings the branch down upon its own head, the rest of the tree will surely follow; the damage will spread to the rest of your people.” He allowed his words to sink in before adding, “My mother used to tell me that the most effective leaders often choose not to fight. They put their clan’s well-being above their pride.”

Given Sivoy’s attitude toward him so far, such words were a gamble, but he didn’t have much to lose. If she ignored his counsel – as he expected she would – he would be no worse off. But if she listened, he could save her people a great deal of trouble.

My people, too, he thought, but shook the notion away. He had no clan, nor family. Only vorunn. 

            She was quiet for several heartbeats, her gaze resting on the other kulkri who milled about the camp. Just when Atanar could stand the silence no longer, she sighed. “How would we go about trading with the Aredians? They all but piss themselves when they see us coming.”

He was startled at the strength of his relief, but tried – again – to keep his feelings from bleeding into his voice. “Gather items you wish to trade. Scout along the main roads until you see a caravan, then meet them in the open, with your swords thrust in the ground behind you and your goods spread on the ground at your feet. If they are willing to trade, they will approach. If not,” he could not suppress a smirk, “they will likely flee like rabbits.”

She straightened. “You wish us to meet them unarmed?”

“Not unarmed, just not actively armed,” he said. “Your claymore should be within easy reach, but you should not meet them as if in combat. Such a tradition is passed down from the Avalanche Truce.”

Sivoy shook her head. “What does that mean? What truce do you speak of?”

Now he could not help his surprise, though he tried to conceal it when her eyes narrowed. “The Avalanche Truce is the reason your people are no longer at war with the Aredians. Nearly fifteen generations ago, the Aredians and the Canderi warred constantly – fighting over territory. One such battle took place,” he nodded toward the mountain peaks in the distance, “in the Argus Mountains, at the end of a very harsh winter. Both armies gave their fiercest battle cries, meant to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies and to show their own strength, and the very mountains trembled.

“The leaders of each group – the general of the Aredian army and the samaat of the Canderi – rushed to face each other. When the two women met in the middle, the great battle ensued. But so fierce was the fighting that the mountains could not withstand the force of it, and began to collapse – an avalanche. Both leaders were injured and separated from their armies, and had to rely on each other to survive. During this – and no one knows the truth of how it played out – they managed to form a truce, though they resolved to kill each other when they returned to their armies.”

As he spoke, Atanar noticed how a few of the kulkri, including Corvac and some of the other children, had crept closer to listen. He pretended not to see them and kept speaking.

“Through their combined strength, they found their way back to the others and emerged on a peak high above the battleground. Looking down, they both saw how blood marred the snow, how the bodies of their people lay dead and dying. They realized they could not continue this war. Together, they went down to their armies, who paused their fighting to allow their leaders passage. When the two reached the center, they thrust their blades into the snow behind them, and faced one another in peace – if not quite friendship – and the truce was made.”

Sivoy had been glancing between the others and Atanar, but when the tale ended, she frowned at him in earnest. “Is that true?”

He spread his hands. “That is how it was told to me.”

“Will it work?” Corvac spoke up from amidst a group of boys and girls about his age. “Will the Aredians understand we wish to trade?”

“Surely they’ll just run away,” Kiluan said. Like the others, she’d come closer to hear the story, though Atanar did not miss how she sidled up to Sivoy.

He shrugged. “That is how my clan traded with them in the past. I have seen some Aredians quail at the sight of us, but most are brave enough to at least approach.”

Kiluan glanced at Sivoy. “This tactic would bring them within easy reach. We could–”

“No,” Atanar snarled, causing both women to start. Vorunn clawed at his will, urging for blood, but he fought the feeling back and spoke with more control. “Attacking them after making an overture of peaceful trade would be an act of war.”

“Assuming we left anyone alive to tell their little queen,” Sivoy replied.

Atanar balled his hands into fists. Why could they not see the folly of such actions? “Yes, and so you lure a merchant with the promise of peaceful trade, and kill him. Then you do the same again, and again, and again. But word will spread – you know it will, Sivoy – and the Aredians will come for you. All of you.”

“How long would that take?” Kiluan shot back. “In the meantime, we’d have easy hunting. Winter will come eventually,” she added to Sivoy, who looked troubled.

“It might take weeks, or months, or even longer,” Atanar replied. “But eventually, the Aredians will seek retribution for those you’ve killed.”

Corvac gnawed on his lip. “I heard Aredians lock up their own people for no reason other than they have magic. I’ve heard they even kill those who bears a certain mark on their hand – they call it a ‘mage-mark.’”

A few of the others murmured assent, but Sivoy rolled her eyes. “Those are just stories, Cor. There’s no such thing as magic.”

Atanar had heard otherwise, but kept that thought to himself. Such stories were rumors, unsubstantiated and probably exaggerations from Aredians wishing to appear stronger to the Canderi, who had no magic among their kind.

Sivoy frowned at her brother. “What are you doing eavesdropping, anyway? Get out of here, all of you,” she added, shooing them away. Kiluan gave her a questioning look; Sivoy hesitated, glanced at Atanar, then jerked her chin to the dark-haired woman in a silent order. When they were alone again, Sivoy faced Atanar once more. “Very well. We shall try to trade with them – once. You will speak for us. But do not forget that you are acting under my authority.”

He spread his palms. “I understand, Samaat Sivoy.

Her brows knit as she tried to find sarcasm in his reply, but he only regarded her without expression. It was a trick his mother had taught him well. Too well, perhaps, for Sivoy rolled her eyes and muttered something unflattering about him beneath her breath. Well. That was as good a dismissal as any, so Atanar turned to leave. However, she halted him in his tracks with his name. His name.

When he turned, she was studying him. “Before,” she said quietly. “When you grabbed my neck…”

He grimaced. “I am sorry if I hurt you, but you–”

“No, not that.” She hesitated, then dropped her pitch again. “Your eyes were…strange.”

Something cold formed in his guts. “Strange, how?”

“It might’ve been a trick of the sun,” she said, brows knitted. “But I swear they…shone. Like stars. Just for a moment. Just when you were looking at me, with your hands at my throat.”

Just when you tried to kill me. She didn’t have to say it out loud; they both knew. Atanar felt as though he stood naked on the tundra, in the first moments before a blizzard descended. “You’re certain?”

“I know what I saw.”

Vorunn. He didn’t know how, why, or what it meant, but he knew the two were related. “If you see it again,” his eyes darted to her claymore but he only said, “let me know.”

Sivoy nodded again, then turned away from him. Atanar remained beneath the tree, alone, and did not return to the main camp until dusk.

Character spotlight – Milo

Milo in Catalyst Moon:

At the start of Incursion, (Book 1), Milo is approximately 18 years old. He’s often described as a burly fellow; tall and broad-shouldered, which belies his gentle nature. Black hair, fair skin, and bright blue eyes give him a “fresh” appearance and make his status as a “burnie,” (a new sentinel), that much more apparent. Milo has a twin sister, Flint, who shares his coloring and facial features.

Milo and Flint, (birthname Mira), were born in the city of Callat, at the southernmost edge of Greenhill Province.

In Milo’s own words: “Mama was nice enough, most of the time, but her mood turned sour when she’d been in the bottle. I guess it’s to be expected; we were poor as rats and she had no one to help her with me and Flint, but I remember being scared a lot. Especially when she drank or when folks stopped by at all hours to visit her. Looking back, I know what she did so we all could eat, and I want to be grateful, but it’s hard to feel gratitude while you’re huddled in a closet, praying she won’t see us and get angry. She was really angry, a lot, and I think she blamed her lot on me and Mira. I dunno.

It’s odd to say life got better after my mother died, but that’s how it was for us. Mama died and someone from the Circle took me and Mira away from our house – it wasn’t ever much of a home – and brought us to the nearest garrison. We got a fresh start with the sentinels.”

Most sentinels take on a new name once they take their first full dose of hematite – called “the Burn.” However, Milo chose to keep his birthname, which comes from one of his favorite myths of the goddess Mara.

Milo is relentlessly optimistic. Although his is not immune to melancholy, he always finds a way to work through his sadness and keep a bright outlook. Devoted to the gods and to his twin sister, Milo is naive and honorable, brave and kind. His skill in battle lies in his sheer size and strength, though he often wishes he could be small and stealthy like Rook, one of his squad-mates. He often misses things that are “obvious” to everyone else, leaving those who care about him to roll their eyes at his innocence.

Background:

As with Kali and Stonewall, Milo first found life many years ago in my Star Wars fanfiction. He started off as a clone trooper like Stonewall, the sniper and youngest member of Shadow Squad, my beloved group of OC (original character) clone troopers. When I realized I would be bringing characters from my fanfiction to the world of Catalyst Moon, I knew Milo had to join in the fun. Mi’s character underwent some changes, namely his appearance and background, but his overall nature remains unchanged. He’s got a heart of gold and cotton.

PS: I won’t post another shirtless pic of a hot dude, but when I saw Rob Wilson, my first thought was “Holy [expletive deleted]!” My second thought was “Milo!” 😉 If you want to see how I imagine him, check out his Pinterest page.

character spotlight – Stonewall

Chad White, model and visual inspiration for Stonewall. No apologies for the shirtless pic. 😍

Stonewall in Catalyst Moon:

At the start of Incursion, (Book 1), Stonewall is approximately 24 years old. He has black hair and brown skin, with light brown eyes. He’s of an average build, (height and weight), but a lifetime of training for physical combat has given him an appropriately muscular physique.

Stonewall is not his given name; he chose the name after he joined the sentinels and took his first Burn. (His first true dose of the magic-dispelling hematite.) Stonewall’s birth name is Elan, and he was born in the southern province of Indigo-By-the-Sea, in the coastal city of Pillau. The second youngest of four children, Elan never knew his father and his mother, Nimah, died when he was about four years old. All but one of his other siblings died as well, leaving Elan and his older brother Bahar, (later named “Drake,”) orphans on the city streets. The two young boys spent several years fighting for survival; Elan grew to depend on his older brother for protection and guidance, while Bahar devoted his life to his little brother’s well-being. The boys joined the sentinel order when Elan was about nine summers, and Bahar was 12.

After a lifetime of chaos and uncertainty, Elan took to the discipline of sentinel life with eagerness. Along with regular meals, shelter, and proper training, he found the camaraderie he’d missed after his and his brother’s family had passed into their next lives. Naturally talented at sword and dagger-play, Elan honed his skills as he grew into manhood.

When he became a true sentinel, (after taking his first dose of hematite), Elan took on the name “Stonewall” and fully invested himself in the sentinel oath: Honor. Service. Sacrifice. His brother’s unexpected death left him reeling and he spent several years drifting between garrisons. He met Kalinda Halcyon about three years after his brother’s death.

Stonewall is a stern young man, outwardly solid as his namesake. He lives by a strict internal moral code that leads others to mock him at best and hate him at worst. Trust is difficult for Stonewall to come by; he only truly trusts the gods. Following Drake/Bahar’s death, Stonewall convinced himself that he was supposed to walk this world alone, and thereby shut out all other people. Because of his stern, often austere manner, most other people are glad to leave him alone. Except, of course, for Kali.

Stonewall knows in his heart that he was granted this life to serve the gods and maintain a strong moral character, to better help those in need. Stonewall is an introverted, stern, and overly-righteous young man, but there is a warm humor within him, one that emerges only when either goaded, (as Kali is wont to do), or when he feels a close connection with another person. Often, it takes him a while to decide on a course of action, but when he sets his heart on something, he does not relent.


Background:

Some characters take years to mature in the writer’s mind. Stonewall took minutes. Of course, he has gone through some changes as I’ve written him over the years, but overall…he’s pretty much the same as the clone trooper who used his helmet for a drum. As I have mentioned before, both he, Kali, and Milo originated in my Star Wars fanfiction. Kali and Milo’s development took a long time; Stonewall pretty much popped into my head as-is, name and all. (And no, I’m not a Civil War buff.) He started as a minor character in one of my older fanfics and basically refused to leave me – and Kali – alone. I don’t mind, though, because as frustrating as he is sometimes, (my favorite nickname for him is “noble idiot,”) he’s also rewarding beyond measure and hella fun to torture write.

Just for fun, here are some more pics that have inspired his character:

Captain Keeli, of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This was the first major inspo for Stonewall. What can I say? I love a man in uniform.

This guy. Artist if Even Ventrue.

For more images that remind me of Stonewall, check out this Pinterest page. 🙂

Catalyst Moon fanfic! (contains spoilers for Breach)

Hi there!

I’m thrilled to share this piece by a dear friend and fellow author who also happens to be a fan of the Catalyst Moon ‘verse. Without further adieu, here’s A Bird In Hand, by impoeia. (Who has kindly given permission for me to post this on my blog.) Please read and enjoy! 🙂

Oh, and there are some spoilers for Breach, (book 2), so you’ve been forewarned…


A Bird in Hand

 

to live

in the cage

both

bird and mage

 

“Here are the rules.” Foley is using a voice on her, the kind Eris well remembers from her nurses and governesses. It’s the tone of voice only achieved by adults parceling out the Words of Wisdom to children they know won’t listen, no matter what. The I-told-you-so is already carefully implied for the inevitable future, when Eris does exactly what Foley is telling her not to do.

She’s known the man all of ten minutes, and already Eris wants to throw something at him. Preferably her fists.

He must see some of this on her face, because….Well, she’s not trying very hard to hide her feelings. But he softens his face, and voice, as he continues to introduce her to her new life in Whitewater Bastion.

“It is important to accept and obey, Eris. When we follow the lives set out for us,” he places both arms on the table, the common room’s firelight dancing off of the crude hook that’s where his left hand should be, “life will be good for all.”   

*

sing

for the living

need

reason for giving

*

This is the stupidest thing she’s done since being loaded off at the bastion like a crate of rotten cabbages.

Eris doesn’t want to admit she’s homesick, because to do so implies Starwatch was any kind of home and she won’t. She’ll never give a bastion the dignity of the term, but she……She misses it. Misses the familiar scent of mountains and woods. She misses the quiet; there’s always people here, with the noise of the city and the White River pressing against the walls until she feels her chest constrict and she’s fighting for every breath.

She misses Kali.

 

Eris is lonely. Lonely and, for fucks sake, crying in the corner by the chicken coop, hoping by some small mercy no one is going to stumble on her. Especially a hemie. That will be the final nail in her coffin, right after she claws the rock-licker’s eyes out.

She bites her tongue against a sob, because isn’t that just a joke. Her actually killing a sentry. Might as well imagine flying to Seren. Either is as far out of her reach as the bastion’s high walls.

So what is the point of imagining at all?

If she gives in, becomes a good little mage like Foley and his crew, perhaps the constant burn in her stomach will go away and she’ll be able to breathe again. Get sent out on more missions. See the sky.

*

all

to the hands

to make

the demands

*

“Bastards!”

“Hold him still!”

“Get your fucking hands off of me!”

“Ea’s balls, grab him! Grab him!”

Eris runs towards the gates with the others. She’s not sure what to expect; a crazed mob calling for mage-blood comes to mind. What she gets is pure bedlam. 

He’s tall, dark-haired and skinned, collared and cuffed in hematite and it takes three sentries to wrestle the him down. One of them actually sits on his back, while another presses down on his legs so a third can cuff his ankles. The man is still writhing, his tea-colored skin turning bronze with the hot flush of the indignity.

He tries craning his head around, perhaps to throw more insults or bite at the hands holding him down, but the motion carries his gaze to the large gathering of mages on the other side of the gate. His dark eyes skitter over the group before meeting Eris’ head-on.

And just like that, he throws her a cocky grin before he’s hauled onto his feet and dragged to the hematite cells.   

That’s how she meets Gideon Echina.  

*

for

life and for love

on earth

and not above

*

“Oh.”

It’s a physical wrench. That small, startled gasp and all of a sudden, Eris plunges back down into a body that feels crushed by the weight of its bones.

Far away, she knows Gid drops to his knees besides where she’s half-slumped in a corner of the bastion walls. But she can’t tear herself away from the soft down that is slowly pressing itself back into her flesh. It tickles.

Then another hand thrust itself into her view. It’s large, the skin tea-colored and the palm calloused, but the fingers are gentle as they encircle her own hand.  

She is remembering another hot summer day; the shimmer of water and her grandmother’s disgust; the fear and shame of her family.  

Gid breathes the words, “You really are a bird.” He touches her hair with his other hand; tucks a loose strand behind her ear, before trailing his fingers down her cheek, over down that is little more than a soft fuzz now. “Prettiest bird I’ve ever seen.”

They are shrouded in the heady smell of the jessamine vines clawing at the wall and the thick summer heat.

There is awe in his eyes.   

*

and forget

the heart in chains

is only as free

as the cage it claims

*

She didn’t mean to say it; at least, not be the first to say it.

“I love you.”

The words slip out between one exhale and the next inhale; between the slide of lips and his hands on her thighs and suddenly, the whole world forgets how to breathe.

“I-I mean….” Eris chokes, freezes up right there, while straddling Gid’s lap, with the bedsheets pooled around her legs.

Gid blinks up at her, bemused, and for a hopeful moment, Eris thinks he might have been too distracted to register her words. Then that sodding cocky grin flashes across his face.

“Yes? What exactly is it that you mean, pretty bird?”

“Fuck you.” Void, she’s blushing. She can feel it in the tips of her ears all the way down to her bare chest. Just for good measure, she thumps her fist against his shoulder.

Gid laughs and catches her hand, then rolls them both over. That grin is still in place, though it’s taken on a definite lascivious curve. “I believe that’s what you were doing, love, before we were interrupted by your spontaneous confession.”

The grin is suddenly gone and the look he gives her…..There is nothing teasing about it. For the second time in as many minutes, Eris forgets to breathe.

Gid presses a kiss to her lips, then down her chin to the hollow of her neck. He imprints the words to the rapid pulse in her throat. “I love you, too.”   

*

to be free

of those tethers

the wind

‘twixt the feathers

*

“It…It’s the best we could come up with under, you know, the circumstances.” Marcen isn’t just nervous; he’s practically breaking his fingers, he wrings them so hard. At her continued silence, he throws a helpless glance towards Cai and the other mages.

“We know it’s not much.” Adrie breaks away from the group; goes so far as to put a hand on Eris’ shoulder. “He was a good man. He deserves more. He-”

Eris doesn’t wait to listen to the rest of it. She turns away from Adrie, from all of them, and the small collection of stones at the base of the large oak that is all that she has left of the man she loves.

No body; no grave which she can lay herself down beside.

Eris walks back to their pitiful little camp, leaving the other mages to their worried looks and whispers and cold stones. After all, she’s free of the walls now; free to go wherever she wants.   

*

is the crow’s

last cry

in the double-moon

sky

*

She waits until the others are safely asleep. The shift comes easily now; three breaths and she sheds all the weight of her human body, until she is light enough that the wind can easily carry her.

Eris’ first wing strokes are clumsy. It is always harder to take off from the ground, but once she is a meter into the air, the breeze catches beneath her wings and she is off.

She is small, as a crow, but her body has never felt stronger. Each downward stroke lifts her closer to the stars, until she is all alone, a single shadow flitting between pinpricks of light.

Seren’s misshapen body is the only one to dominate the sky on this night. She does not believe in omens, but it does feel appropriate – just her and the mage-moon.

Eris corkscrews higher until she is blinded by Seren’s glow, her tiny form swallowed up by the mage-moon’s presence.

Gid said she needs to live. No matter what. And she will, because he asked it of her, but first…

She lets out the cry she’s been holding in. Eris screams her grief to the mage-moon; let’s Seren’s broken face witness her shrill fury. Then she folds her wings.

Eris falls.  

*

to yearn for

flight

is both

bird and mage’s plight

*

Talon whirls away from the funeral pyre in time to witness a shadow pass over the mage-moon’s face. She has time to think an utterly insipid thought – Seren cries black tears – before the crow snaps its wings open.

“Shit!” The wind of its passage is palpable. Talon throws her arms over her head just as the crow passes over her head, claws reaching for her. The dagger is already in Cobalt’s hand, but the bird banks sharply to the left and disappears into the haze of smoke and sparks rising from Gideon Echina’s pyre.


impoeia is an amazing author! You can find this story on Inkitt’s site here, and find more of impoeia’s phenomenal work right here.

Take care and stay awesome,

Lauren

character spotlight: Kalinda Halcyon

kalismall

Picture courtesy of Linda Gavin and Inkitt

Kali in Catalyst Moon:

At the start of Incursion (Book 1), Kali is approximately 24 years old. She has dark brown hair and eyes, and is of a petite build. She believes that she was born with a malformed knee joint, which gives her a limp can cause great pain, all of which makes physical exertion very strenuous, if not impossible. Subsequently, Kali spends much of her life indoors or being sedentary. She is an avid reader with a fondness for histories and nature treatises, though she enjoys adventure stories as well. She is also an accomplished viol player.

Kali has an inquisitive nature and an insatiable curiosity about the world around her, though she gets easily tied up in minutiae and often misses the bigger picture. She has a tendency to try to escape her problems rather than face them head-on. However, when she sets her mind to a task, her determination is a force to be reckoned with. She’s impulsive, quick-witted, sarcastic, and tends toward humor that some have called “totally inappropriate.”

As a mage, Kali has the ability to manipulate particles to bring about a desired result, (ie: heal a wound), and at the outset of Incursion, this type of magic is considered fairly mundane. However, as the saga progresses and Kali’s powers expand, so too does her attitude about magic change. Eg: “What can I achieve?” vs. “Should I do this?”


Background:

I’ve written fanfiction about as long as I’ve produced original work – going on about 20-something years now. Kali began life as an original character, (OC); a Jedi Knight in a Star Wars story I started after being pummeled with the inspiration sledgehammer that was The Phantom Menace. (Yes, I love the prequels. Don’t judge me.) Kali was originally just supposed to be a love interest for my favorite Star Wars character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, but took on a life of her own.

Over the years, I’ve written many, many stories about her and she has evolved into the character seen in Catalyst Moon. One of the biggest challenges in bringing a fanfiction OC to an original story was figuring out Kali’s motivations. As a Jedi, her life and her motivations are entirely different than those of a mage in the Catalyst Moon ‘verse; both Kalis have had totally different backgrounds that have shaped the persons they become in their respective stories. This was more difficult than I anticipated. At times, I considered scrapping Kali altogether and creating a new leading lady for CM, but I’m glad I stuck with her, because so much of the story has been shaped around Kali’s character. My work is extremely character-driven, so in many ways Kali, (and Stonewall, of course!), is the heart and soul of Catalyst Moon.

Just for fun, here are some of the inspirational images I’ve used for Kali in the past:

img_20140212_102420 kali kali

The first two are of the actress Alison Brie, who, (aside from her blue eyes), has always reminded me of Kali. She’s the only actress I’ve ever seen and thought, “that’s Kali!” The third image is from an anime character creator one of my friends shared with me. This is “Jedi Kali” in all her wryness. Additionally, the “featured image” at the top of this page is Moraine Lake, which  – oddly – always reminds me of Kali.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into Kali’s character! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, and please do feel free to share!

Stay awesome,

Lauren

character spotlight: Eris Echina

Eris_small

Amazing original art provided by Emma Skysong!

Eris Echina (pre-married name: Eris Nassor)

At the time of Incursion, Eris is approximately 24 years old. She was born in the township of Shia, in Silverwood Province, to Igraine and Gerald Nassor. Her family was well off, with a prosperous farming business and a large estate. Eris’ childhood was idyllic; her favorite pastime was playing with her beloved pet dove, Lucie.

Like many other mages, Eris did not begin to show signs of her magical abilities until she was a toddler. Igraine and Gerald, afraid that the Circle would send their daughter away to a bastion, ensured that Eris always wore a hematite amulet around her neck to dampen her magical powers. Inevitably, the amulet was lost at the worst possible time. When Eris was eleven years old, her maternal grandmother, Inniss, is a high ranking Circle priestess, realized that her granddaughter was a mage. Furious, Inniss demanded that the girl be sent to a bastion, so Eris was packed off to Starwatch Bastion, the most remote of all the mage holds. (Read this story here.)

Given her second tier status, Eris was initially considered too highborn to be approachable by the few other children at Starwatch. Her only friend there was Kalinda Halcyon, a young girl who had been raised in the bastion. The two became close, developing a strong friendship over the course of eight years.

Though Eris and Kali were friends, Eris never quite learned to get along with the other mages, and was often unable, (and unwilling), to curb her sharp tongue. This did not earn her much goodwill. As she grew older, Eris found herself chafing more and more at life in secluded Starwatch, until one day she requested a transfer to a larger bastion: Whitewater. Too happy to see off the troublesome young woman, the First Mage and the garrison commander happily approved the request. Eris tried to convince Kali to come with her, but for some reason, Kali refused to leave Starwatch. They did not part on the best of terms.

At Whitewater Bastion, Eris resolved to start over and make an effort to be more friendly with other mages. Life at Whitewater was much better than at Starwatch, and although Eris missed her friend, she was glad of her new start.

Approximately four years later, Eris’ life changed again when a young male mage, Gideon Echina, came to the bastion. He’d been caught trying to escape Indigo Bastion, and so was sent to the more fortified facilities at Whitewater. Eris was instantly drawn to Gid’s raffish charm and the two fell for one another quickly; within the span of a year, they were married. Seeing no reason to keep her family’s name, (as they abandoned her), Eris happily took Gideon’s last name.

Magic

Eris cannot recall a time when she used her magic freely. As an adult, her abilities lie mainly in altering her own shape, though she can work minor healing and fire magic. Were it not for the mage mark on her wrist, she thinks she could pass as a non-mage. During her formative childhood years, her magic was bound by hematite; she and Gideon have speculated that this is the reason she is able to shape-change, (ie: turn her magic inward), but not affect anything “outside” of herself.

Special thanks to the lovely and talented Emma Skysong for the picture of Eris. Incursion would not have been nearly as good without her insightful feedback. Not only is she a talented writer and beta reader, she’s one heckuva artist as well! 🙂