POV #2: Hadie

Batting second: Hadie Morrigan.

If you’ll recall, Hadie is from the Southern Realm. She was traveling north, having decided to flee the growing environmental destabilization of the south, when she met Javen in Lonely Oak. When the Regency apprehended Javen after Yolken healed Issa, they nabbed Hadie as well. Once the dust settled, Hadie probably could have left and no one would have cared, but she chose to stay with Javen. Not only did she choose to stay with Javen, but she chose to stay in my story. As I said in the previous post, I originally didn’t have much planned for her. But Javen needed a distraction when he saw Yolken with Kaylan, so there you go. But she wasn’t satisfied with being a distraction. And she wasn’t satisfied being a side character. She wriggled her way into being one of my main point-of-view (POV) characters. And whereas I had a plan for Yolken and Javen’s story arcs, I didn’t have one for Hadie.

I don’t talk with my characters, but if I did, I imagine my conversation with Hadie about her decision to not leave my story like I had planned would have gone something like this:

“Well… if you don’t want to leave, what is it you want to do?” I asked her.

Hadie stared at me icily.

“What?” I said. “Are you mad that I said you were just supposed to be a distraction?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“I’m mad that you let Drenan brutally kill an innocent woman and you’re not doing anything about it.”

“Wait… how do you… you’re not supposed to know that yet. And what makes you think I’m not planning on holding him accountable?”

“Well, it certainly doesn’t look like you’re doing anything to me. Javen is off to Onta to do Draego knows what–and don’t think I don’t have an idea…” She held up one of her volumes of Lovers of Onta she’d bought in Matis. “And Drenan is headed back to the comforts of his palace in Hantlo.”

“Again, how do you know that? No one has told you what Drenan or Javen are doing yet.”

“How I know isn’t what we’re discussing.”

“Right… Well, if it makes you feel better, the book isn’t over yet.” (At the time of this conversation, there was only supposed to be one book.)

Hadie folded her arms across her chest and said, “It doesn’t.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. You’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else.”

“No.”

“No? No what?”

“No, I’m not going to wait and see.”

“Okay… What are you going to do?”

Hadie smiled slyly.

Draego’s Fire, I thought, growing a little nervous. I fidgeted in my seat and said, “What?”

“I’ll tell you exactly what I want to do.”

She then proceeded to lay out her plan. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how the rest of that conversation might have gone if it had happened because then it’d spoil it for you.

What actually happened was when Hadie refused to leave I went through my normal fitful creative process, with her help, of course, to see what I could come up for her.

What ensues in The Island of Kvorga is just the beginning of what we came up with. And although her story forward isn’t the most savory, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

To set the scene a little, Dorlan’s caravan has just arrived in Portstown, the northernmost city in the Southern Realm. Drenan tore the unconscious Javen, whom Hadie had been tending to for the past few days, from her grasp and humiliated her, leaving her with an ominous threat.

Now, without further ado, please enjoy her opening scene in The Island of Kvorga:


Hadie curled up in a ball on the bed she had shared with Javen and wept uncontrollably. Her crying dampened the sounds of the fishing town outside the carriage. She loved him. And the moment she had realized it, he’d been taken away. Worse, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

Drenan’s forceful ogling of her made her feel dirty and sick to her stomach. His words echoed in her head: “If I ever see you again, I promise that I will do more than simply look at you.” She pulled her thin silk robe tightly around herself and tried not to think about how she had hung suspended in the air, unable to move. She readjusted it for fear that part of her might still be visible.

“Ma’am,” a tender voice said, “it’s time to go.”

Hadie opened her eyes and looked over her shoulder. Rennie stood at the foot of the bed, her body visible through her servant’s garb.

“I’ve brought your clothes,” Rennie said. She placed Hadie’s folded clothes on the bed. “The teamsters need to move the carriages and stable the horses for the night.”

Hadie sat up and wiped her tears with the palms of her hands. She started to slip the silk robe off but stopped, feeling uncharacteristically modest. “Do you mind?” When Rennie turned around, she finished disrobing, then donned the folded shirt. The thicker material was instantly uncomfortable in the hot, wet air. She was sweating before she even had her pants on. “All right,” she said. Rennie turned back around. “I’m afraid the effort you made to clean them for me will be quickly undone.”

Hadie looked down at the coins Drenan had thrown onto the bed. She scooped them up, then took Rennie by the hand and placed them in her palm. “Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” she said.

“I can’t, ma’am,” Rennie said, jerking her hand back and letting the coins fall to the floor. “I have no need of money.” She bowed and hastily moved toward the door. Before exiting she turned back and said, “Hadie?”

Hadie looked up, surprised to hear her name. “Yes?”

“I found out what happened.”

“What?”

“One of the whores… no. I should go. I’ll get in trouble if I say—”

“Rennie,” Hadie said, hurrying over to the woman. She placed her hand on Rennie’s shoulder and said, “You don’t have to worry about me saying anything to Drenan.”

Rennie nodded. “One of the whores leaving his carriage told me.”

“What did she say?”

“She was terrified.”

“Terrified? Why?”

“Because he told her what he did to the lass.”

Hadie waited patiently for Rennie to continue. Finally she prompted her, “Please, Rennie, tell me what happened.”

“He was having trouble, so—”

“He?”

“Javen. Javen was having trouble…”

Hadie nodded in understanding. Javen had been frustrated because he hadn’t been able to use his gift. His lessons had been with Dorlan, but when Dorlan got too busy for Javen’s lesson, he sent Javen to Drenan. The very thought of having lessons with Drenan, the man who only days earlier had killed his aunt, had made Javen sick to the stomach.

“…so he cut her throat. I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t remember her name.”

“Astora,” Hadie said, then she covered her mouth with a hand. The thought of Javen having to witness, for the second time, Drenan murdering someone he cared about made her feel nauseated. She felt nothing but contempt for the regent.

Rennie nodded again. “He cut Astora’s throat to make Javen heal her, but he couldn’t. And then he attacked him.”

“Drenan attacked Javen?”

“No. Javen attacked Drenan. Drenan wanted Dorlan to hang him, but Dorlan wouldn’t.”

“But what happened to Javen?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know,” Rennie said. “Hadie?”

“Yes?” Hadie said, looking at Rennie.

“I’m sorry.”

Hadie nodded. “Come with me, Rennie. We’ll go somewhere where he can’t hurt either of us.”

“I can’t, ma’am.” Rennie looked down at her feet.

“You can’t stay.” Hadie placed her hand on Rennie’s shoulder again. “He’s dangerous.”

“He’ll kill me.” Rennie locked eyes with Hadie, then opened the door. “I’m sorry,” she said before hastily leaving.

“Rennie!” Hadie called after her, but she was gone. Hadie stared blankly at the door, her mind numb. Then she screamed in anguish—for Astora and for Javen.

She looked at the coins on the ground and reluctantly picked them up. Everything she owned had been left behind in Lonely Oak when an armored soldier burst into her room and snatched her away. As much as she hated to take the coins, she had nothing and would need to replace her belongings. Gripping the coins tightly in her hand, she left the bedroom where she had spent the majority of the last three days tending to Javen, who had lain unconscious after doing the Dragon knows what.

The sun was disappearing below the blue waters of the Kvorgan Sea when she stepped out of the carriage. Its reddish color reflected off the water. Some called the phenomenon ‘the blood river,’ because it resembled a river of blood flowing from the sun to the shore. She’d always thought it was beautiful. Growing up, her mother used to tell her that her own beauty diminished that of the setting sun. But she didn’t feel the joy she’d once felt when she watched the sun set behind the sea. Instead, she felt more like the weatherworn and ramshackle buildings that cluttered the docks below.

Hadie closed her eyes. Even though it stank of dead fish, she took a deep breath of the wet air. It had only been a couple of months since she’d left the south, vowing to herself that she would never return. The continuously deteriorating conditions, devastating cyclones, droughts, and fires had left much of the south uninhabitable, and the Regency—the Blessed of the Dragon—weren’t doing anything about it. She had been shielded from most of the trouble plaguing the realm for the last several years because she was fortunate enough to live in Hantlo. Her parents were wealthy—her father a Silk—and there were always plenty of Blessed to clean up when a cyclone swept through. But she’d decided that she didn’t want to be around when they lost control—and she was convinced that they would lose control eventually. It was inevitable. So, she had packed only a few changes of clothes and what belongings could fit into her bag and left, joining the steady stream of southerners heading north.

But now, breathing in Portstown’s unpleasant aroma, she was back.

“Greetings, lass,” Lyoll said, appearing from around the front end of the carriage. He walked over to stand beside her and frowned. “What’s the matter?”

Hadie wiped her eyes again and said, “Drenan took Javen away.”

“I wondered as much when I saw the soldier carrying him naked as the day his mother gave birth. Where’d they take him?”

“I don’t know. Doesn’t matter anyhow.”

“What do you mean?”

“Drenan threatened to hurt me if he ever saw me again.”

“And Master Javen had no say in this?”

“How could he? He’s been unconscious since the day he used his gift.”

“‘Tis a real shame,” Lyoll said. “I’ve really enjoyed your company.” After a moment of awkward silence he added, “What now?”

Hadie shrugged her shoulders.

“Care to share one last meal?”

“I’m not hungry,” Hadie said.

“Sometimes a stomach full of food does wonders to help heal a broken heart, lass. Especially if you combine it with drink. And I know just the place. See those steps over there?” Lyoll pointed down the road. “Third ones down?”

“Yeah.”

“Meet me there in half an hour. I need to tend to the horses and carriages, then we’ll feast on a meal worthy of the Blessed.”

“Fine. So long as there aren’t actually any scales there,” Hadie said, using a term she hadn’t used in a long time. Her father had taught her to respect the Blessed and whipped her until she couldn’t sit when he’d caught her using it as a lass.

“Hah! You needn’t worry about running into any of ’em down there,” Lyoll said. “Don’t go down to the docks ’til I arrive. Looks like a few ships have recently come in, so there’s bound to be salts looking to spread some legs.”

“I won’t,” Hadie said.

Lyoll returned to his work and Hadie walked around the back end of the carriage to survey the buildings lining the street. She needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. A few buildings down was a small inn called the Land Maiden. She’d stayed there when she had come through Portstown before so, without wasting time looking for anything else, she made up her mind.

Hadie stepped through the front door of the tall, skinny building wedged between a pub and a cobbler. The ground floor was small and square and had a spiral, wrought-iron staircase at the back wall. Hadie naturally gravitated toward quaint inns like this one, as opposed to more boisterous ones such as the Oak, in Lonely Oak. She liked this one because each floor had only two rooms—one that faced the street, and one in the back—and they were protected by a thick door with three different locks. It wasn’t the cheapest bed in town, but the extra money was worth it for the added security. The price also scared away most of the drunk sailors who roamed the streets at night looking to spend their hard-earned wages on women and drink rather than on lodging. She walked over to the long counter on the side that ran the length of the room.

The short, bald innkeeper emerged from a door at the end of the counter. “Need a room?”

“Yes, please,” Hadie said.

“Quarter drake.”

Hadie retrieved a drake from her pocket and set it on the table.

The innkeeper scooped up the gold coin and said, “Be right back.”

“Keep it,” Hadie said, “in case I decide to stay more than one night.”

The innkeeper handed her a key and said, “Fifth floor, front side.”

Without any belongings, she had no need to climb the spiral stairs to her room before meeting Lyoll, so she left and made her way down the road to the set of stairs Lyoll had indicated. The number eleven was branded into the wood.

Heeding Lyoll’s warning, she waited at the top of the long weatherworn steps until he arrived. The road was busy with people going about their business. She received an occasional lewd comment from rough-looking, sun-darkened men as she waited, but that was the extent of it. With so many witnesses, most wouldn’t risk being thrown into a cell and spoiling their first night back on land. So long as they weren’t coming from Drenan, she could handle comments and leering eyes. The docks, however, were another story. There the watchful eyes were much less caring, and there were plenty of places to have one’s way with an unwilling partner.

While she waited for Lyoll, she did her best to distract herself from thinking about Javen by looking down at the docks that stretched up and down the length of the road. There were at least two dozen, most of which were lined with various types of ships and boathouses with rusted roofs. The majority of the boats were grimy fishing vessels with small masts and trawling nets affixed to rods sticking up haphazardly, but there were a few larger ships—with tall masts, the kind she knew were meant to sail across the sea—moored at the ends of some of the docks. The largest of them flew a green flag with a large clump of purple grapes in the middle—the official emblem of the Onta Province.

“Greetings, lass,” Lyoll said over her shoulder. “You find your appetite yet? Cause I’m famished.”

Hadie shrugged but followed Lyoll down the worn stairs to the sloped walkway.

“Where’s Ganip?” she said.

“Ah, well…” Lyoll said over his shoulder.

Lyoll didn’t have to say it, but Hadie knew. Ganip was young and they had been on the road for a while…

The walkway led down to the floating dock. They passed several fishing boats that reeked of their day’s catch. The end of the long floating walkway came to a T, and Lyoll turned left. They passed several boathouses and ended up at a larger building at the end of the dock. There were large glassless windows on both sides of the door, each with a heavy canvas cover tightly rolled up at the top. Hadie looked through the windows and saw people sitting at tables, eating. A floating pub, she thought.

Lyoll stepped over the gap between the dock and pub, and onto a small landing. He opened the door and held it for Hadie. As she hopped onto the landing, Lyoll said, “The best fish in town.”

The building lacked interior walls. A thick man wearing a greasy apron worked at a stove at the center of the building. The stove had a large metal vent over it which trapped the smoke. A square bar surrounded the stove and tables filled the rest of the room. A barkeep greeted them when they walked up to the bar.

“What’ll it be?”

“Ale and fish,” Lyoll said.

The barkeep retrieved two steins that hung from pegs in the ceiling. When he set the full steins before them, Hadie pulled a gold drake from her pocket. Lyoll covered her hand with his and quickly placed a few copper coins on the bar instead.

Hadie took a stein and, when it arrived, a plate of food. They searched the pub for an empty table but, not finding one inside, eventually went to the back of the building, which was entirely open to the sea. Like the windows at the front and along the sides, there was heavy canvases rolled up tightly by the ceiling to cover the opening when need be. An uncovered deck continued out past the end of the building, also jammed with tables. Lyoll found an open one in the back corner.

When Hadie sat across from Lyoll, he leaned over the table and whispered, “This isn’t the sort of place to go around flashing gold. Things like that rarely go unnoticed. Unless you want to find a knife in your ribs, you’d do well to exchange it for smaller coin.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Hadie said. She knew better than that. She looked down at her basket, filled with battered fish and sliced potatoes fried in grease. As good as it looked, she didn’t feel especially hungry. Instead, she lifted the stein and drank deeply of whatever it contained. While Lyoll devoured his own food, she downed what turned out to be decent-tasting ale—nothing compared to what Javen’s brother made, but still quite good.

“You need to eat if you don’t want that drink going straight to your head, lass.”

“I’m not hungry.”

With a concerned look on his face, Lyoll placed a copper coin on the table and said, “Here.”

“Thanks,” Hadie said as she scooped up the coin. She walked back into the pub and got two more steins. She began to feel the drink’s effect; having drank herself sick several times, she begrudgingly heeded Lyoll’s advice and forced herself to eat.

Lyoll licked his fingers when his basket was empty and nodded approvingly when Hadie started into hers. “You’d be hard pressed to find better fish than right here, lass. Freshest in Portstown, it is; straight from the boat.”

“If it’s so good,” Hadie said, staring blankly over at the water still visible in the fading light, “then why are you so sure there wouldn’t be Blessed here?”

“Look around ya; no Blessed would set foot in this area. Not out of fear for their safety, but out of pride. Imagine the Blessed mingling with the likes of smelly salts!”

“Didn’t I see Devin’s ship moored here, though?”

“Yes, but did you notice the dock it was moored to was separate from all the rest of ’em?”

“No.”

“Separate from the riffraff.”

They sat in silence while Hadie ate and Lyoll downed the contents of his second stein.

“Another?” Lyoll said when Hadie finished.

Hadie nodded, so Lyoll went to the bar and retrieved another round.

“Why do you do it?” Hadie said when he returned.

“Do what?”

“Work for them.”

“The money’s good.”

“They pay you?” she said, thinking about Rennie refusing the drakes.

“Aye. We teamsters aren’t the same as the servant caste. I do what I do not because that’s what I born into, or even out of any loyalty to them—I do it for the money.”

“Do you like it? Traveling all the time?”

“Aye. I get to see the world!” Lyoll said, raising his stein. His smile turned to a frown when Hadie didn’t respond to his enthusiasm. Instead, he awkwardly took a drink. “What now, then?”

Hadie didn’t offer an immediate reply. She didn’t know the answer herself. Instead, she looked silently across the water at the darkening horizon. “When I made the decision to leave Hantlo, I swore I would never return to the south. Yet, less than three months after leaving, I find myself in the south again. Do I return home, disgraced, to my parents? Or do I turn around and head north again? My reasons for leaving certainly haven’t changed.”

“Why did you leave?” Lyoll said.

“I don’t want to be around when the Regency loses control.”

“Then why would you return? Turn north. Start fresh again. If the money wasn’t so good driving horses for the Regency, I’d head north as well.”

“Aren’t you afraid to be around when the south inevitably collapses?” Hadie said.

“I can look after myself.”

Hadie thought about the wisdom in what Lyoll said. With the way things were in the south, going north again really would be the wisest decision. However, what she really wanted to know was where they were taking Javen. They’re most likely taking him to Hantlo, she thought. Drenan’s threat was real, but so was her love for Javen. She knew she couldn’t abandon him so easily. As much as she hated the thought, she realized the only path for her was to return home. “I can’t give up on Javen,” she said.

“There are other lads, you know. As pretty as you are, I’m sure you won’t be having trouble finding another,” Lyoll said. “So long as Javen remains in the hands of the Regency, attempting to reunite with him will be foolish.”

“I love him.”

“Ah.” Lyoll drank from his stein and said, “It’s still unwise, lass.”

“Haven’t you ever loved anyone, Lyoll?”

“Aye, I have.”

“Then you know that I can’t simply walk away from Javen. If I can find him, maybe I can convince him to break with the scales.”

Lyoll frowned across the table at her. “‘Tis foolish, you know.”

“I know,” she said. Maybe it was. But she couldn’t give up on Javen. She’d never loved anyone before.

“Then when you get to Hantlo, go see Sonja.”

“The whore?”

“Madam.”

“Same difference.”

“They aren’t, actually. The madam—”

“I know the difference, Lyoll,” Hadie said. “Why should I go see her?”

“Everyone knows that the way into a man’s mind is through his trousers. Whores frequent the palace every day, so if you want to get information on what’s happening to Javen, Sonja will know.”

“Thanks,” Hadie said.

“If you have more than just that one drake, hang onto as much of it as you can. Information is never cheap—especially in the capital of the realm.”

Hadie appreciated Lyoll’s help: for the advice, for paying for their meal, and for enough drink that she would not have long to grieve her loss once she climbed into bed. He offered her his arm to steady herself as they made their way back up the dock, then escorted her back to the Land Maiden, and waited gallantly outside her room until she slid the bolts into place.

As Hadie lay on the prickly mattress and awaited the escape of sleep, she tried not to think about the road ahead of her—there would be plenty of time for that. Instead, she turned her mind to the fact that she would not wake up next to Javen. The thought brought tears to her eyes. She curled up into a ball on her bed and cried herself to sleep.

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POV #1: Yolken

The release of The Island of Kvorga, book two in The Blessed of the Dragon, is set for April 21, 2020! I thought it might be time for a few sneak peeks of what is in store for you. I’d like to preface this post with what I hope is obvious: there are spoilers in this post and those that follow. So, if you haven’t read The Path of the Synthesizer, please return once you have. 😁

In the lead up to the release of The Path of the Synthesizer, I shared the prologue and first chapter here on my website. If you haven’t read The Path of the Synthesizer yet and want to check it out, you can read the prologue here and the first chapter here. You can also download a preview on your favorite e-reader (Kindle, Apple, Kobo, & Nook) to get a taste of it before purchasing it. If you’re interested in reading the prologue to The Island of Kvorga, it can be found in the back of The Path of Synthesizer. 😉

I thought I’d do something slightly different for my sneak peeks of The Island of Kvorga.

The Path of the Synthesizer featured several point-of-view (POV) characters. However, the plot focused mainly on two of them: Yolken and Javen. The Island of Kvorga also features several different POVs but a third character wriggled their way into becoming a primary POV character. That character is Hadie.

When it comes to Hadie’s role in the story going forward, I’d like to borrow a thought from Javen that appears in his opening chapter of The Island of Kvorga: “though he hadn’t originally planned on seeing Hadie for any longer than the time she stayed in Lonely Oak, he had grown attached to her.”

This thought of Javen’s reflects my own feelings toward Hadie. She was originally meant to just be a distraction for Javen the night of the festival in Lonely Oak when he found Yolken and Kaylan together. But Hadie refused to be written out of the story. If that doesn’t make her a strong female character, I don’t know what does.

I am not a huge outliner of my stories. Except for establishing a few goalposts along the way–one at the beginning, a couple in the middle, and where the story ends–I’m more of what you call a pantser. Keeping my eyes on the goalposts, I let the story take me where it may. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants. So, since I didn’t originally have much in mind for Hadie, and she refused to exit stage left when she was supposed to, she sort of gets credit for writing her own story. I basically knew where Yolken and Javen’s storylines were going, but Hadie wasn’t supposed to be there. Her story evolved as it went. I won’t spoil it for you–Hadie should get to tell her own story, don’t you think? But I will say she employs rather… unsavory… techniques to accomplish her goals.

So the next few posts will be the opening chapters (or enough of a chapter to hopefully pique your interests) for my–now–three primary character POVs: Yolken, Hadie, and Javen. They will probably appear in that order because that is the order in which they occur in the book.

So, without further ado…

First up to bat: the former proprietor of the Thornhill Tavern, gifted brewer of ales, who in book one chose to take the path of the Synthesizer… Yolken Thornhill.

Enjoy.

While the vast northern plains were still shrouded in the vestiges of night, the snow-covered peaks to the north began to shine. That light slowly crept down the mountains, revealing their grotesque, rocky, shadow-hidden sides. As the light worked its way down, the barren slopes eventually gave way to an abundance of life. To the south, just before it reached the valley floor, the light revealed leagues of cliffs. Their starkness was offset by the cascading water of the Mindon Falls, sparkling like a river of diamonds. Smoke from a growing fire billowed behind the falls.

When the sun finally crested the horizon and its light stretched across the grassy plains, the backs of the two weary travelers quickly began to warm. Yolken and Jax drew that warmth in, feeling it melt away their weariness. They took off running, sprinting through open fields at unnatural speed. They raced each other—Jax trying to prove his one hundred seventeen years of life hadn’t slowed him any, and Yolken not wanting to be beaten by, as Jax had taunted, an old man. The fun eventually ended—even those benefiting from the endurance-enhancing effects of Synthesis couldn’t sprint forever—and they settled into a more sustainable pace.

Yolken’s cloak flew out behind him as he ran. His mind raced as fast as his feet, shifting from thought to thought. He thought mostly about Kaylan. Ever since the night of the festival in Lonely Oak—even with everything that had happened—it had been hard to think of anything else. But he also thought a lot about Javen, and what it was going to take to free him from the Regency.

He had grown up believing the Regency were the Blessed of the Dragon. They were the Blessed of the Dragon. He’d stopped short of worshipping them like many of the residents of Lonely Oak did and had foregone the weekly visits to the Dragon Shrine that many made, but he respected them. They ruled Dradonia; all of it. The gift that the emperor, chancellors, and regents possessed set them apart from the rest of the world. Their rule was absolute, and uncontested because nobody could possibly hope to overpower them. And he was one Synthesizer—largely untrained—whose bloodline was nowhere near as pure as the Blessed’s. But he couldn’t abandon Javen to them—not after everything he’d learned. It was possible that everything Jax and Deborah had told him were the actual lies, but Kaylan believed them, so he would too. And if he was going to do anything to help his brother, he knew he needed their help.

His mind shifted to his forthcoming meeting with the Council. Jax had said very little about the Order of the Dragon and the Order’s leaders, the Council. All he’d really said was that Yolken would need their help. He knew almost nothing about the Order, and even less about the Council. But he did know that his father had been an integral part of the Order.

Yolken itched to stop Jax and ask him to tell him more about the Order and the Council, but didn’t want to slow their pace. Now that they were going somewhere, he felt as though he was making progress—even if only a little bit—in his effort to rescue Javen. Hopefully, Jax didn’t expect him to go to the Council unprepared.

As they drew closer to Croff, the epicenter of trade in the Northern Realm, they avoided the growing number of farms. Eventually, it became unpractical and unsafe to continue, so Jax finally stopped. They stood on a small cart path leading south toward a distant farm.

“We’ll follow this to the highway,” Jax said as he set off walking. “And keep the sword out of sight.”

A grin grew on Yolken’s face when he saw Jax unscrew the cap of his water flask and use Yolken’s trick of gathering water out of the air to fill it. Yolken’s flask was running low as well, so he did the same.

“This close to the city, Synthesizing is much riskier,” Jax said, “so keep your Energy flows close to the ground. The higher you reach with your flows, the easier it’ll be for a Watcher to see you.”

Yolken heeded Jax’s warning, keeping his flows of Energy close to the ground as he reached for water. It made the process slower, but it wasn’t as though he was in a hurry. When his flask was full, he began channeling the Energy he was absorbing into the Harachin sword. He charged the sword slowly, remembering from his lessons that absorbing Energy from the sun distorts Energy’s natural flow. That, too, would be visible to Watchers. As he charged the sword, he realized how hot he was getting now that they weren’t running anymore. When he finished filling the sword, he unclasped his cloak from around his neck and took it off.

“What are you doing?” Jax said.

“It’s too hot.” Yolken laid the cloak on the ground, then unbuckled the sword from his belt. He wrapped the cloak around the sword, tying it into a neat bundle with the cloak’s chords. Then he threaded the sword belt through the cords, slung the belt over his shoulder, and put the pack in place on his back. “You should do the same.”

Jax ignored him and started down the path again.

After about half a league, they reached the highway. It was nestled alongside the Croff River.

“If we went that way,” Jax said, gesturing off to the right, “the highway would follow the river all the way to Mindon, where the Croff River joins the Mindon River. It’s a beautiful city.”

When they joined the highway, Yolken marveled at the steady stream of merchant wagons moving in the opposite direction. In just a matter of minutes, they passed as many wagons as visited Lonely Oak in any given week. And they kept streaming by.

Yolken couldn’t see the city yet, even when he peeked around the large wagon in front of him, hauling bales of barley. That didn’t stop his excitement from growing, however. And as the farms surrounding them grew closer together, the road became more crowded. He knew that they were getting very close. All thoughts of the Order and the Council evaporated from his mind, replaced by Kaylan. They had only been apart for a couple of weeks, but it felt like an eternity. He resisted the urge to run around and between the traffic. He was past ready to hold and kiss her again.

“I can tell you’re getting antsy,” Jax said, “but when in the open we must remain hidden. That is how the Order operates. That is how we survive.”

“We’d be there so much faster if we could just run,” Yolken said.

“But two men running when everyone else is walking would draw attention.”

“I know,” Yolken said. The fact didn’t stop him from wanting to run, though.

Two young girls popped out from behind a barley bale in the wagon in front of him and started waving at him. When he waved back, they giggled and ducked out of sight. As soon as they peeked back around the bale—one over the top and one on the side—he waved again. They shrieked and disappeared just as fast as they had appeared. The next time they peeked he pretended he didn’t see them, and they waved frantically to get his attention. When he eventually acknowledged them, they again shrieked, giggled, and ducked behind the bale. This went on for a while, proving to be the perfect distraction. Given the contents of the wagon, he guessed that they were sisters riding into the city with their pa to sell their crop. For all he knew, he could have bought grain grown by this farmer; a lot of the grain he had used for brewing came from Croff.

“Only a few more leagues,” Jax said.

They passed three more small villages nestled against the road. After the third one, Yolken stepped off the side of the road to get a look around the wagon. Sprawling buildings in the distance greeted him.

They had arrived at Croff.

The dusty road broadened as the buildings drew closer. Yolken and Jax passed through an arched gate, which Yolken found oddly out of place because there wasn’t an accompanying wall. At the gate, the dirt road became cobbled. The buildings at first resembled the one- to two-story brick buildings of Lonely Oak, but before they had walked very far into the sprawling city, the buildings had grown to several stories tall. Packed tightly together, they towered over the road, making Yolken feel small.

As they made their way into the city, they passed crossroad after crossroad. Lonely Oak only had one road; the rest of the town had been erected haphazardly around that road and the buildings that lined it. But Croff was definitely no Lonely Oak. It was the seat of the Croff Province, of which Lonely Oak was a part. It was also where Dalia, the provincial regent, lived. He wondered if he would see her mansion. It was somewhere in the city, he knew, visible behind its protective walls.

Jax walked deeper into the sea of buildings, then turned from the wide, cobbled road onto a crossroad paved with brick. The girls in the cart ahead of them waved frantically. Yolken waved back and blew them a kiss. Both girls screeched and collapsed onto bales. Yolken smiled as he followed Jax. He wondered if they would spend the rest of the morning arguing about which of them was going to marry him. At least he didn’t have to let them down by telling them that his heart was already set on someone else.

The thought of Kaylan quickened Yolken’s pulse. He had been thinking about her all morning, but now that they were in the same city, his anticipation grew. He continued following Jax as they made their way through the city, growing more excited with every step. And with every turn, he wondered how much further they had to go.

The deeper they moved into the city, the busier the streets became. Yolken had to work to not get separated from Jax. At the same time, he wanted to take in his surroundings, and he looked around as much as he could without taking his eyes off Jax for too long. The buildings were tall, and in most places there wasn’t room to pass between them. Many of them were completely connected. The different building materials were the only indication that they weren’t one large, long building.

Most of the people who crowded the streets didn’t seem any different from those in Lonely Oak. They ranged from the poor and decrepit to the finely dressed. As they walked, though, Yolken began noticing people wearing styles he didn’t recognize. They also passed a few soldiers wearing gray armor. Yolken looked at them with a new understanding. A large, rough-textured, oval piece covered their torsos, and the rest of the armor—arms, shoulders, backs, and leggings—were smaller oval-shaped plates. All of the plates, large and small, were dragon scales. Growing up he had always wondered about the armor worn by soldiers, guards, and the Blessed, never thinking it might actually be made from dragons slaughtered during Drakonias’ war. The idea that dragons were actually real, not just fabled creatures derived from the Great Dragon, still amazed him. Dragon scales protected dragons from Energy, so Yolken now understood why everyone associated with the Regency wore the armor.

Jax made another turn and they walked down a narrow street lined on both sides by skinny, two-story buildings. Each building had steps leading up to a small landing with a door. Except for variations in color, the buildings looked identical. Jax eventually climbed the steps of a brown building on the right, and Yolken followed him up. Jax attempted to open the door, but it was locked, so he knocked.

The door opened a crack and familiar green eyes peeked through. The door closed momentarily then flew open. Jax turned sideways when Kaylan burst out, letting her around him. She crashed into Yolken’s arms and he hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair. He inhaled, breathing deeply of lilac.

“I’ve missed you so much!” Kaylan said into Yolken’s chest.

When she eventually looked at him, Yolken cupped her cheeks with his hands and kissed her.

Jax smirked at them, then stepped into the building.

When their kiss ended, Kaylan took Yolken by the hand and followed Jax through the open door.

Deborah was standing just inside. “Greetings! We weren’t expecting you so soon.”

“A Watcher found us,” Jax said crossly.

“Oh? That’s a shame.” Deborah’s tone was wry. “I know how much you prided yourself on that little retreat of yours.”

“I wouldn’t bring that up,” Yolken said with a grin. Drenan’s son had tracked them to the ravine where the safehouse was, forcing them to flee. Jax had been cross because of how much effort it took to build and supply—which involved a very unhappy mule—only to be discovered so quickly. “He’s still sore about it.”

“Please sit.” Deborah gestured to the couch and chairs. “I’m sure you’re tired. Give me just a moment and I’ll make tea and get you something to eat.”

Yolken followed Kaylan, who still led him by the hand, to the couch along the wall. He dropped his rolled-up cloak on the floor and sat wearily beside her. He wrapped one arm around her and held her hand with the other. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

Jax followed Deborah to the kitchen at the back end of the narrow house. Yolken heard him ask, “Were my plans well received?”

“Mostly,” Deborah said. “There are a few that will need some convincing but…”

As they moved through the long narrow house, Deborah’s voice trailed off until Yolken couldn’t hear her any longer. He was sure there would be plenty of time for them to discuss things, so he turned his attention to the only thing that mattered at the moment.

He let go of Kaylan’s hand and gently cupped her chin. He turned her face up toward his and kissed her again. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“Me too,” Kaylan said. “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the door and saw Jax standing there. We weren’t expecting you for at least another month. In fact, we were just getting ready to go to the market when you knocked.”

“It’s been a crazy few days for sure,” Yolken said. He didn’t really want to discuss the details, have to verbalize his fight with Drenan’s son at the Mindon Falls or what happened to him, so he said, “This city is amazing, isn’t it?”

“Growing up in Lonely Oak, I never really thought about how big Croff actually is. I mean, I never thought of it as more than a dot on a map. Mammy says over a hundred thousand people live here!”

“A hundred thousand?” Yolken said. “Incredible.”

“And Mammy says Croff is nothing compared to Tieger or Kyinth.”

“That’s hard to believe. It didn’t take long before I got turned around. I don’t think I’d be able to find my way back out of the city if my life depended on it.”

“It’s pretty easy to find your way once you get used to it. Mammy says the center of the city is full of twists and turns, but out here in the newer parts, the streets are laid out where it’s pretty easy to find your way around. I hope I get the chance to show you around some.”

“Me too, but I’m hoping Jax will take me to the Council as soon as possible.”

“Well, if we do get the chance, you’ll love it. It’s so different here.”

Deborah carried a tray of tea into the room, set it down on the small table in the middle of the room, then returned to the kitchen.

“You want any?” Yolken asked Kaylan.

“No, thanks. I had some just before you arrived.”

Yolken leaned forward to reach the teapot. He poured himself a cup then sat back. He took a sip, anticipating the welcome relief the tea would provide from his tiredness. Deborah and Jax returned to the room, each carrying a plate with a bowl and a hunk of bread. Jax sat down and dug into his. Deborah waited for Yolken to set his tea down before handing him the plate she was holding. He inhaled the aroma of the bread, which was cool, but still fresh. Then he dipped it into the bowl of thick soup.

“So,” Deborah said after Jax and Yolken finished eating, “tell us what happened.”

“First, we need proper beverages,” Jax said. He stood and made his way back toward the kitchen.

“Are you implying that my tea isn’t good enough?” Deborah called after him.

Jax returned with a large jug and four round glasses. He set the glasses down on the table, then filled one with the contents of the jug and handed it to Yolken.

Ale was exactly what he needed, so Yolken happily accepted the glass. His eyes lit up when he took a drink. “Are you serious? You have my ale? Here?”

Jax smiled. “One must prepare for all possibilities.”

“You couldn’t possibly have known we would end up here,” Yolken protested, picking up one of the round glasses.

“No,” Jax said, “but I spend a lot of time in Croff. Might as well have decent ale while I’m here.”

“Seems like a lot of effort to me,” Yolken said.

“You have a gift, Yolken.”

“Speaking of the Regency…” Deborah interjected.

“Right,” Jax said, taking one of the glasses and sitting in a padded chair. “Seven days ago, a Watcher found us in the ravine. Well, found me. Yolken was working in the shed.”

Jax spent the next hour catching Deborah and Kaylan up on the events that had transpired at the cabin.

When Jax arrived at Yolken’s confrontation with the Watcher, Yolken said, “Can we not talk about that?” He was trying to think about the fight, which ended with the Watcher’s death, as little as possible. Kaylan comforted him with a hug.

“I’m sorry you had to experience that, dear,” Deborah said. “Things are progressing well, then?”

“They are,” Jax said. “I just wish we’d had more time to prepare before going before the Council. However, I think Yolken’s progress should be sufficient to convince them to accept our plan.”

“I still don’t get it,” Yolken said.

“What?”

“Why should my abilities determine whether or not the Council helps me?”

“It might be hard to understand, I know, but the Order has a very specific purpose, and freeing prisoners is not one of them. The Regency does horrible things—we know that—but the Order simply does not have the ability to prevent it from happening, or to do anything about it when it does.”

“So you’re saying the Order will help me only because I might be of use to them?”

“You and Javen both,” Jax said. “I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the fact of the matter.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I understand how this sounds to you, Yolken,” Deborah said. “However, if you want to help your brother, this is truly the only way. There’s no one other than the Order who can stand up against the Regency. Unfortunately, the Order operates according to specific rules, and sometimes those rules prevent us from doing what’s right, or what we might want to do. This is not because we’re bad people, or indifferent—rather, the Order operates the way it does because we care.”

The conversation lulled and in the quiet that ensued, Yolken slowly wrapped his mind around the reality of the situation. He sipped his ale and Kaylan gently rubbed his arm and back. “What do I need to do to convince them to help?”

“They will only authorize help if they think you and Javen are of value to the Order,” Jax said. “So you must convince them that you are.”

“And if I don’t?”

“If you don’t, then you’ll likely never see your brother again.”

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Cover Reveal #2

I must once again hand it to Jake over at Jcalebdesign for creating another amazing cover for the Blessed of the Dragon series.

Behold, the official cover for The Island of Kvorga:

 

 

Island of Kvorga eCover

The official release date of The Island of Kvorga is: April 21, 2020

Mark your calendars! And I’ll be sure to communicate to you when it is available for pre-order! If you like, click the books tab to read a quick blurb about Kvorga!

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Traction

I have been working on The Blessed of the Dragon series for something like six years. I’ve written a little about the evolution of this project in the past. I got to the point in writing this story that I felt like I didn’t have any traction. What I mean by that is my writing wasn’t moving forward. Writing for me is, admittedly, a hobby, but it’s a hobby with a goal. I wanted to see The Path of the Synthesizer traditionally published, so for the last few years, I’ve tried to attract the attention of the ever-elusive agent. In the meantime, I wasn’t moving forward. I’ve felt sort of like a truck spinning in the mud, not going anywhere.

Last summer, I finally shifted gears and started getting some traction. I made the decision to publish The Path of the Synthesizer myself. Finally, I was moving forward. I got an editor, a cover designer, and a cartographer. The process took longer than I thought it would (don’t get me started on formatting 🤦‍♂️) but at last, The Path of the Synthesizer is published. Good or bad, amazing or mediocre, it is published. It is finished.

The wheels of my proverbial truck have at last grabbed hold and I’ve started moving forward. I can start working on the next project. Well, actually, I already did.

The next project is to publish book two in The Blessed of the Dragon series, The Island of Kvorga. While I was in the midst of the chaos that was getting The Path of the Synthesizer published, I busied myself in getting The Island of Kvorga ready for the editor. It flew off to editing land back in November and I’m expecting it back in the near future. I also worked with the cover designer in November and I’m excited to say that the cover for The Island of Kvorga is finished! Moreover, it turned out amazing!

When I was 100% done with The Path of the Synthesizer (I think I was done about 100 different times, the last donest done occurring sometime mid-December) I started working on revising book three, The Dragon King. My goal is to get through at least one revision before The Island of Kvorga comes back from the editor. But with book three slated to go to the editor in March, I need to go through it a couple more times. At the same time, I’ve been working on The Island of Kvorga’s blurb. You know… that snippet you read on the back of the book. Turns out those are some of the hardest things a writer will ever write. How to condense 100,000 words into a couple hundred words… Oye!

And when Kvorga comes back from the editor I will begin the process of processing the editor’s edits then proofread, proofread, proofread. On a side note, if you find any errors in The Path of the Synthesizer, please let me know. My feelings won’t be hurt. The perfectionist in me would like to right the wrongs for future readers.

So, yeah, my writing finally found some traction.

I’m excited for 2020 and hope you are as well! If all goes according to plan, The Blessed of the Dragon will be finished. Then, I can Shift gears again…

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Looking back on 2019 and Looking Ahead to 2020

I thought I’d take a moment and write a recap on where 2019 has taken me in my writing journey as well as look forward to what is in store for 2020.

2019 began with me sending out yet another batch of queries in the hopes of landing a literary agent, one of the first steps in traditionally publishing a novel. In total, I’ve queried 80 agents. Some would say that you haven’t really queried until you queried over 100 but still, 80 is a lot. And over the last couple of years, the desire to self-publish my novels has been steadily growing. I finally reached the tipping point in June. After some financial negotiations with the wife (which reminds me, I still owe her a new fence), I finally decided that the time had come to get my novels out into the world. And on June 12th, I announced that The Path of the Synthesizer would be “coming soon”. I was hesitant to announce an official release date because I didn’t know how long the process would take. I had to hire an editor, a cover designer, and a cartographer. At the time I thought in my head I was looking at an early September release. Boy was I wrong.

The editing process, designing of the cover, and the making of a map all went rather smoothly. I really enjoyed working with Elayne, my editor. I especially enjoyed reading some of her non-editing comments (such as reactions to particular moments in the story). She did a wonderful job overall and seriously helped me out understanding what titles should and shouldn’t be capitalized. I take full responsibility for any and all mistakes that might still be lurking in the story. Admittedly, I did a fair amount of tweaking after the editing process, both as a result of things I noticed and things the wife noticed. I had the option of sending the book back to the editor for a second round but in the interest of $$$ I ultimately opted against it.

Jake, my cover designer did a phenomenal job, I think you can agree. I’m still amazed by the fact that all I had to do was present him with some words and he took those words and brought them to life. You can see my cover on display over at his website. I was so impressed, in fact, that we’ve already completed the cover for book two in the series. 😁 But I’m not going to show it to you just yet. 😜 But I can say it turned out just as amazing as the first one.

Initially, I tried my hand at making a map of Dradonia. I had a hand-drawn one I’d been referencing during the writing process but I needed something professional. I downloaded a program and tried making a professional-looking map but I always ended up with something hokey. It didn’t take long for me to realize that, as I needed a professional editor and cover designer, I also needed a professional cartographer. Zach came to me as a referral (actually, all three entities were referrals). I was almost embarrassed to send him my cartoonish hand-drawn map, but he took my scrawlings and turned them into an incredible map. There are two maps actually, but the second one won’t be featured until the fourth–and final–book.

Those three steps were completed in early September. It took me a bit to process all the edits, then came the proofreading. 🤦‍♂️ The perfectionist in me just wouldn’t let me quit. I’m still half-tempted to pull the plug on the whole thing, but I won’t. The wife volunteered to proof it for me as well and ended up being rather helpful. She has a keen literary eye.

Fast forward a couple more months and after more than one proofread, I finally decided it was time to establish a publication date. Turns out what I thought was going to take just a few months took half a year. And if you haven’t already heard, New Year’s Eve is the big day!

The Path of the Synthesizer, book one of The Blessed of the Dragon is now available to pre-order in both print and ebook formats. It’s an adult fantasy novel (sorry, not actually about musical keyboards) and can be ordered from your favorite local bookstore, B&N, or on your favorite ereader.

So what about 2020?

I have a picture in mind of what I’d like to accomplish in 2020. The Blessed of the Dragon series is a four-book series. My goal is to have the complete series published by the end of 2020. Books two and three are for all intents and purposes complete. Book two went to the editor in early November and as of about a week ago has a cover (which I’m very excited about)! I’ve been doing some self-editing and revisions on book three while I wait for book two to return from the editor. Book four is written but needs the most work. I foresee a bit of work ahead but nothing that’s not doable.

I’m hesitant to write this but here is my tentative publishing plan:

April 2020: The Island of Kvorga

September 2020: The Dragon King

December 2020: book four, title yet finalized.

As I said, I’m hesitant to publish those dates but they are my tentative goals. However, they are obviously subject to change as my goal for publishing The Path of the Synthesizer took about four months longer than I thought it would. My hope, though, is that with the experience I’ve gained in going through the publishing process with Path publishing the subsequent books will go a little smoother and quicker.

So there you have it. My dream of publishing a book (yes, my original intent was to publish book) is coming to fruition. It may not be happening as I had originally envisioned it, but I think this might just be better. For better or worse, I’ve had complete control over the whole publishing process, which is something you forfeit if you traditionally publish.

I am at the same time excited and terrified to finally be sharing my story with the world. I’m excited because it is something I’ve been working on for far too long and to see it finally exist brings me a modicum of satisfaction. I can say that I created something. It might be great or it might suck (probably the later rather than the former) but in the end, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did it to the best of my abilities. It’s not perfect, I know, but it’s not horrible (at least I don’t think it is…). I am at the same time terrified because people will be reading my writing–at least a few of you anyways. The introvert in me wonders how I could have let this happen… I’m mentally berating myself as I type. So don’t mind me if I disappear on New Year’s Eve, never to be seen in public ever again. All kidding aside, I truly hope that those of you kind enough to support this outlandish hobby of mine truly enjoy the world and characters I’ve created.

Thanks in advance and happy reading!

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