Realm of Darkness Author Spotlight-Katherine D. Graham

This week we’ll be learning about Katherine D. Graham’s novel in the Realm of Darkness Fantasy and Paranormal Collection!

When darkness falls, beware of the creatures that come out to play…

Fall under their spell over and over again in this ultimate paranormal and fantasy romance boxset! Over 40 full-length novels with heart-melting heroes and devastating anti-heroes, full of romance, magic, mystery, and adventure can be yours for an insanely low price of .99c.

Ready to be swept away? Your book boyfriends are waiting… Enemies-to-lovers, alphas, fae, werewolves, dragons, shapeshifters, vampires, gods, angels, demons, and more: with novels ranging from sweet to spicy, there’s a flavor to sate your every craving.

You won’t find these exclusive novels anywhere else, so don’t miss your chance. Over ten thousand pages by New York Times, USA Today, and International bestselling authors and at less than three cents per book, this collection is a steal, but only for a limited time. Grab it today before it’s gone forever…

Katherine D. Graham

Kierra is a princess with a gargantuan secret. The kind of secret people would murder her for, were it to be discovered. The kind of secret her own mother would turn away from in hate. Kierra is the first Hybrd–a Human with Angel and Demon blood. Vampire-Elf Prince Lunev has spent his entire adult life protecting the only living Hybrid during her annual waning–the time of year where her Angel blood overpowers her Human blood. Love was not supposed to be in the cards. But love is what they found. Will their love for each other end a centuries-long war between their races and save their countries from the Devil and Demon hordes? ​Or will their love doom them all?

Katherine D. Graham is a bestselling Fantasy author from Tennessee, in the USA. She is also a developmental editor and a Reedsy Reviewer.

Katherine’s debut indie Epic Fantasy novel, The Vow That Twisted Fate, is an Amazon bestselling New Adult Fantasy novel, a Fantasy finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and a five-star IndieReader-approved novel.

Katherine holds a BA in Foreign Language/Lit: Japanese from the University of Memphis in Tennessee, where she also studied English (and editing). She worked for the Memphis Public Library and Information Center in her college years, and is still a vocal supporter of the Friends of the Memphis Public Library.

​In addition to the library system, Katherine actively raises support for the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The House of Mews cat sanctuary, the Memphis Zoo, and Swim Across America.

Katherine loves adventures, especially traveling. She also enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time with her family and three cats.

Run over to her author page for the Realm of Darkness and take her Quiz! And she will be putting more news there as we get closer to release, here, too: https://www.katherinedgraham.com/splitting-dawn.html

Realm of Darkness Author Spotlight Jessica Grayson

Today we have the lovely Jessica Grayson with us! She’s one of the forty-five authors in the Realm of Darkness Boxset who are offering full-length books in this fantasy and paranormal collection of novels!

PreOrder Yours Today

Everyone fears the High Elf King. He is known throughout the seven kingdoms as a fierce and lethal warrior. When I accidentally wander too close to the Veil, I’m captured and brought before him. The sentence for trespassing is death. The moment our eyes meet, the King claims I am his Fated One–his Khio’ri. He spares my life, but he refuses to let me go. His people believe that a soulbond woven by fate cannot be undone. Our people have been enemies for hundreds of years. But the more time we spend together, I find myself captivated by this man who would be my husband and king. Now, I find myself wondering: What would it be like if I allowed myself to fall?

I can’t wait to read this one! Ok, so you know me, I want to devour the whole book! A little about Jessica,

USA Today bestselling author, Jessica Grayson writes fantasy and scifi romance about strong heroines and the otherworldly heroes that cannot help but fall in love with them. She lives with her husband, cat and dog in the San Antonio, TX area. In addition to reading and writing romance, she loves swimming, chai and dark chocolate.

And if you want to get a head start on Jessica’s novels she has two out in the same universe!

Everyone fears the Dark Elf King. Varys is known as a fierce and lethal warrior; none can stand against his armies.

When I’m captured by the Dark Elves and taken before their king, my first thought is of escape. The moment our eyes meet, King Varys claims I am his Fated One—his Khio’ri.

Humans and Elves have been enemies for centuries, but his people believe that a soulbond woven by fate cannot be undone.

I doubt he’s ever going to let me go. But what does it mean to be Bound to the Dark Elf King?

Everyone fears the Dragons that live in the ice mountains, beyond the edge of our kingdom. Fierce creatures that can take the shape of a man or that of a terrifying beast.

Accused of practicing witchcraft, I’m sentenced to death by my Uncle—the King. Tied to a stake and sentenced to burn, he offers me as sacrifice to the fierce Dragon King.

Realm of Darkness-Author Spotlight-Sky Sommers

Sky Sommers!!!

I’m so excited! Sky Sommers is sharing her cover with me and The Realm of Darkness is now available for pre-order on Amazon!!!

Forty-Five Full-Length books for only .99c for pre-order!

Welcome! Today we are going to look at the fabulous Sky Sommers complete book in the Realm of Darkness!

It’s a WINNER! Can’t wait!

Blurb: After a stint in the Magic Kingdom, Marina returns to her glitzy Moscow life as the new Goddess of Fate with an angel in tow. Gabriel, a former guardian is atoning for his decisions as Fate’s bodyguard. First order of business: keep Marina’s jealous ex away from her. Second: restore magic on Earth. As Marina tries to explain botox and face control to Gabriel, the olden Goddess of Fate has schemes of her own.
Will Gabriel be able to let go of the past? Can Marina navigate the mayhem of her new job with charm alone or will she remain a goddess without magic? And how exactly do you tell your FSB-anointed father you’re now immortal?

Sky Sommers is hiding behind a pen name on account of having authored academic books in her former life. Her debut novel in 2012 was about ancient goddesses running amok, trying to get their wilted powers back. Ten years later, she wants to right some wrongs, and pairing up two immortals – a goddess and a guardian angel – seemed like a good idea. She lives in a house with a small garden with her husband and mostly one but on occasion plus four kids. No dog.

Follow Sky on Amazon!

Myths, Gods, and Romance- Queens of the Underworld Dating app Zeus’s profile.

I’m going to start today introducing you to the gods that are mentioned in the Queens of the Underworld, my new series coming out next year starting with the Realm of Darkness Anthology.
So, let’s get started with god numero uno, the character of Zeus, and his dating app profile.

Join my Facebook Group, Queens of the Underworld Dating App so we can discuss! And get more phone convos!

Zeus, King of the Gods, Dating Profile

Name: Zeus, King of the Gods. Supreme ruler. Worship me.

Parents: Cronus King of the Titans and Rhea. But Cronus tried to eat me, so I overthrew him.

Lives: On Olympus in a palace.

Looking for: Sex

Wants: Sex

Needs: Sex

Doesn’t want: No sex. Talking. Cuddling.

Previous Relationships– Married Metis, but I had to eat her so that she wouldn’t have a child. But after I tricked her into turning into a fly and ate her, she tricked me and grew her child inside of my brain. Hephaestus, the god of the forge split my head open and out popped Athena.

Married Themis- Didn’t last long, she expected me to live by rules. Had a few kids.

Married Hera- still married- Have kids. She’s jealous, so watch out for her. She has a tendency to kill my side girls.

Likes besides sex: Tormenting humans. It’s fun.

Special Powers: I am the most powerful god on Olympus. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. I can control the weather, lightning is my weapon of choice but I can also turn myself into anything I want- and you too.

How have you wooed past loves? I’ve turned myself into an Ant, Eagle, Swan, Satyr (a man with ears and a tail of a horse) a bull, a cuckoo bird, golden rain, and a dragon to have sex with women. I can be anything you want, as long as we have sex.

How have past women wooed you? By being. Has to be beautiful. Virgins who are ripe for the plucking are my favorite.

Preferences

Sexual Orientation– Any. I prefer MMMM/FFFF relationships but I’m open to any that will satisfy me.

I will take what I want, and who I want. Do not hide from me.

Must be into anything that pleases me. Looking for short-term hookups so my wife doesn’t find out. But, if she does, be ready to run or die. Probably death, but it will be worth it. One night of sex with me and you’ll have your greatest wish granted by my penis.

My body was made to be worshiped, and I will demand that of you. I want satisfaction. Give it to me. Now.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Women want me. Men want to be me.

Favorite Movies? Anything about me and the Terminator series- Arnold reminded me of myself but he never had sex, so he’s second to me of course.

Favorite Place: Mount Olympus-but you can’t come there. My wife’s usually home.

Favorite Song: I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. True story. I’m insatiable.

Any other thoughts? Come naked and be prepared. I like toys too, so have them ready to go. Entertain me. Then leave. I have other people on my list or I might just kill you.

Short stories about Zeus and his transformations for sex.

A Dragon

The first time Zeus seduced Persephone, the goddess of spring, he did so in the form of a serpentine dragon. She bore him a son, the god Zagreos, who was the first instantiation of Dionysus.

And yes, I said the first time.

Now, we are going super odd….

Zeus-as an ANT…

Zeus made himself as small as he could and transformed into an ant in order to have sex with Eurymedousa, a princess in northern Greece. Their son was Myrmidon (“ant-man”) and was the progenitor of the race of warriors that Achilles commanded in The Iliad.

So, you gotta ask yourself… did she even know? And nope, not going into how did that one work either.

Photo by Sachin Bharti on Pexels.com

A Husband

Zeus liked to take the form of absent husbands in order to have sex with other men’s wives. One man he chose was Alkmene’s husband, Amphitryon, and she had twins: Herakles by Zeus and Likmnios by Amphitryon.

Zeus did the same thing with Dia, a queen in northern Greece, wife of King Ixion. Peirithoos, her son, could have been born from either union. And Queen Kalyke’s son, Endymion, was fathered either by Zeus.

A Shepherd

Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory (and the inventor of both single words and language), was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a shepherd. They had sex for nine straight nights; after over a year passed, she gave birth to the nine Muses at once, at the foot of Mount Olympus.

A Bull

Europa, a queen in Northern Africa (Phoenicia), was abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull near the ocean. He swam away with her on his back to Crete, where they had three sons, Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon. They were known for their fairness and became the three judges of the Underworld when they died. The Minoan civilization gets its name from its mythical founder, Minos.

A Swan

Zeus took the form of a swan and raped Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. She laid two eggs from which the children hatched.[2] Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. One of the children was Helen of Troy, yep, that Helen. Now, why did her husband’s children come out as an egg too?

A Cuckoo

Zeus was in love with Hera, but she spurned his advances. So he created a thunderstorm and made himself into a cuckoo bird in distress. Hera felt pity for the bird, took it in, and held it to her breast to warm it. Zeus immediately turned back into his own form and raped her.

The cuckoo bird is so notorious for its cheating that it gave us the term for a man whose wife cheats on him, a “cuckold.” The word “cuckold” also implies that the husband is unaware of his wife’s infidelities. And he might only find out on the arrival of a baby who is obviously not his child.

An Eagle

And he wasn’t just into girls…

Perhaps the most famous eagle abductee is Ganymede, a prince of Troy, who was abducted to Mount Olympus to be Zeus’ lover and cupbearer. Zeus was often portrayed as the god of homosexual love and as such appears as a playmate of the other gods of love, Eros (Love) and Hymenaios (Marital Love). Plato calls him Himeros (Sexual Desire). He eventually is apotheosized into Aquarius, the Water Bearer.

Golden Shower

Imprisoned by her father in a brass chamber (because of a prophecy that he would be killed by one of her children), Danae was seduced by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. Their union resulted in the hero Perseus.

Danae is the descendant of another of Zeus’ victims, Io, whom he turned into a white cow so that he could avoid Hera’s suspicion. But Hera knew what was up and had Io guarded closely, then inflicted by a fly that stung her so severely that she went mad and wandered throughout Europe and Asia, eventually ending in Egypt. There Zeus restored her human form.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into Zeus. He was a naughty boy- in the extreme. It gives me pause, these myths were venerated, people loved them, but did they also think it was ok what he was doing?

Thoughts?

Would you date Zeus?

Freedom’s Knife by Daphne Moore

Freedom’s Knife by Daphne Moore is a dystopian, futuristic, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fiction,

daphne

Amazon

novel.  Did I forget anything?  Daphne weaves together a story of a distant future where aliens have invaded earth and spirits demand retribution.
The MC Alys Xoticos-Quinn denies having any magical power.  Convicted of crimes, the Union chains geas inside of Alys to keep her in control.  She can’t kill, she can’t have sex with anyone unless the geas approve and she has to follow the Union rules or suffer unimaginable pain.  And she can’t flee.  The Union has the only thing that matters to Alys.  Her son.
Alys teams up with Walker, a mysterious mage to find out who has done the unthinkable and called the Windigo a spirit of eternal hunger.  Alys’s character is straightforward. You know when she wants to kill someone and you know that she loves her son.  He’s all that matters to Alys. But,  her young son is magical and the Union wants him controlled- at any cost-even his death.
The Union’s reach is long, Alys must find a way to escape with her son.
Daphne’s writing style is very compact  The plot moves along at a good clip and the magical elements are fantastic.   It’s a world where the earth has been plunged back into the 1500’s, developed magic, and has 23rd-century elements.  Really a neat read.
A 4.5 rating.

Tuesday Cross-Of Flesh and Fire Book 1, The First Chapter

Today, I’m posting a very special First Chapter.  Tuesday Cross’s Of Flesh and Fire. This is an excellent fantasy.  I’ve read it twice now…seriously. All the pieces of a fantastic plot come together with mystery,  love, vampires, dragons, and a werewolf best friend!

On Wednesday, I’ll be leaving my review on NakedReviewers..  For now, I’ll leave you with a taste of Tuesday’s writing.  Enjoy!

Of Flesh and Fire - Book I: Everything Will Burn by [Cross, Tuesday]Vampires, werewolves, and dragons… oh my!

Looking for an action packed twist on paranormal fantasy with a touch of romance?

‘Of Flesh and Fire – Book I’ by Tuesday Cross delivers a fast-paced fantasy adventure,
perfect for adults of all ages. If you enjoy vampires, werewolves, and DRAGONS… you’ll love this story.

CHAPTER 0
MY FIRST DEATH

 

I lay there, trying my hardest not to choke. The heavy scent of smoke invaded my body, coating my lungs, stifling me. All around me were the sounds of screaming, sobbing, and fire– my body shivered involuntarily. I shifted my focus back to breathing, trying to quiet my body’s urge to stand up and run. I won’t be able to do anything if fear gets the better of me.  Anger flashed hot in my stomach. After everything I’ve done to get my life back, here it is. Ending. The beam overhead groaned like some sort of wounded animal, making me flinch. Clenching my eyes shut, I dove into my memories. Any event of my past was better than what was about to become my last.

 

I’m six years old, sitting in Ms. Carla’s tidy sun-bleached office. I lightly swing my legs back and forth, listening to the rhythmic ba-bump, ba-bump as my heels bounce off the base of the bench. Behind me, through the door, I can just make out the whispers of my foster parents. They don’t say it outright, but I can tell. They don’t like me. Ms.Carla, lovely as always, encourages them to keep trying. Keep up with the counseling. Every child needs a forever-home after all, and who said adoption was going to be easy?

 

I’m twelve years old, running through the woods. My foster brother is laughing, but we’re not having fun. I’m frightened because I know how this game ends. Doubling back I head for my secret hiding spot, and while crossing over the rocks I make a stupid mistake. Trying to jump too fast, my shoelace snags on a fallen branch. I try to catch myself, but tumble heavily into the deep crevasse beneath my destination. If I hadn’t had been so afraid, I wouldn’t have rushed. I spent hours fuming and nursing a sprained arm before the fire department found me. Shortly afterwards my foster ‘parents’ shut me in my room as punishment for wasting everyone’s time.

 

I’m seventeen, crouched in the dusty attic, pouring over my collection of contraband. Wonder Woman and Supergirl– I soaked up the adventures depicted on the black and white pages. My name had been repeated, growing steadily louder and louder for the last five minutes. The heavy footsteps of the man I was supposed to call father reverberated below. It was only a matter of time before he thought to check the attic, and found me and my treasures. Sighing, I carefully tucked three favorites into the bag by my feet. The footsteps halted directly beneath the attic door, but it didn’t matter. I was out the window, down the lattice, and into the night– like the monsters I was leaving behind had never existed at all.

 

And now I’m here. What a stupid situation. I shouldn’t have come to this town. I shouldn’t have stayed here so long. I’m an idiot for thinking I could make a life here. I opened my eyes and stared into the flames, defiant. If my life’s about to end,  I’m going to watch it go.

 

Finally, the groaning beam cracked and gave-way.

Delivering me to the darkness.

CHAPTER 1
REVEALED BY FIRE

MILDRED MIDWOOD

 

Dusk came and went, and a dewy midnight settled like a blanket over the grounds of Rowling-Burroughs University. In the Eastern Quarter of the Historic wing, Headmistress Mildred Midwood sat stiffly behind her desk. Her brown eyes focused on the map spread out before her. Her face was calm, but she drummed her nails against the wood of her desk. A light knock at the door pulled her out of concentration, and Midwood’s eyes shot up to meet a gentle gaze she knew well.

“Professor Starling, it’s late you know,” Midwood said quietly.

“Mildred, there’s another fire,” he replied.

“Where?”

“In the village, at a home for young women.”

Midwood’s nostrils flared. She knew exactly which home Starling referred to.

“And you’re here about it in the middle of the night because–”

“It’s happening as we speak,” Starling answered.

Midwood stood and turned, disappearing into the air with a loud crack, leaving only the smell of burning ozone behind.

 

Midwood reappeared in the shadows, a safe distance from the frantic scene unfolding before her. Even from her position across the street, Midwood felt the searing heat clawing her face. Looking left and right, Midwood observed nothing else out of the ordinary. Silent cars stood sentinel along the street and a cool breeze played through the leaves of the trees.

Everything was as it should be, except for the structure in front of her. It was burning at temperatures so obscene that the flames were a ghostly blue-white. The brave men of Vernon Village’s Fire Department worked diligently, but the fire carried on, unaffected.

Thank the gods this street had been evacuated. The fewer witnesses, the better.

Spreading her arms out by her sides, palms facing the blaze, Midwood hummed low and deep. The sound reverberated through her sternum, growing louder until it matched the cracking and whipping of the flames. A soft grey light emanated from her palms as Midwood took slow steps into the middle of the damp street. One by one the men of VVFD ceased their work, whispering amongst themselves. Midwood did not see them. In fact, she could not see them. Her eyes were rendered useless as her inner eye focused on the fire, seeking its source. It was as if the flames were alive, eluding her efforts to snuff them out.

Fire magic. The thought chilled Midwood to her core, and she redoubled her efforts to douse the flames. Midwood advanced to the sidewalk in front of the building, the ghastly blue flames illuminating her ebony skin. The men of VVFD remained glued to the spot, unable to tear their eyes away. Midwood clasped her hands violently together in front of her heart, snuffing out the raging blaze– the force of her efforts knocking her to the ground.

Stunned, the firefighters looked to the structure, and back to her. A tall, bear of a man came forward to help her to her feet. Midwood was not a frightening woman to behold, yet she saw a glimmer of fear in his eyes as he hoisted her up.

“Chief Johnston, thank you,” Midwood said, brushing off her skirt.

“Well Headmistress, it’s you we ought to thank,” he mumbled.

It was obvious to Midwood that as usual Johnston was polite, but not out of respect.

Whispers from the men rose in the background. (These lot only get involved when something’s wrong) – (I don’t like it, we shouldn’t have to owe them anything.) – (How do we know that she didn’t set the fire to begin with?) She shrugged off their words. If her suspicions were correct, then the current situation was much more important than normal vs supernatural politics.

“If you don’t mind, Chief, I need to inspect the ashes.”

“Ma’am! We’ve been fighting this fire for hours, and the whole time it’s been burning hotter than the bloody sun. You’re not going to find anything in there.”

“All the same, I would like to have a look around.”

“It’s not safe.”

“Chief.” Midwood looked him square in the eye. “I’ll be fine.”

Johnston huffed and stood out of the way, gesturing towards the smoldering remains. Midwood nodded politely, hiked up her skirt, and made her way inside.

The stench of smoke enveloped her as she waded through the destruction. It pained her to know how many people must have died, their bones turned to dust. As she made her way to the center of the cinders, Midwood couldn’t shake the feeling of dread which had taken root within her. She thought back to the orphanage she inspected after it burnt, and then the hostel. No survivors.  Someone is targeting these places. but they wouldn’t continue if they had already found what they were looking for… If I’m right. Stopping for a moment to release her skirt from a piece of twisted steel, something caught Midwood’s eye. Laying under the ashen remains of a structural beam, as if asleep, was a young woman. Her skin smooth and milky white, untouched by the violence.

The gods have mercy!  Bending down, Midwood gathered the naked form in her arms, lifting her up with the strength of a much younger woman. Blocked from the sight of Chief Johnston and his men, Midwood turned on the spot, disappearing with her precious cargo into the heavy night air.  

 

 

 

The First Chapter-Author Showcase- S.J. Lem

Today’s first chapter is something a little different.  It’s YA Science Fiction & Fantasy, and this one proves to be a page-turner!

 

 

All eighteen-year-old Ri wants is to cure her adoptive father Samuel from his hallucination-inducing illness. Everyone in her village tells her it’s impossible. But when she meets two newcomers in the forest—a gruff rogue with a vendetta against the gods and a charming fugitive with the power to travel through water—she’ll be torn away from Samuel and swept across the sea to an oppressed city governed by a ruthless tyrant. Once there, she’ll not only have to confront Samuel’s unlawful past, but a vicious evil that threatens all mankind.

In this tale of bravery, friendship, and unexpected love, Ri must discover her own strength to save the men she cares for.

 

 

The Waterfall Traveler

Chapter 1

No, no, no! How could I have slept so soundly while Samuel wandered out of our home? I swung my cottage’s door open and bolted outside. The morning sun peeked over the mountains and cast soft light onto my cliff-top village. Everyone was still asleep. Samuel’s tracks imprinted the dusty ground. They meandered through his garden, past neighboring thatch-roofed homes, and led into the forest.

Dammit! Of all places for him to roam. The forest was full of dangerous things: pumas searching for their next kill, rocks that protruded near neck-breaking slopes, and berries that could lull a man into permanent slumber.

But Samuel didn’t understand this. He had the Sickness. Some folks called him a burden. Others prayed for the day he would leave. But I’ve set those fools straight on more than one occasion.

I dashed onward and followed his footprints, scattering a cluster of chickens along the way. What if he was injured? Or worse? I raced past the perimeter of the village and reached the forest’s edge. Spruce trees rose into the sky, spreading their needled branches like raven feathers.

I threw a stone into the woodlands and it bounced off a tree. “Wake up!”

If anyone saw me shouting into the forest, they would have thought I had the Sickness too. I didn’t, of course.

“Where are you?” I tossed another rock into the branches. This time, I got their attention.

Seven orbs, roughly the size of my fist, drifted from the treetops, radiating amber light. These orbs visited me—and only me—since childhood. When I was young, they comforted me during storms as Death lit up the sky in search of souls. When I reached the age to hunt, they showed me the best places to set my snares, and I always returned home with plenty. I didn’t know what they were, but I named them the Fireflies.

They whooshed into the forest, zigzagging around trees like a ribbon of light, and I chased them down a familiar path. My hair whipped behind me, bound in a brown braid that hung to my waist. As I raced on, the canopy of pine needles sucked me back into the night. Owls, fooled by the darkness, still hooted threats at mice cowering in the brush.

Before long, patches of light dabbed the forest floor. New grass poked through the black dirt until lush growth overtook the ground. We had reached a clearing. The Fireflies shot upward and disappeared.

I crouched behind a tree and scanned the area. A stream fed by a gentle waterfall carved the clearing in half. I breathed a sigh of relief when Samuel paced into view.

He looked older than his fifty-five years and hobbled with a hunch. Only a few tufts of white hair traced the lower regions of his scalp. He lost his left arm long ago, though he couldn’t remember how. His sleeve knotted around the stub at his shoulder. Ricky, his gray mutt, pranced at his feet, intent on tripping him. But Samuel didn’t seem to notice. He gestured wildly, mumbling his usual gibberish.

“Samuel,” I called. With one last glance around the clearing, I rushed to his side.

He jerked his head in surprise. “Oh my, I didn’t see you there, Ri.” Smiling, he waved for me to join him.

He spoke in his native language, which I had learned by the age of seven. Our village called it the Crooked Tongue. Though Samuel raised me, we were not related. Fourteen years ago, a vicious beast killed my parents, so Samuel took me as ward when I was four years old. I remembered nothing of the incident or my family, but the beast had left a crescent-shaped scar on my back. I shivered whenever my fingers brushed against it.

“You promised that you wouldn’t roam into the forest anymore.” I disliked taking such a stern tone with him, but I meant it for his own good.

“Oh.” He scratched his chin, disheveling his short beard. “I promised that?”

“It’s all right, let’s head back.”

“Ah, but we don’t want to miss this.” His grin stretched across his face. “No, we definitely don’t want to miss this.”

As a youngster, I had listened to his storytelling long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains. His voice rallied with similar enthusiasm this morning, and I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Miss what?”

“I’ll tell you, but don’t go gabbing about this to anyone. Least not until we have the proof. This is quite extraordinary, and you know how the village is. No vision. Not like you and me.”

“I won’t go gabbing.”

“Well, this clearing hosts something unimaginable, an act of the goddess Eisanea, herself. I know it’s Eisanea. There’s no other explanation.” He raised his arm toward the sky for emphasis. “It’s not some figment of Crazy Samuel’s imagination this time.”

“You’re not crazy.”

I hated the nicknames the villagers called him. To them, we were outcasts and outsiders. My original village lay somewhere on the island’s western lowlands, but I’ve never attempted to visit it. Samuel’s village—which he called a city—was to the east across Wind Serpent Sea. Both were places I only knew through stories. Occasionally, he would recall details about his homeland, though the Sickness robbed him of most of his memories.

“What’d you see?” I asked.

A wrinkle deepened between his eyebrows. “Well, give an old man a minute. Just need to collect my thoughts. You know how they abandon me sometimes.” He sat down on a log and stared at a river stone as if it would give him an answer.

I took a seat and rested my head on his shoulder. Our reflections wiggled on the stream’s surface. Before Samuel’s hair paled and fell out, it was wavy and black and touched the top of his shoulders. I used to admire it, along with his blue eyes. My reflection, lanky and lean, blended in with those of the cattails surrounding us.

“It’s all right if you don’t remember.” I patted his knee.

“Ah, this must be it.” His gaze landed on a patch of tall grass dotted with red blossoms. He struggled to his feet and plucked a flower out of the batch. With an ungraceful bow, he presented it to me. “This must be why I’ve come here, because what can be more spectacular than the first blooms of spring?”

I accepted the gift, twirling the stem between my fingertips. “Samuel,” I began, “you can’t enter the forest alone anymore. There’s dangers.”

“I’m not alone. Ricky is with me.” His crow’s feet fanned as his face widened in a smile.

I gave Ricky to Samuel because I thought he would make a good guard dog. Ricky lacked any qualities resembling bravery, but his antics entertained us. Samuel and I watched him paddle his oversized paws in a mud puddle. He sifted his nose through the water and, with a snort, snatched something up. His teeth clanked against the object.

“What’d he find?” I asked. “Ricky, here.”

His head drooped as he trotted over to me. He spat something hard into my hand before lying down and feigning indifference toward the treasure he sacrificed. I wiped the filth off with the cuff of my sleeve and examined the item.

“Glass,” I said, astounded.

On my seventh birthday, Samuel gave me a compass with a glass face. A rare treasure, indeed! It came from his homeland, and no one in our village had ever owned one. The needle pointed west. How it worked, I didn’t know. But sometimes, I suspected that Samuel came from a magical place where everyone owned such amazing contraptions. I carried the compass in my pocket, always.

“A glass jar.” I showed it to Samuel.

“No,” he said. “That’s a glass vial.”

His eyebrows sprung into round arches. “Yes, of course. I remember now. There’s a handsome young man,” he said, “and he appears out of nowhere. Bursts right through that waterfall over there.” He pointed toward the cascade at the edge of the clearing.

“Samuel,” I said, “handsome young men don’t just burst out of waterfalls.”

“Yes, peculiar, isn’t it? He has a knapsack. It’s empty when he arrives and stuffed full when he departs.”

“Is that all you saw?”

“Well, I think so.” He smoothed his beard while scanning the clearing. “I wonder where that lad could’ve wandered off to.”

I smiled. Fortunately, his mind only conjured up a harmless hallucination rather than the usual skeletal ghouls that hurl him into fits of panic. My village called his ailment mind sickness for a long time, and later just referred to it as the Sickness.

“Let’s head back.” I stood and helped Samuel to his feet. “I’ll make us breakfast.”

Samuel turned toward the waterfall and waved. “Until next time Waterfall Man.” Ricky added two barks, wagging his tail with enthusiasm.

The noise frightened some birds out of the branches. I glanced around and listened for other creatures. On the opposite side of the clearing, the Fireflies hovered over the brush. Their energy seeped into the space sheltered by my rib cage and tugged, urging me to follow them deeper into the forest. Instead, I hastened toward Samuel and caught his hand mid-wave. The Fireflies had to wait until I led Samuel to safety.

 

***

 

Overlaid with vines, a log archway served as the entrance to the village. A pair of sparrows greeted us as we slipped through, but not a single villager dawdled nearby. A few paces beyond the entry, an abandoned garment hung over the rim of a wash bucket.

We slipped past a couple homes and reached the courtyard. A dozen people huddled in a circle at its far end. They wore linen and leather that matched the dust underfoot. Someone in the center of the mob was bawling. Samuel paused, staring at the commotion.

“Who’s that yelling over there?” He placed his hand over his brow to block the sun.

I tugged him along by the arm. “No one. It’s only someone’s goat bleating.”

Of course, it wasn’t a goat. But it was best to keep Samuel away from crowds to protect his feelings from their ridicule.

I nudged him onward. While the other homes nestled side by side, ours sat on its own plot at the western most edge of the village. We had a prime view. Our village had earned the name Red Ridge since it sprawled along the top of a red rock cliff, and Samuel and I could see the entire valley from our doorway. The vale was a bowl of evergreens and haze.

I led Samuel inside. He shuffled across the stone floor and eased himself onto a stool next to the hearth. While he caught his breath, I hurried past our bedrooms to a storage closet to fetch something to eat. The harsh winter had drained us of almost everything except for a half-dozen potatoes, a handful of beets, and two bottles of our homemade dandelion wine.

I grabbed a potato for Samuel and tossed it into a pot of water over the fire. Then, I peeked out the window. The crowd had doubled.

I went to Samuel and braced his shoulders. “Can you watch that potato for me?”

“Of course, sweetie. I won’t let that tater flee the kettle.” He looked at the pot with unwavering attention, and I ran out the door, securing the outside latch with rope so he couldn’t wander off again.

The mob didn’t notice when I approached. The howling had quieted to a sob. I stood on my tiptoes to see over all the heads. Kaylan, a tall man of about fifty, knelt next to an old fellow who had a ten-inch gash below his knee. A satchel hung at Kaylan’s hip, full of medical supplies. Blood covered his hands.

“You’re a darn fool,” Kaylan said to the man as he stitched the wound. “You should know better than to travel at night. You’re lucky you made it back this morning.”

The old fellow stared at him with teary, vacant eyes and nodded. I sneezed.

A young man turned his head and locked a vindictive gaze on me. “Where’s Crazy Samuel?” the oaf asked. He had thin lips and big teeth. With a chuckle, he placed his hand behind his back and started hobbling back and forth, mumbling nonsense. A couple of people in the crowd laughed.

I slapped him across the face. “At least he’s not an ignorant fool.”

The man raised his hand to me, but Kaylan broke out of the crowd and intervened. “Boy, the girl is right. I can stitch a gash and bring down a fever, but there’s not a damn thing I can do for dumb.”

The oaf gave me a look that hinted of future retribution before storming off. No one ever talked back to Kaylan since his skills tending injuries and illnesses were extraordinary.

Kaylan wiped his hands clean with a rag and then regarded the wounded man. “You’ll be fine. Keep it bandaged and stay out of the woods.”

He patted me on the shoulder and with a clever look in his gray eyes, he whispered, “Next time make a fist and aim for the nose.”

Seemed like good advice to me. We walked away from the crowd and toward my home.

“What attacked that man?” I asked.

Kaylan cleared his throat. “He wouldn’t say. He kept rambling about nightmares. I suppose the gash matched what a wild dog could do, but …” We reached my door. “Ri, listen to me. Soon as the sky hints at dusk, you make sure you’re back in this village from now on. Do you understand? Something dangerous is out there.”

I nodded and opened the door, following Kaylan inside. Samuel’s eyes widened with glee when he realized he had a guest. Kaylan and his twin boys—who were roughly my age—were the only people who ever visited us.

“Would you mind staying with Samuel for a while?” I asked. “We’re practically down to our last potato.” Without waiting for his reply, I retrieved one of the bottles of dandelion wine and wrestled with the cork. Once removed, I poured the sweet drink into a mug.

“Well, how can I refuse now?” Kaylan grinned and grabbed the mug.

As he took a sip, I whispered in his ear, “Yesterday, Samuel talked about his homeland. Just random details as usual, but there was something different this time. A sort of clarity in his eyes.”

Kaylan raised a hand to shush me. “Ri, I know what you’re getting at. An illness of the mind can’t be cured. We’ve been through this.”

“Nonsense. One day I’ll cure him.”

He touched my arm and softened his tone. “One day you’ll need to accept the truth.”

“I better check on that potato.” I huffed to the hearth and removed the pot. The people in Samuel’s former village probably knew how to cure him. While I placed the potato on a plate and chopped it into wedges, Kaylan took a seat on the stool opposite Samuel. My mouth salivated as the aroma of food reached my nose.

“Ri, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Kaylan added. “But I would hate to see you get your hopes up.”

Hope was all I had.

Samuel exchanged a baffled glance with each of us. I looked at my feet. How rude we were to talk about him as if he weren’t even in the room.

Kaylan cleared his throat. “Why don’t you go gather more food? I’ll stay here.”

I sighed, releasing my frustration, and handed Samuel his food. Then, I scooped up a small basket and my fishing pole before dashing outside. I raced through the courtyard, under the archway, and back to the clearing where I found Samuel earlier.

A patch of grass near the streambed invited me over. I cast my line and then secured the end of my fishing pole into the mud. While the hook waited for a nibble, I wandered over to a nearby blueberry bush. A few crushed berries lay scattered on the ground. I grumbled. Some animal had beaten me to the grub.

Regardless, I bent down and sifted through the leaves, rummaging for whatever remained. Not one berry left. I sat back on my heels and stared at the ground. Someone’s footprint lay in the mud. Judging by the size, it belonged to a man. Odd horizontal ridges spanned across the footprint’s length. Only one shoemaker lived in my village, and the soles he crafted were soft leather that made flat, smooth tracks. So whom could this track belong to? An outsider? I touched the unusual print, and moist dirt clung to my fingertips. It was fresh.

A tug on my line jolted me from my investigation.

I pulled in a small trout and tossed it into my basket. When I looked up, the Fireflies flew past my line of sight. They hovered at the opposite side of the clearing, waiting. With pole and basket in hand, I followed them, hoping they had found a blueberry bush that no one had foraged through yet.

The Fireflies wove around the trees, and I chased them down a deer trail until it disappeared into the brush. I trampled brambles underfoot, forcing my way through a forest that now seemed intent on stopping me. Above, the sun buried herself behind a heap of gray clouds. I stopped running and stumbled backward. I had accidently entered the section of the forest known as the Dark Woods. Here, the nocturnal hunters never slept, for it was always night.

Despite the dangers, the Fireflies dove into the wretched place, pausing to float above a cream-colored object poking through the dirt. It lay roughly twenty steps ahead.

“No, absolutely not.” I wagged a finger at them. “This is a bad idea.” I stepped away, but they whizzed toward me, circled my waist once, and then returned to the object. They had never done that before.

“What’s gotten into you?” I asked.

They swarmed over the object like bees buzzing around a hive. The item they discovered must have been something of value.

“All right, but only for a moment. This is dangerous.”

I stepped forward. No light trickled through the ceiling of tangled branches and cobwebs. Ivory mushrooms clung to trees that twisted their roots into a rug of endless black dirt.

When I approached, the Fireflies zoomed farther into the Dark Woods. As small as they were, they sure were brave, or at least reckless. They led me to the glistening object, half buried in the dirt. I bent down and touched the thing and it coated my fingertip with clear ooze that reeked like a carcass in the summer. Cringing, I dug it free. The gooey film covered the entire object, so removing the filth required a few wipes. After cleaning one side, I identified it: a human jawbone. I hurled the grotesque thing to the ground, and it showed me a grin full of missing teeth.

A crow squawked. The vile birds lined the branches, screeching and cocking their ugly heads, but the Fireflies lured me onward. And they had never led me wrong.

Though my knees trembled, I followed my glowing companions farther into the Dark Woods. I held my breath and grasped the handle of my basket so tight that it cut into my palm. Then, without warning, the Fireflies flitted off like a school of startled minnows. I staggered backward. Something moved, roughly twenty feet ahead. A man.

I leapt to the cover of a nearby tree and pressed my back against its trunk. Bark dug into my shoulder blades, but I stayed still. His footsteps neared. I peeked around the tree.

Only fifteen strides separated me from the stranger. He fussed with a canteen attached to his belt. Sweat stains soiled his shirt, which draped in tatters over the waist of his hole-ridden pants. Two sheathed weapons hung from his belt: a dagger and a sword with an ornate handle. Though I had never seen a sword, Samuel taught me about them. A knot coiled in my stomach.

He brought the canteen to his lips. His bristle-covered throat pulsed with each gulp. He took two more steps in my direction, kicking the jawbone along the way with a whoop. A man who showed such disrespect for the dead was mad. I ducked back behind the tree.

His footsteps continued to approach, snapping twigs. I should have run. Instead I froze, heart pounding. He made his way to my side of the tree, inches from where I stood. He sneered, crinkling his blood-spattered face.

“Well, well,” he said, speaking in Samuel’s native language. “A little bird flew too far from her nest.”

 

Wasn’t that a wonderful First Chapter.  Loving it.