Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bethany Lopez: The IAN Interview

Bethany Lopez was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Michigan and San Antonio, Texas. She went to High School at Dearborn High, in Dearborn, Michigan, which is where she has set her Young Adult novel. She is married and has a blended family with five children. She is currently serving in the United States Air Force as a Recruiter in South Carolina. She has always loved to read and write and has seen her dream realized by independently publishing her first novel through Amazon with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Ta Ta for Now! is also now available through Smashwords at Barnes and Noble.com.



IAN. Please tell us about Ta Ta for Now!


B.L. Melissa begins her freshman year with one goal in mind, getting Brian Jackson to be her boyfriend. She will soon learn that things don't necessarily turn out the way you plan them, the value of true friendship, and the importance of family.

IAN. How long did it take to write the book?

B.L. 6 weeks for the initial draft, then I edited and had others edit. From start to publish was 10 months.

IAN. What inspired you to write the book?

B.L. I have always loved to write. This book was inspired by memories and my family.

IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?

B.L. I wrote at night and on weekends when I wasn’t at work.

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

B.L. No outline. I just started writing.

IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?

B.L. I think my book is more reminiscent of books I read when I was growing up.

IAN. Is Ta Ta for Now! published in print, e-book or both?

B.L. Both

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

B.L. I hope they enjoy the characters and that they feel the emotions that the characters are feeling. I hope they can relate to the characters.

IAN. Where can we go to buy Ta Ta for Now!?

B.L. CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Sony, Barnes and Noble, SmashWords

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

B.L. I have started the sequel, which continues Melissa’s story.

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?

B.L. www.bethanylopez.weebly.com

Ta Ta for Now! By Bethany Lopez
126 pages

Amazon

ENTRY ONE

First Journal Entry:

I always hear people say that they wish they had lots of brothers and sisters. I guess they are lonely because they are only children or their siblings are older. They cannot possibly understand the magnitude of what they are saying. If they knew what it was like to be the oldest of four children, they would thank their lucky stars, shut their mouths and be grateful for the peace and quiet.

My name is Melissa (don’t call me Missy) and I am fourteen years old. I live in Dearborn, Michigan, with my mother and father and my brother and sisters. Yes, my parents are still together and have been married for sixteen years. I know, it is weird, but they seem to be happy. Of course they have me to help with all of the things that they don’t want to do. (Did I mention that I am the oldest?) Not to sound ungrateful, I love my parents (and occasionally my siblings), but sometimes I just want to go into my room and be left alone for twenty-four hours. Just one day, that is all I am asking; it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request!

So, my sister Megan, who is twelve, gave me this journal for my birthday. She said that maybe if I write down my thoughts, I won’t talk so much. (She is the queen of the backhanded compliment). I never had a journal before and I like the idea of having somewhere to express my thoughts and feelings. I don’t know how much I should say, because I would hate for someone in my family to find it and read it! Anyway, as I was saying, my birthday was yesterday and tomorrow is my first day of high school. I am nervous, but so glad that it is finally here, I feel like I have been waiting to be out of middle school forever!

It has been a fun summer and I have enjoyed working on my tan, but my best friend went away to visit her dad for the summer and I can’t wait to see her again. I am ready to get back to school and show everyone how much I have grown over the summer! My hair is longer, I think I have grown at least an inch, and I (finally!!!) have started to develop in the way that only girls do. Did I mention I have a fantastic tan? It seems like it has taken forever, but I am finally starting to like the way I look! With a little makeup and the right outfit, I plan to knock Brian Jackson’s socks off. I vow to make him notice me this year!

I am getting ahead of myself. I wanted to start off explaining how my crazy family functions, not jump right into my plan to make Brian Jackson mine!

So, I told you about my unconventionally normal parents, Craig and Linda. He works at Detroit Diesel and she is a teacher at Dearborn High. (Yes that is the school that I start tomorrow; the one dark spot on my sunny day!). They were high school sweethearts, went to Central Michigan University together, got married, and started having enough children to start a basketball team. Their proudest moment was, of course, the day I was born. I don’t know why they didn’t stop there and realize that I was all they would ever need, but they didn’t, and next came Megan.

Megan is alright. She will be in seventh grade this year and is a total tomboy. I mean, the girl does not know the meaning of good hygiene. She is always running around and playing some sport, and doesn’t care if she leaves the house without brushing her hair, let alone taking a shower. She can be embarrassing sometimes, but for the most part she is tolerable.

So, they had two girls, you would think that would be enough… not for Craig and Linda, they had to keep having kids, and along came number three, Mikey; who is a nine year old pain in the neck. He always gets what he wants because he is the son, and gets away with murder! He is the only boy in the family and therefore runs around like he owns the place. He is always breaking stuff and blaming it on the rest of us. He makes faces behind our parents backs and it just an all-around brat.

Finally, my parents had the accident that they called Monica (Yes, they have a weird obsession with the letter M). Don’t get me wrong, Monica is cute. She doesn’t get in my way, and she doesn’t break my stuff, which is pretty good for a five year old. I just don’t understand why my parents felt the need to keep having kids.

Was I not enough for them? I am cute, funny, and a lot of fun to be around. We could have had a great time together without all of the fighting and craziness that comes with having four kids! I can’t see the up side of that many kids in one house! Think of the amount of laundry (I know because I have to do it) and how much they could save on groceries if they had stopped after me! Oh well, there is nothing that can be done about it now; although, I often fantasize about them dropping Mikey off at a fire station somewhere and saying they found a lost child. It just doesn’t look like that is ever going to happen!

Okay, enough about them, I think you get the idea! Now, let’s get to the important stuff, like what to wear on my first day of school!

Mom picked me up a couple of cute tops and jeans, but I don’t know if I want to wear jeans or a dress, or maybe a skirt. I want to look killer and make a good impression. To do that I need to wear something that makes me feel good. Maybe I will wear something blue. I have noticed that Brian wears blue a lot; maybe that is his favorite color. Let me tell you a little about Brian… he is tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. He is on the swim team and the football team. He is so totally dreamy and seems like a really nice guy. I had him in my P.E. class last year, but I didn’t get to talk to him much, because he was always participating in sports and games, and I was always doing my best not to participate in sports and games. I watched him though, and he always seemed like someone that I would get along really well with. His eyes are so beautiful; it is like looking into crystal blue water! And his smile, Oh My God! His teeth are perfect and white (he must have had braces) and his smile just lights up the whole room. Did I mention he is totally hot? I cannot wait to see him tomorrow!

OK, I think that is enough for my first entry! I need make sure I have everything in my book bag and get my clothes situation figured out for tomorrow! I will write tomorrow and let you know how my day goes!

Ta Ta for Now!


Friday, July 29, 2011

Gary F. Vanucci: The IAN Interview

I am a native Pennsylvanian that lives near the Philadelphia area. I have been drawn to art and creativity in all forms from the time I was able to read. I started reading comic books at a young age and was drawn to the hobby immediately. I started drawing early on, pursued that for a good while, and loved all things that involved an artistic sense. This lead to me exploring singing and eventually writing lyrics and singing in an all original band in the late 80’s while pursuing a degree in fine arts that eventually shifted to Graphic Design, where I acquired an A.A. I began writing a Sci-Fi novel in the late 90’s then stopped as I seemed to get in my own way. While going to school, something tragic happened and we unexpectedly lost my father, a phenomenal musician, to a heart attack. This made me think that I wanted to pursue my writing once more. I decided to write and finish my debut novel, this time in the fantasy genre. Since my father never realized his dream, I thought maybe I would try it for the both of us!

IAN. Please tell us a bit about Covenant of the Faceless Knights.

G.V. Where to begin!? A brief summary is something like this: When a dangerous artifact goes missing from a temple, the elderly high priest in charge eventually comes to the conclusion that he needs help. He requests aid in the form of a former apprentice, Garius, who is now an Inquisitor from the Order of the Faceless Knights. After a series of interviews, Garius sets out on his quest aided by Rose, a thief among thieves, by the battle-hungry Saeunn, and by a naïve elf named Elec, who reluctantly agrees to accompany them at the behest of the persuasive Inquisitor. The eclectic group then sets out to recover the artifact before it falls into the hands of the lich who once held it. Such is the Covenant of the Faceless Knights!

This barely scratches the surface of the book as there are intricately woven webs of sub-plots going on as well as an over-arching villain that my readers will hopefully love to hate as well as several heroes that they may grow to love…or at least like!

IAN. How long did it take to write the book?

G.V. I spent the better part of a year between edits, re-writes, additions and subtractions, getting logo’s designed and artwork completed. The framework of the book was written in about three months, but I manipulated that many times, spending many a night writing, reading, re-writing and editing. I started with the concept of what would become the Realm of Ashenclaw on July 11, 2010 and after the story was written, I proceeded to fit it all in there! I had some creative help form a very close friend, too that will be accompanying me this year to GenCon! In addition, it was almost a year to the day that the book’s copyright was published (July 13, 2011).

IAN. What inspired you to write the book?

G.V. I was an avid gamer, reader and role-player growing up and have what my wife would call an ‘active imagination’. I played many games in many genre’s, but ultimately I always navigate back to fantasy…it is epic! I really had this overwhelming desire to get the book written over the last year and really enjoy the fantasy genre.

IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?

G.V. I write whenever the mood strikes. Day, night, afternoon, middle of the night are all good times, depending on when and idea hits. Sometimes it needs to simmer for a bit or warp itself into a better idea. For the most part, it needs to happen organically—you cannot force it…I have tried. Most of the times though, when a good idea hits, I run with it and do it until I can no longer write anymore as my eyes begin to bug out!

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

G.V. The first book I did not use an outline. It was hard doing it that way. I took copious notes and just starting spewing the tale, going back and changing whenever I felt the need. I am working on a second, and this time, there is an outline. So far, it seems much easier!

IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?

GV. I feel that the story is a ‘classic’ good vs. evil thing, but what will separate my book from the others is the ‘real’ quality of my heroes and villains. They all have a history that shapes them into that they are today and I feel that when you are reading about them, you may be able to relate on how they feel or what they are going through to some extent. Also, when my characters fight, they exert themselves, feel pain and react accordingly, despite the ‘fantasy’ aspect.

IAN. Is Covenant of the Faceless Knights published in print, e-book or both?

G.V. Covenant of the Faceless Knights is available in hardcover and softcover right now with an EBook on the way within the month of August.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

G.V. I hope that they can relate to something that affects them emotionally, that they have a favorite character and that they appreciate all of the characters, as some of my favorite ones are the ‘side’ characters in the book.

IAN. Where can we go to buy Covenant of the Faceless Knights?

G.V. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Authorhouse are all carrying the novel. There are direct links on my blog and on my home page (www.ashenclaw.com) as well to take you to the storefronts.

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

G.V. I have a sequel coming, but I do not want to reveal too much about it. Suffice to say that there is a bit more action and the fun is just beginning!

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?

G.V. All of my links can be found on my home page: www.ashenclaw.com, including all of the social media links, blogs, excerpts, history about the world and more!

Covenant of the Faceless Knights by Gary F. Vanucci

304 pages

Fantasy

Authorhouse

Amazon.com

The orc bore down on him quickly and was only within a few arms lengths. He could see the beast’s teeth and drool spray from its mouth as it uttered some foul orc-speak. Elec waited calmly with his weapons drawn, but had not revealed them from beneath his cloak. As the orc reached his position, Elec nimbly dove down and to his left to avoid the brunt of the charge, all the while keeping his foot outstretched enough to trip the orc. The momentum of the beast’s charge took it headlong into the mountainside, sliding on the slippery slush a bit and smashing its helmet down around its eyes, looking a bit worse for wear.

Within a second, Elec was back to his feet, spinning hard and plunging his sword into the back of the creature, placing all of his body weight into the strike. He pierced flesh, but the blade stopped on something, most likely a rib, and therefore was not the killing blow he had hoped for. He cursed his luck, thinking the strike to be well placed. His frustration nearly cost him.

The orc howled in rage and pain and swung a back fist that would have taken off Elec’s head, had it not been for the combination of his sixth sense and the temporary, enhanced state of reactionary speed and reflexes that his elixirs granted him. Instead the blow merely grazed his face instead of crushing bone beneath it and he was able to roll with it. He regained his footing and stood again, shaking the sting of the impact from his mind. A sizable gash on his face was already starting to heal, due to an effect of one particular elixir coursing through his veins.

He waited for the creature to stand again and it straightened its helmet, growling and bleeding from the deep wound in its back. The orc regained its halberd and advanced again, more slowly this time, as orc blood stained the ground.

Elec whispered an ancient elven word under his breath and suddenly, he blinked out of sight and reappeared directly behind the orc. Its yellow eyes suddenly grew wide, contrasting with its dark skin as a rather long blade tip protruded through the front of its chest cavity. It went limp and dropped to the floor, revealing the visibly relieved elf holding Daegnar Giruth in both hands, its blade covered in orc gore.

Elec gave himself a silent congratulation as he acknowledged his victory. He mouthed a whispered thanks for the magic of the ring--it was one of many gifts that his uncle had given him over the years.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leo Averbach: The IAN Interview

I was born and raised in South Africa, lived on a kibbutz in Israel for 5 years before moving to London. I was married for 20 years, fathered 3 children and then divorced. After remarrying I returned to Israel and now live in the Jerusalem Hills, where I write and run a pottery studio. A few years ago I decided to resurrect the journal chronicling the breakup of my marriage and recovery that became my book "Breakup: Enduring Divorce."





IAN. Please tell us about Break up

L.A. Breakup is a brutally honest and surprising divorce memoir, written as a journal in real time. The narrative interweaves the story of my painful divorce with my therapy in a deeply-reflective, intimate manner and reveals how I changed and eventually came through my ordeal better for it. It's a veritable odyssey of self-discovery.

IAN. How long did it take to write the book?

LA. BREAKUP is taken word-for-word from a hand-written diary I kept at the time of my divorce. The diary ran to almost 2000 pages, all stored in a friend's garage in London… and I was in Israel. Once I decided to resurrect the diary as a book, it took me about three years to get it into a coherent digital format. Of course it had to be trimmed, chapters added, etc.

IAN. What inspired you to write the book?

LA. You will be surprised to hear that what inspired me to write the book was a Green Sweater. I broke my ankle on July 4th 2005 and while sitting on the patio of my pottery studio gazing at the sunset the thought suddenly struck me that my life story was encapsulated by an object hanging behind the door – a green sweater. This sweater was knitted for me when I was a teenager in South Africa and I have lugged it around with me for almost fifty years. It is in good nick but is getting a bit tight for me!

IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?

L.A. Writing was difficult because it threw me back to agony of my divorce. What I was experiencing immediately expressed itself in my journal and I began to write furiously to keep pace with events. Every day, at all hours, I poured my heart and soul into my journal, unexpurgated and unfiltered. I just wrote, page after page. Sometimes the writing took the form of reams of flowing prose. At others it appeared as telegraphic notes, numbers or even doodles and symbols. In parts it is elegant, quasi-poetic script in others an almost illegible, crude, disjointed scrawl – all faithfully reflecting the fluctuations of my mood.

I had to get my feelings out of my system and onto the paper. The very act of writing was cathartic; things written suddenly assumed a clarity that was absent before. In short, my journal became my veritable “shoulder to cry on,” my refuge, my confidant. I continued recording my therapy sessions as well. Sometimes it is difficult to know where the therapy ends and where “life” begins.

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

L.A. It was all there. All I had to do was cut it drastically (there was a lot of repetition) and divide the material into chapters, add a prologue and an epilogue.

IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?

L.A. BREAKUP is different on a few counts. Firstly, it is a real-life memoir, written as events were unfolding, not in retrospect, with the 'advantage' of hindsight. It is executed from the inside and I do not know of any other divorce memoir like it. Secondly, it is a divorce memoir written by a man, from a man's perspective and expressing a man's vulnerability. Sadly, this is unusual as the great majority of the divorce discourse is conducted by women. I am trying to encourage men to be more open about their divorce experiences. Lastly, the book records my therapy sessions and integrates the insights I gained into my everyday life. The combination of an intimate account of therapy in a divorce situation is exceptional.

IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?

LA. BREAKUP is available as a paperback book and as a Kindle e-book.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

L.A. 1. A sense of what divorce feels like; some sort of map of the territory, the minefield.


2. An aid to negotiating the crisis; what to emulate and what to avoid.

3. An awareness that despite the tribulations divorce can end well.

4. Some snippets of wisdom about relationships and emotions.

5. A feeling of having been on a roller-coaster ride. WOW.

IAN. Where can we go to buy your book?

L.A. BREAKUP can be bought online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository and other distributors.

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

L.A.

It's about divorce but it is not a memoir.

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?

L.A. My website: http://BreakupTheBook.com

BREAKUP: Enduring divorce by Leo Averbach


260 pages

Genre: Memoir

Lexicon Books


20 Apr 1991

After an extraordinary night.


I confronted Paula and she told me what was happening. As I suspected, she is involved with Shawn, a guy she has been working with for a few years. I was relieved I was right and kind of accepted. It is better knowing, for the moment.


Leo, the ultimate nice guy. Mensch. Where is my anger? Can I just take this with equanimity? Why do I feel so calm? Am I scared to explode the whole thing? Am I trying to win her back?

She says she loves me for it. How ironic. And yet, it feels okay. I can handle it. It is weird being in a situation I cannot talk about with friends. This is the central theme in my life and I won’t be talking about it.

How long will it last? She may want to stop but he needs her desperately. I have grown up a bit; I can call up my gods. I don’t feel like rushing off to find someone to caress.

Paula says I have saved the marriage by my action. Well, do we really want to save it? She says, yes. Let’s try and keep it going for a while. She needs lots of space. I think I can give it to her. We have been more affectionate lately than almost ever before. There was some release of tension, especially last night.

I feel hurt, very. The love I wanted from you, you have lavished elsewhere. That is painful. But, I can recognize the pain and bear it. Somehow, I see the world clearer today. The colours are sharper and I am more certain of myself.

Again I ask: Am I just burying my anger and rage, like I did when I was a child, or am I just aware of the pain, anger and rage and therefore able to tolerate it? What I felt in the past, the deathly sickness in my guts, is not there now. That was powerlessness, insecurity, rage and fear.

I went for a walk on the Heath and tried to find the warm, all-loving mother within me. It’s not easy, but I am more accepting of myself. I am not Tom Jones or Sigmund Freud, yet able to be “average.” Almost.

It seems crazy to me that I might not need love from another person, that I can supply all the love I need. This is a turning point in my life. Now I have to move towards real independence and integrity, although I am still not able to regress. Where is the four-year-old me?

21 Apr 1991

Can I sit and watch her in a love relationship? They say the worst pain is at the beginning; it gets easier as time goes on. At what point do I throw in the towel, cut my losses? Don’t expect me to wait around. What has this changed, anyway? Our relationship is not worse, perhaps better. If I can bear it it’s a better situation. But what about me? I am her slave.

She says she is basically monogamous but is torn. She is torn between love, passion and care on the one hand and family, mediocrity, boredom on the other. What choice?? You are caught between nice guy Leo who you can’t really get it together with and nice guy Shawn who is problematic to live with.

I see my wife has found a love situation and I am looking on it from the outside. I envy her situation. I am not really jealous of Shawn because I don’t think Paula and I could find that love.

Did I push her into it? What were my unconscious motives? Did I want an excuse for my own longings? Did I want the titillation that comes from extreme emotion, i.e., self-flagellation? And what am I going to do about it? Just take it as it comes. There is more passion there than I first thought. That is not surprising. At the same time, there is more passion between us than there has been in a long, long time. We are intimate. I am thinking warmly about her. I want her to love me.

I find myself trying to gain her love, but maybe I should just push off. I am not going to find love here, only aggravation and pain. She says, “Wait a while, I’ll be back.” Will she? Do I want her?

22 Apr 1991

I am sad, I am angry, I am in tears. I feel alive. I feel the loss, I feel the pain, but I still go on.

What was I like as a little boy? I had some sense of it in the shower. Nine, ten years old. Helpless, scared, uncertain and yet something in me said, “You’ll be okay, Leo. You’ll be fine.” And I smiled. That was the voice of my internal mother. I was crying because I felt such an utter failure, so helpless, so pathetic. I was angry with Paula, so angry I could have throttled her.

Surely it is plain as daylight—she doesn’t love me. She thinks I am a nice guy. A mensch. Something in her says, and has always said, “He is the one to marry and live with. I can trust him, he will love and care for me. But he has never really excited me, made me want to do cartwheels, made the world sharp and my skin tingle.”

I alternate between wanting to please her and wanting to throttle her. I have said how much I love her and that she does not have to choose. I have said that I love her so much that I can even tolerate her loving someone else. But at the same time I AM ANGRY. I AM MAD. I AM FURIOUS.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amberlynne O'Shea: The IAN Interview




Amberlynne O’Shea was born in rural Illinois, and raised in Central Florida. She received her BA in sociology from Flagler College, and is currently working toward her MA in journalism. She currently works as a photographer in Alabama. This is her first published novel.





Amberlynne’s latest book is called Hope’s Shadow.

Esme takes it upon herself to put an end to the Purge and stop the Evening Star. But when fate puts her in the path of the star, she is forced to question the truth about the supposedly evil nature of the stars. This act may lead to her death at the hands of the Purge – or at the hands of the ones she loves.

Hope’s Shadow is inspired by the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages. It is a dark fantasy that challenges the nature of truth and the true meaning of heroism.

IAN. How long did it take to write Hope’s Shadow?

AO. The first draft took about 3 months. From there, the editing and rewriting process took me about another year before I was completely happy with it.

IAN. What inspired you to write the book?

AO. One of my major characters in the novel was inspired by the tales of Joan of Arc. Originally, the story was about this character and how she defeated the Morning Star. Then I wondered what would happen if the hero of the story died before the story even began…and thus this novel was born.

IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?

AO. I write whenever I get a free moment. But I do find that my most productive time of day to write is at night, or during my lunch break at work. If I can get away from the internet, all the better!

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

AO. I generally wing the first draft, as my characters like to change things on me otherwise. After the first draft, I will use an outline to help me settle any plot holes or chapters that might need to be rearranged.

IAN. How is Hope’s Shadow different from others in your genre?

AO. It’s drawn from a very dark period of world history that not many seem willing to go into detail about, and it does so as honestly as possible. There are no powerful sorcerers slinging fireball spells, the knights in shining armor are usually the villains, though they deem themselves heroes, and it’s a world where even those who fight in the name of good cannot be trusted. Though it is not directly about the Inquisitions and witch hunts, it still unmasks many of the truths from that time period, none of which were the least bit pleasant.

IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?

AO. Currently, it is available in both formats. It may be reduced to just e-book shortly, though.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

AO. Hopefully not the desire to curse my name after they read the ending. Hehe! But honestly, I hope readers come away with some sense of insight about the world. Or maybe become just a little bit more curious about the Inquisition and what the witch-hunts were really about.

IAN. Where can we go to buy your book?

AO. Hope’s Shadow is available on both amazon.com and bn.com

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

AO. My current work in progress is a stand alone, and also a fantasy novel. I am about a third of the way through the first draft at this moment. It’s not as dark as Hope’s Shadow, but that’s all I can tell you right now.

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?

AO. I am hoping to write the sequel for Hope’s Shadow one day. I just have to get the plot ironed out. And then I’d like to go back and work on the prequel.


Hope’s Shadow by Amberlynne O'Shea

269 pages

Fantasy

Key Publications

Amazon.com

CHAPTER ONE

A frigid wind howled mournfully through the trees. Splotches of crimson blood fell across the virgin snow and the black candles that lay scattered beside the ebony-haired woman. Her body was sprawled across the forest floor, her breasts no longer rising and falling with breath, her blue eyes intent on the darkening sky above.

A man cloaked in shadows stood over her body as he wiped the blood from his obsidian blade. He held himself perfectly still, as if too stunned by his actions to even look away. His dagger trembled in his hand. Noting his own reaction, he stiffened his arm. His breath was visible in the frozen air.

He squatted beside the woman. With steady hands, he reached into the gaping hole in her chest, wrenching free her heart. The sight of blood that normally filled him with delight only sickened him now. He carefully placed the useless lump of muscle in a leather satchel and kissed the woman’s cold, colorless lips.

“Forgive me, Esperanza,” he muttered as he rose and faded back into the shadows of the forest. “It had to be done. May the stars guide you home.”

***

The setting sun shrouded the forest with deepening shadows. No birds sang, no animals scurried over the snow-laden branches. Even the dryads stayed hidden within their trees. Without the light of the moon, vanished from the heavens over a year ago, there was nothing to protect anyone from the Shadow Lurkers. The light of the stars offered no reprieve from the night’s treacheries.

Robin would not have dared venture into the forest at this hour if he wasn’t certain that Esperanza was out there. She covered her tracks well, though a hunter as experienced as Robin could still manage to follow them. If only she hadn’t abandoned him, he thought. If only he hadn’t been so foolish as to believe that she’d finally accepted his company and their newfound intimacy. It was his own bloody fault for believing her when she promised to stay with him!

Robin paused by a tree to catch his breath, though the rising mix of emotions in his chest threatened to choke him and his lungs ached from the frigid temperature. Although he had forgotten his cloak in his haste, and his filthy tunic hung loose from his trousers, he didn’t feel the cold air.

The tree bark trembled beneath his fingers. Robin started and drew his hand away, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. The tree’s dryad — the spirit who cared for it — was terrified. He looked around and saw that most of the trees quivered, sending small clumps of snow to the ground. His heart leapt to his throat.

“Esperanza!”

A harrowing scream tore through the quiet of the evening. Robin’s heart almost ceased beating at the sound.

“ESPERANZA!” he screamed, stumbling through the snow, scrambling ahead without care. His hair clung to his clammy flesh. Puffs of steam curled from his mouth as he struggled to breathe. The pounding of his heart made his ears throb.

Esperanza!

The sounds of crunching snow broke into the eerie and surreal silence, as though an army of feet raced through the forest. “She can’t be … She can’t be … blessed sun … be all right, girl! Please, be safe!”

Robin pulled himself up the hill, bracing himself for whatever he might encounter. He didn’t want to consider the possibilities, especially when he knew the nature of what hunted her. Esperanza was strong, powerful. She had fought a tyrant to put a just king on the throne. She had faced and imprisoned the evil Morning Star. She could survive. Would survive. Nothing … nothing could … NO!

“Esperanza! Answer me! Please!

The voice he longed to hear remained silent.

The first thing he saw when he topped the hill was the Evening Star. It hung low over the horizon, much lower than normal. Robin gasped, dread seizing his insides with icy claws. The Morning Star had appeared like this – as large as a man standing before him – just before it destroyed Rowan, before it began to sate its bloodlust on thousands of innocents.

With those memories flooding his head, Robin started to turn, desiring nothing more to escape the Evening Star, the vile forest, and the terrible evil lying in wait within the treacherous shadows. The fading sunlight glinted off something in the snow, catching his attention. He faltered, his boots slipping over the slick ground. A silver heart-shaped locket, its chain broken, lay abandoned not far from his feet. No more than two feet away lay Esperanza, her black curls spread out like a cloak beneath her head and shoulders. Her round face seemed colorless, and her once-vibrant blue eyes stared ahead, void of all emotion and passion. He prayed she would move, would suddenly sit up and speak. The complete stillness of her body mocked him. Blood drenched the front of her tunic and stained the pristine snow. Her sword, its peculiar amber-colored blade unmarred by blood, lay unsheathed at her side. Six black candles were scattered near her head. There were no footprints in the snow besides hers.

He didn't realize he had stopped breathing until his lungs burned and tightened. Neither did he remember drawing his sword, which slipped from his grasp. He took one step, then another, on legs that barely held him. It couldn’t be real, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t …

Collapsing to his knees, not feeling the chill of the snow, he reached out to grasp her shoulders, moving without care that her murderer might be waiting to strike him down. He felt like an observer to his actions, as if he were not present within his own body. He shook her, unwilling to believe she breathed no more. His tears felt like fire upon his face.

Blessed sun, no!”

He held her close to his chest and sobbed, simultaneously feeling numb and in such terrible pain, he thought it would kill him. He prayed it would as he looked up to the Evening Star, which seemed much closer now.

Robin glared at it, hatred rising like bile within him. “It’s your fault she’s dead!” he screamed. He rose to his feet, unsteady, and still clutching Esperanza to his chest. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done! I won’t let you take any more lives!”

A shadow passed over the Evening Star, momentarily hiding it from view. Robin took a few steps back and nearly stumbled over Esperanza’s sword. He’d only seen her use it once, and never against a mortal enemy. It was powerful, though, that much he remembered.

“Die,” a voice whispered like nails clawing over wood. “Your blood … it smells … delightful …”

Robin stiffened at the sound, surprised that he felt no fear, only anger and hatred. The heat of those emotions smoldered within him. Carefully he laid Esperanza on the ground and picked up her sword. The blade was heavier than he expected it to be, and he nearly dropped it. His arms tensed as he brought both hands around its cold hilt and struggled to raise it above his head. Starlight glinted off the amber-colored blade.

Elpida!” he cried, as Esperanza once had. The blade pulsed, and then bathed the forest with a white light that almost blinded him.

The Shadow Lurkers covered their faces with long, gnarled talons, screaming against the light. Some of them fled. Their twisted, rotten bodies reeked of grave soil and decay. Long, thin voids occupied the space where eyes should have been upon their unnaturally long, mask-like faces. Something thick and scarlet dribbled from between the rows of needle-sharp yellow teeth that filled their mouths.

The bravest of the Shadow Lurkers leapt from the trees. Their screams sent chills down Robin’s spine. His voice trembled as he repeated the name of Esperanza’s sword. The blade glowed more brilliantly as he swung it at the Shadow Lurkers, deftly cutting through their ephemeral bodies. No other weapon could easily destroy these shadow-made creatures. Robin continued to fight throughout the night, even as the Shadow Lurkers grew bolder. He went hoarse from screaming Elpida’s name, and his arms burned and ached from the effort he exerted. He kept his thoughts on the corpse of the woman he’d loved, that he had lost for reasons he couldn’t begin to comprehend, and remained strong.

When dawn broke and the Shadow Lurkers fled from the sun’s light, Robin fell to his knees, exhausted almost to the point of fainting. He laid Esperanza’s sword beside him and stretched his arms, grimacing at the pain that burned its way through him. Then he forced himself back to his feet. There was a shrine nearby. They would see to the preparation of her body for burial.

There had been no sign of the Evening Star’s descent across any of Fiespera’s countries, not as there had been when the Morning Star had fallen. The ground was not rent asunder, the forest did not erupt into flames, and the sky did not rain ashes. Nevertheless, after he had a chance to rest, Robin would begin his hunt for the Evening Star. Revenge now was his only purpose.