This is no longer current! Things have changed… This is now separated into two books, with different covers, different blurbs, different beginnings…
Any thoughts on my blurb, working cover, or first few scenes?
In the city of mages, a young guild slave dances, magical stars drifting from her hair that whisper secret persuasions into the minds of those they touch. Every evening she sits by candlelight and writes down her memories before a shadow in the night takes them. This is where the division begins.
For centuries, the walls of the seven Demesnes have protected men from weirs and shadow-hungry alike. But those eager for the walls to come down are ready to strike, and those who must defend them stand divided.
In the Seventh Demesne, mage plots against mage. Some fight; some vanish; most are enslaved. Others keep secrets; a few are kept secret. When a favored one is murdered and the most powerful sorceress among them is blamed, the lines are drawn – leaving her stranded opposite the Demesne ruler and on the side of a mage hiding the true depth of his power.
Outside the cities, more and more shapechangers perish from an onslaught of shadow-hungry attacks. Seeking to prevent a future that will doom both human and shadow-hungry alike, a half-human girl traverses the rich, dangerous and yet vibrant land beyond the walls, with a man who might finally awaken what she’s craved for years and give her something worth fighting for.
And in Grimfell, a spirit imprisoned by her still-living inhuman lover seeks to slip past his guard and warn those divided before it’s too late.
“Evil in the eye of man is not always evil in the eye of The Absent God.”
Stanza 10, Verse 1, Book of Promises
In the shadowlands, on a high tower under a stormy violet sky …
A gray-skinned creature curled his taloned hand around the wispy fingers of a ghost. Shifting swirls of white and gold luminescence formed impressions of elements that once belonged to a living woman. They brushed against him in a myriad of secret caresses.
A shudder of yearning rushed through him, his sharp gray features twisting into a mask of pleasure at her nearness. “My Zarushko.”
For a second, his eyes of green flame shut and his soul latched onto hers.
Then he opened them and fixed his gaze on the image in a scrying puddle on the battlements. “Do you see how easy your blood made it for him, my Zarushko?” The green fire in his eyes flared brighter. “He slipped so easily past their defenses, unnoticed, unhindered. Now he dwells within their walls, while they go on with their lives, unaware of him in their midst.”
The spirit’s willowy form shimmered beside him, but whether from pleasure or anguish, neither the living nor the dead could say.
In the First Demesne, in a rich ambassador’s lushly appointed library…
A man with a mouth so thin it resembled a knife-slash in his face received a message. He unfolded the missive by the fireplace and read the lines he’d been waiting for for years. Five simple words.
We’ve found her.
And a name.
He tossed the letter into the fire, inhaling the smoky scent of burning parchment. A smile spread across his lipless mouth. A wicked plan spread through his poisonous mind. And evil spread farther over his blackening heart.
“I’ve got you now, you interfering little slum-dweller.”
In the Seventh Demesne, behind a locked bedroom door in the theatre dormitories…
A man with white eyes fondled a pendant that cradled a special soul inside it.
Not the soul he craved above all – but her daughter’s.
Over the years he’d shattered bits and pieces of the girl’s once beautiful life, leaving her with only glimpses, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more – more misery, more gratification – to pay for her mother’s misdeeds. He’d been so close to getting everything back he’d lost, so close, and the faithless whore had betrayed him, trapping him in this hellish existence for another twenty-five years.
And no one to make pay for it but the girl, who refused to fight, refused to break, refused to flee and find the mother who had abandoned her. Instead, she clung stubbornly to shreds of joy in her loveless existence.
He could take her as he once had her mother, make her suffer that way, but the girl was mixed-caste and therefore beneath him, and he couldn’t force himself to touch her.
But tonight a special guest was attending her performance, one who had his own vengeance to exact.
I whirl and spin between heartbeat and breath, my pale, shimmering dress a sliver of incandescence in a dark night holding untold secrets.
Loren’s hand on my back is my only contact with the world. The floor of the stage does not exist. The audience does not exist. Only Loren and I exist, sweeping on the wings of the dance.
My glimmering russet hair flows out behind me, shards of light and glitter sparking from its tips and scattering in our wake like a dozen fading stars. They vanish by the time we sweep back around, replaced by more starry sparkles spilling from russet strands. Occasionally a spark drifts out over those that do not exist for me.
My feet know nothing but empty air. I hear nothing but Loren’s soft exhalation and the quiet swish of his braid swinging behind him. I feel nothing but his muscles shifting under my fingertips. I see nothing but his perfect face, his smooth and flawless skin, the contours of his countenance chiseled out of an artist’s rendering of perfection.
His perfect mouth does not smile, nor do his gray eyes. Those hold something else. Something I have never been able to define. Something they hold only when he looks at me.
Another dip, and as Loren swings me down, my face turns away from him, the night breeze breathing against my cheek, and for an instant my eyes flicker over the crowd and I see Lothram. Jarring as he stands among the other vendors because his blond-streaked chestnut hair falls short and ragged and wild down to his chin in contrast to those around him who wear theirs pulled back in long braids. Jarring because of the swirling, mysterious symbol tattooed on his cheek.
He seems so far away, so unreachable as I dance untouched by the outside world, with nothing but Loren and my own breath holding me to this existence. But for an instant…
For an instant Lothram’s dark eyes meet mine, and for an instant he’s the one holding me.
Then Loren sweeps me up and I look into his gray eyes and perfect features once more. His hands grasp me firmly, the lacy sleeves of his white shirt caressing my wrists with every revolution.
He slows. I slow. My glittering gown rustles like froth around my ankles, delicate and exquisite, a last touch of sensation before the end, for the music is fading.
My feet feel the stage once again, hard and unyielding beneath me, like the reality to which I am returning.
Then we stand side by side facing the crowd in their silk gowns and knee breeches and vests. The applause pains my ears after the silence of the dance, and I focus on the women’s faces, on the dreaminess the performance was designed to draw out of them.
The men’s expressions don’t interest me, filled as they are with something else, something my beauty is calculated to arouse in them, and I do not want to see it. Nor do I want to see those who have been touched by the elusive, escaped sparks from my hair. Seemingly part of the magic, part of the show, but in reality a secret manipulation of the guild. Those will leave tonight’s performance with thoughts not their own lurking in their minds, with secret venom unfurling the guild’s manipulations within them.
Loren’s fingers are cold and dry in mine, as they almost always are. They tighten slightly, the brush of his fingertips over the back of my hand bittersweet, although I cannot explain why I find it bittersweet, even to myself.
We slip down the stairs on the side of the platform and into the blocky prison – I cannot call it a mere building – behind the outdoor stage. Inside it’s hot and stifling, but still Loren’s hand remains cool.
We walk in silence along the barren corridors with their painted gray walls splashed with artificial yellow by the candlelight’s lukewarm glow. At the door to my room, he leans down and kisses me, a silent promise from his perfect lips.
“May I come tonight?” he asks.
It is the answer I always give, the answer I must give, but I love him for asking anyway. It gives the impression of choice where there is none.
There is never any choice with the guild.
His hand slips out of mine and he walks down the hall, leaving an empty draft where he’s been standing. I watch him for a moment, his tall, slim form, his light brown braid swishing gently back and forth, his long white pants matching my gown, a hint of a shimmer flickering in the dim corridor. Then I touch my hand to the ornate iron door handle and enter my chamber.
It is one strewn with luxury that means nothing to me. An elaborate canopied bed with sheets of fine, rose-colored silk. A vanity with a gilded mirror and combs and baubles for my hair that sparkle like the cut glass they are. Wardrobes carved with flora and fauna.
I close the door and pull off my slippers. My bare feet love the carpet. If they cannot feel air, the velvet touch of threads twined together by Fifth Demesne weavers suffices.
There is a desk in the corner, one with gold filigree and pearl-inlaid images. As I sit on the padded stool, my fingertips trace the shiny lacquer covering it, smooth and pretty, as everything I am given. Opening the bottom drawer, I pull out a piece of parchment. I pick up the quill. I write down my thoughts as I feel them. As they are. As I want to remember them.
I want to remember the wondrous feel of the dance.
I want to remember the venom in the starry sparks that flew from my hair.
I want to remember my collusion in it, in knowing what they are, in performing anyway.
I want to remember that single moment I met Lothram’s eyes.
I want to remember Loren’s question.
I want to be free.
These are my thoughts.
They are mine.
Setting down the quill, she smudged the last line. Lysium-in. Meaning ‘Belonging to Lysium’. Then she pressed the thumb smeared with ink onto the parchment next to her name, so she would know they were indeed her thoughts.
Afterward, she read every single word, committing each to memory as she did everything written, because this was her gift and her curse: that she remember every single thing she read, no matter how horrid, no matter how much she wanted to forget.
The ritual completed, she held the parchment to the candle flame and watched it curl in on itself and burn. Her nostrils flared at the pungent scent of burning paper that reminded her of Lothram and of the fire he sold.
Then the last charred shred of parchment floated to the desk’s pearl-inlaid, lacquered surface, and as the scent of burning ebbed, she banished the memory of Lothram.
For a moment she simply existed, nothing but a girl unwilling to wear the mask she’d been given.
The moment passed, as it always did.
Pulling the records book from its place in the corner of her desk, she began to write in a legible, militant hand so different from the fluid script her thoughts flowed out in.
‘Morning: delivered the stars to the vendors; researched in the library; read the last of the books. Afternoon: practice with Loren. Evening: performed. Books read and committed to memory: Tonics for the’
The door opened.
Setting down her quill, Lysium rose from the stool and smiled at Loren.
He didn’t smile back; he rarely did. But subdued anticipation flickered in his eyes.
His shirt had been loosened at the neck, exposing the perfect column of his throat, and that slight dishabille made her heart crack a little. He did it for her, because she’d once complained of him never having a single thread out of place.
He said nothing as he crossed the room, but still she held her breath, waiting. His slender fingers took hold of her laces, twining within them in gentle seduction until they came undone for him. The gown yielded her up to his touch, its liquid gloss skimming down her limbs and pooling around her bare feet in a sibilant rustle. His hands replaced cloth, roving and avid where fabric had been still and impassive.
Their sensual dance carried them to the lavish satin bower of her bed.
As he made love to her, the silken sheets slid beneath her as his body slid above her and inside her, all in unison, all caressing her, all surrounding her with aching, yearning beauty.
Her fingers explored his perfect features, his sculpted cheekbones, the suppleness of his parted lips, the shifting of the taut, lean muscles in his arms. She watched him as passion swirled around them, watched him as she had nearly every night of the nine years since the guild had married them when she was seventeen and he eighteen.
He kept his eyes closed, but his whole body tensed, listening to her every breath, tracking every minute response of her body to him. And she did respond, trembling at the slow, relentless tension his rhythm built up inside her.
It never reached fulfillment. Loren’s face contorted in mingled pleasure and pain, as if he couldn’t stand the feel of his own ecstasy even as his body succumbed to shuddering sweetness.
As the climax passed, he lowered himself on top of her gently, hands smoothing over her hair, his lips pressed against hers in a kiss he cut short. For an instant, as he always did, he stretched out alongside her with his head resting on her chest, listening to her heart beat.
Lysium tightened her arm around his neck as if she could physically hold his yearning to her, but he pulled away and slipped off the bed. He gathered his clothes, dressed in silence, and left the room, leaving her unsated and alone.
Rising, she doused the candles and lay there waiting, pretending to sleep. She had perfected the even breathing, the slight twitching of her pupils under her eyelids, and as every night, she was awake when the Shadow came.
She called him Shadow because she never saw his face; she only felt his touch on her forehead, felt him taking certain memories of the day, replacing them with others, similar ones but with different thoughts.
Obedient thoughts. Happy ones. Ones that said she was fulfilled. Ones without secrets like starry sparkles drifting over an unsuspecting crowd and carrying poisonous thoughts.
Her true sensations and feelings and thoughts were gone.
But she had the words from the paper. And from those words she recreated every image, every thought, every sensation.
These are my thoughts.
They are mine.