SPORE is done and out the door, and hopefully it'll be acceptable. I think it's a quirky, twisty kick ass book. While not as overtly violent and depraved as the Dubric novels, it has its moments of dark surprises, and I'm pretty enamored with Ghoulie, especially. Not sure why - a vengeful ghoul isn't exactly an intriguing, multi-faceted character - but I do like him gobs. And Sean. And Mare and Mindy and, well, pretty much all of the characters. I am very happy with the book. Other than one sex scene that I'd intended but couldn't find a way to squeeze in, it's pretty much exactly how I envisioned it. Yay!!
Anyway, as news occurs I will blog about it, so stay tuned for SPORE's journey to a bookstore near you. Go SPORE!! ;)
Tonight, though, I've delved back into the Dubric universe with my current incarnation of Stain of Corruption. Dubric and his burdens have never been easy for me to write, but here I am, looking at where the story stands, where I want it to go, and how I need it to get there.
It's completely different now, stripped out, ground down, gutted, and revamped. It's a book of two parts, one following Dubric and Co. in the time and circumstances my readers are familiar with. That's the main story. The parallel story, however, follows Dubric before we met him, back in the last stages of the war, during his courtship of Oriana, when everything truly went to shit. The past matters to Dubric and I think I've found a way to show why and how events from fifty summers ago need to be dealt with in the 'today'.
Assuming I have the guts to face all the brutality I need to. And there will be quite a lot of brutality.
Anyway, as celebration for - hopefully - figuring out this crazed, viciously convoluted double story, I've decided to share the current openings from both parts. The first is from the 'now', or at least Faldorrah a few months after the end of Valley. I don't think I've shared this... if I have, well, just wait until next week when you get to meet Oriana and Katarrine. ;)
from Stain of Corruption - Chapter 1
"Sure that's her?" Rudd asked before spitting tobacco juice between his boots. He squatted behind a mulberry bush in an overgrown farmyard and tried not to swat at the bugs buzzing around his face, all because some rich guy wanted a girl dead.
His sweat-stinky brother Earm knelt beside him. "Yup." Earm handed over the picture, a ferrotype of a young couple, laughing and in love. The girl smiled right at them and her eyes glowed brilliant white. "Same dark hair, same cheeky smile, same girl. Looks like she has normal eyes, though."
Rudd squinted at the dented square of metal before peering through the bush to the couple kissing on a tired farmhouse porch. "Same boy. Gotta be her." He spat again, mind churning, and stuffed the ferrotype into his pocket. "Why the piss is he always armed? Ain't no one 'round here allowed to be armed."
Earm shrugged and swatted a bug. "The man said they'd be dangerous."
"Yup. And that's why he's paying good. I know, I know." Rudd glanced at Earm and wished he could stand. His knees were really starting to ache. But standing meant he might be seen and that boy had already looked their way twice. The fair, slender lad was a touchy one, like a cat stalking prey through a dog's yard. Even while showing his girl the house he'd been cautious. Maybe too cautious. And he wore his sword like it had become part of him.
"We ain't supposed to kill the boy," Earm said as he checked the blowgun again. "Just her."
"I know," Rudd sighed, unable to shake the uneasy twist in his gut. Yeah, a well-placed dart would bring down one of the lord's deer, but any boy with a sword was a good deal more dangerous than a doe. "Maybe we should just do this another time. Get 'em in the village or--"
Earm snapped, "We been watching them three damn days. If she ain't dead by tomorrow, we ain't gettin' paid!"
"Yeah, yeah." Rudd sighed and gathered his courage. Just one young girl. "Take the boy down, then we can catch the girl and do what we need to do. By the time he wakes up, we'll be long gone."
Earm grinned as he raised the blowgun. "I like the sound of that. Maybe we can peg her before we kill her. Won't that be fun?"
Rudd grimaced. Killing the girl was bad enough, no reason to molest her too. Why oh why did I let Earm talk me into this mess?
"Sleepy, sleepy little lad," Earm whispered, then paused.
"What are you waiting for?" Rudd whispered.
Earm gave him a sideways glance and winked. "He's touching her titties. Would you want to get a sleepy-dart while touching your girl's titties?"
"Just shoot the bastard so we can finish this and go home!"
Earm blew and his dart flew, but Rudd saw little of its arc beyond the mulberry bush.
"Got him!" Earm said, standing. "Got him in the hip!"
The girl squealed and Rudd saw her scramble away, the boy right beside her.
Knees protesting the sudden movement, Rudd stood. "You sure?" he asked, pulling his knife as he followed his brother into the bramble.
"Yep! He's stumbling!" Earm yelled back. Already free of the mulberry, he ran, chasing the kids around the corner of the old farmhouse.
Rudd tripped on a branch and nearly fell face-first to the weeds, but managed to lurch forward. The kids had left a knapsack slumping on the steps, open enough to show a book and a couple of apples, a partial wedge of cheese and, on the nearest strap, one little dart puncturing the worn leather.
He's not drugged! Oh hells, oh shit, Rudd thought, rushing after his brother. "Earm, don't!" he called out as he rounded the corner and skid to a stop. "The boy's not--" Off to the left, somewhere within a copse of trees and brambles, birdsong faded to silence and he heard a sharp swoosh of steel.
A trio of paths had been broken through the grass and Rudd followed them into the copse, knife in hand. Taking a breath, he sidled around a clot of itch weed and into the cool darkness beneath the trees. "He's not drugged, Earm! It's not worth risking--"
Blood flecked a young maple just ahead. Dripping. Already drawing flies.
Rudd stopped, his heart slamming. He saw branches and leaves and a few low, sprawling bushes, Earm's unmoving foot just visible behind a clump of myrtle. Rudd's throat tightened and a low, trembling wail creaked out. Oh Goddess! Earm!
"Who are you?" the boy asked from Rudd's right, and he turned, startled. The kid wasn't there a moment before, he was sure of it. Somewhere above, birds leapt to the air and flew.
The boy stood a good eight lengths away, his trousers, white shirt, and sword splattered with blood. Rudd saw no smile remaining in his eyes, no happiness, no hope. Only the cold, unfeeling neutrality of an accomplished predator. One single red drop glided down his sunburned cheek.
The boy took a heavy breath, almost regretful, and asked again, "Who are you?"
"Just... Just a man with a gambling debt." Rudd glanced at Earm's unmoving foot. As was my brother, oh Earm!
"Why were you following me?" the boy asked, his voice demanding the return of Rudd's total attention. A flicker of sunlight glinted off a single gold pip on the lad's collar, a mark of rank unseen while Rudd hid behind the mulberry.
Aw piss, he's a castle official. Like that bald, scarred bastard. An enforcer. What the hells did Earm get me into? Ain't no amount of money worth pegging with them. Rudd swallowed and choked out, "Not you. Your girl."
The boy made no move, took no step, but the cold detachment in his slate-colored eyes shifted to a quiet fury and a promise of death. "Who sent you? Who sent you to kill my Jess?" he asked, voice as neutral and bored as before.
"I don't know. A man. He talked to my brother, not me. I never laid eyes on him."
"Liar," the girl said from close behind.
Where'd she come from? Rudd thought, turning, but before he could gasp his surprise she sliced open his arm, flaying it to the bone, and his knife fell, no longer gripped by his useless hand.
"Pegging hells!" Rudd cried out, startled and grasping his forearm to staunch the gush of blood. The girl backed away from the splatter, but the boy grabbed him by the scruff of the collar and threw him backward to sprawl over moss and prickle bushes.
"Shut up," the boy muttered, emptying Rudd's pockets despite the bloody mess dribbling everywhere. "It's just a flesh wound." He found the picture and tossed it toward his girl.
"She 'bout cut off my pegging hand!" Rudd cried, still clamping his forearm.
"You're lucky she didn't cut your damned throat," the boy said, standing, then stomped one booted foot on Rudd's chest to hold him still.
"We've been working on throats," the girl, Jess, murmured. Her face had turned sickly pale and she swallowed, staring at his bloody arm.
The boy's weight pressing his ribcage and both hands either useless or occupied, Rudd struggled weakly but knew it was pointless. He was stuck, right and proper. When the boy's sword pressed against his throat, Rudd felt his bowels weaken and his bladder let go.
"Here's what we're gonna do," the boy said, as calm as if ordering an ale at the local tavern. "Jess is going to put a tourniquet on your arm, and you're going to let her. If you struggle, if you try to hit her, bite her, spit on her, or anything else, I'll kill you."
Rudd blinked, dragging a heavy, tortured breath past the weight of the boy's boot on his sternum.
"Then, we're going to make you stand and she will tie your hands behind you. Again, you're going to be a good little prisoner, or I will kill you. We clear so far?"
Rudd nodded. Clear as a fresh stream.
"Good. We will then march directly to our horses where you will be put upon one and taken to the castle. If you cause even the slightest bit of trouble..."
"You'll kill me," Rudd whispered.
"Ah, you're not as stupid as you look. Hands above your head and don't even try to tell me my foot's in the way. Let go of your arm and get them up there. A little more of your blood won't bother me at all."
Moments later and his tourniquet painfully tight, Rudd let the boy yank him to his feet. He held perfectly still, sword at his throat, while the girl bound his hands. "What about my brother?"
"Doesn't matter," the boy said, pulling Rudd forward and directing him toward the path. "He's dead."
Rudd remained silent as he trudged to the horses, two shining brown beauties that grazed near the creek. The girl rushed ahead to untie their tethers. She was a pretty thing, pleasantly curvy with dark curly hair and green eyes. So ripe, so soft. No wonder the hardcase with the sword was smitten. Yet she had a price on her head. Why would anyone want a girl like that dead? "What happens at the castle?" Rudd asked as he caught the girl's stormy gaze.