Size Chart for the Pelted Species (and Aliens)

alliance-species-size-chart-for-web

People have been asking me for this for a while! So here are the races and species of the Paradox universe all standing together.

Some notes:

1. Obviously, these are averages. The Platies, for instance, never stop growing; Alysha meets one in a story that’s the size of a shuttle…!

2. The Pelted “races” were created by segregation during the Exodus, which means they started out as a bunch of fox-like creatures, a bunch of cat-like creatures, etc, and became Seersa, Tam-illee, Hinichi, etc. A lot of this differentiation happened in order to maximize the chance of successful reproduction (assuming that a like body, mated to someone with a like body, would have a better chance of turning up healthy children). However, there’s a lot of variance in the second generation races. So while the Seersa and Karaka’A (the first two there, with the digitigrade legs) are usually between 4 and 5 feet tall and always have digitigrade legs, some of the segregated races have a lot more variation. The Harat-Shar can be plantigrade or digitigrade, and can be as short as a Karaka’An or as tall as an Asanii. Etc. All the first generation (Seersa and Karaka’An) and second generation (Harat-Shar, Asanii, Tam-illee, Aera, Malari, Hinichi) can interbreed, which is why they’re usually referred to as races.

3. The Malarai, hanging in there behind the Glaseah, is one of the least populous races and may in fact be close to extinction. That’s why I put her in the back. Poor thing.

4. The enormous Akubi back there is a female, the only one of the three sexes to have fluff on the head. The others are just horned. I think.

5. Some pronunciation notes. I honestly don’t care how you pronounce most of these names or species: go with what’s in your head! But for those of you who want to do it the way I do it, there are some weirdnesses, most of them having to do with my originally using the IPA to write the names. Aera used to have a circumflexy thing or whatever: it’s ah EAR ah. Likewise, the ‘ch’ sounds are actually mostly ‘sh': so “shot CAA vah,” not “chot CAA vah.” Same with the ‘c’ in Ciracaana: it’s ‘sear ah CAA na.’ not ‘keer ah CAA na.’ Also, Seersa is actually “sheer sah” (the IPA for the ‘sh’ sound looks like a normal s!) but so many people say ‘seer sah’ that I have gotten used to that.

So this is the family around Alysha’s point in the timeline (at the start of her career). There are others pending, but I didn’t draw them in…! Spoilers and all!

I obviously should do a “Which Alliance species Are You” game. -_-

Daughter Stories: Color

In the car, leaving school–the leaves overhead are dripping the remains of a spring thunderstorm, and everything in my field of vision is lushly green and rawly gray, still livid from the rain. “So,” I say cautiously, because we are already at the stage where the most common response to ‘How was your day’ is ‘I dunno.’ “How was your day? You had art today, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she says from the backseat. She’s looking outside.

“Was that fun?”

For once I get an answer. “Yes. We made a rooster. Out of pieces of paper.”

Collage, I think? Sure, why not? “That sounds like fun? Were they different colors?”

“We had to paint the pieces of paper and cut them out,” she says. Now I am puzzled. Paint them? Why? I would have thought construction paper— She is continuing, though. “We painted them in warm colors, cool colors, and neutral colors. Then we cut them out and had to make our roosters out of them. Mine was red!”

I have a moment of blinding disorientation. “You learned about warm and cool colors?” That can’t be right. I didn’t learn about that until middle school, right? And only because I had private lessons, because I’d already been showing my interest by then. “Tell me a cool color you see outside, right now.”

She looks, says instantly, “That car. It’s blue.”

“Good one,” I say. “What about warm?”

“The lines on the road are yellow!”

“Good. What about neutral?”

A pause. Then, surprising me, “The trunks of the trees.”

I look, astonished. They are in fact gray. I know that, but I know because I’m always looking. Most people assume tree trunks are brown, the way they were taught in preschool, and never look at a tree again to be sure. “Yes! Good one!”

We play this game all the way back, even debate about it: there’s a fence on the trip that’s made of red and brown brick, but it’s gotten old and bleached and we were trying to decide if it now qualified as a neutral color or if it was still warm. But I am still astonished. And though I wrack my brain I can’t remember when I learned this rudiment of color theory. I certainly don’t recall it being taught me so young.

***

“While you’re with Maternal Grandmother,” I say to her in the car on a different day, “I’m going to get my hair dyed wild colors! Like maybe purple or yellow!”

“How about blue?” she asks, looking at Twilight Sparkle (who is my co-pilot). “You like blue.”

“I do,” I say. “But the hair lady says blue is very hard to do.”

“Really? Why?”

How to explain this! I think. “Well, everyone’s hair is just a little bit yellow. Even white hair is, just a little bit.”

“Oh!” she says. “So it comes out green!”

…which is exactly what it does, and I am stunned I don’t have to explain it. “Yes! Exactly. It’s very hard to get the hair white enough so that it doesn’t turn out sort of greenish. A good deep blue is very hard. I should just get a wig if I want to do that.”

We debate what color Mommy should dye her hair after that. Daughter proclaims that she wants pink hair. I respond with the age-old maternal reply.

“When you’re older.”

***

I wonder sometimes if she’s going to be an artist, growing up with an artist mom. Sometimes I think that would be wonderful. Sometimes I hope she’ll decide to be an engineer and save herself a lot of grief. Should I encourage her one way or the other? And then I remember how much luck my parents had guiding me into a useful career. Not everyone has my implacability, I know, but somehow I don’t think Daughter will be one of the weak-willed ones. That much, at least, I can be thankful for, no matter how difficult it makes my life now…!

The Vampire Books That Were Not About Vampires

I’ve now finished my re-read of the first three books of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and with all honesty I can say these books are enduring in a way their many derivatives will probably never be. I missed that the first time around; the youthful Jaguar who read them first remembers mostly the melancholic romance of them, and their shocking sensuality, and also VAMPIRES and Lestat-be-still-my-heart-for-I-may-swoon. Older Jaguar, having staggered through several decades since, is a little wiser about more than the surface of things; she sees that not only are they not literal vampire stories, they’re not even metaphoric: the Anne Rice vampire is a poetic device, a way of evoking a feeling in the heart and the gut that you understand before your mind catches up with it. And then your sadly deficient brain grapples with the image, the implication, with the taste of it in the mouth, and tries to make sense of it using reason, but the true understanding is already there.

…and that in itself is the essence of the conflict of the series. The tension between the belief in the heart and the deficiencies and marvels of higher reason, and what happens when they no longer align. What is a vampire except a way to put all these questions in stark relief? Here is something so many vampire books lack: a sense for history, for the changing attitudes that have evolved throughout history, evolved or repeated. You believe in the vampires that have seen Rome because they don’t act like they were born in this century. Their struggles to reinvent themselves so that modern life doesn’t obliterate their sense of identity and context give the narratives their power, and help make sense of the philosophical issues that they discuss when those philosophical issues aren’t torturing them.

So there is a sense for the depths of history, and its timelessness–and also its ephemeral nature, because who ever remembers all the details, and isn’t the devil in them? And there is philosophy. And there is the poetry. And what’s brilliant about the series is that by the time you get to The Queen of the Damned, the vampires are not the only basis for the poetry: the philosophical issues themselves become the lens by which we see an all-too-human psychology. The poem holds its breath, asks questions, observes tragedies. The final answer, given by Lestat in the last chapters, is fittingly not an answer at all, but an act that, once again, we understand like a poem. We laugh in delight, we get it… and then when we try to analyze it, it falls apart. It is the joke that can’t be dissected because humor is a beating heart, is the heart that bleeds and lives, and to still it is to lose its vital spark.

What happens to the human psyche in the absence of belief, and where do we find meaning? That’s what Anne Rice’s vampires want to know. And like a good poem, she lets us glimpse an answer, but it’s the one we make for ourselves: a fitting response given the question.

This is literature. I am very glad to have come back to it again.

And I still find myself fond of Lestat. What can I say… some things never change. *grin*

Frank Talk About Money (and the Immediate Future)

So tax time has come and gone and having looked at what I had left after re-investing in my business, the government walked away with half my profit. And this was a wake-up call for jaguars. We don’t do the art for money, but we also don’t do the art so that we can feel we sweated blood to pocket less money than we make at the day job in a month.

The reason I’ve had such a small take-home for the past few years is that I tend to re-invest a lot of my earnings back into the business. The money I make off your tips, the books you buy, the Kickstarters you overfund? Buys print editions of books that don’t have them, pays actors for audiobook editions, buys new covers for books that had quickly-done things I slapped together to just get the book on the shelf. I think of those things as strategic decisions, because I know they’ll pay off in a few years (maybe less, if some weird thing happens and I suddenly have publicity: when the Spots controversy hit, my print edition of Spots moved copies that obviously wouldn’t have sold if they hadn’t been there to answer the unexpected demand).

But the toll here in my health and well-being is becoming insupportable. If the business were earning more, I might be able to swing the kind of forward-thinking decisions that I’ve been making. But it’s not. So I am having to make some hard decisions about what to do in the future.

Here’s the net effect then: there will be no more print or audiobook editions without capital. And since I only have time to run maybe one Kickstarter a year, we’re looking at only one book in the year that will get more than one edition. In addition, I’ll probably be cutting back on other activities (for instance, when I mentioned not having time to answer comments on both of my websites, that’s one of those things). I have some irons in the fire currently, so you’re going to see a few more paper and audiobooks in the next few months. But after that, I’m going to retrench.

I’ll still be writing. I’ll still be serializing. I’ll still do e-book editions (with unimpressive covers). But the money isn’t there for anything else, and the time to go raising that money isn’t either.

I would very much like things to be different! But as much as I love being an artist, I also love being a businesswoman. And we have looked at the bottom line, and all the Jaguars are in agreement: I can’t treat this like a Real Job because it just isn’t earning like one. Wrecking my health to try to make it become one while also working a different job and being Mom isn’t an option.

Here is where I say thank-you, though, because you are all the best readers I can imagine. You’re generous with your time, your thoughts, and the money you have available, and I never forget how fortunate I am to be part of a circuit of ideas and creativity with you! You make it worthwhile. And I fully expect we’re going to enjoy our serials and our e-books and our conversations in the future. And maybe at some point, I’ll be making enough to afford all the other fun stuff too.

So there you are. There I am. And now I go to work. The one that pays for Child’s school, and I will be grateful for that too.

Pony Hair, Achieved!

ponyhair

Red and orange streaks this time. Maybe next time, purple and pink? We shall see!

So Let’s Talk About Our Next Serial

…which so far appears to be Some Thing Transcend, if your comments and tips have been any indication. I am not adverse to continuing to serialize this novel despite it breaking a lot of my own rules for what makes a lucrative/useful serial (in brief: it’s a middle-of-a-series novel that relies on other books for people to really get what’s going on, and it has adult content).

A couple of things, then:

First, Location. So far I’ve been limiting the serial to Livejournal only instead of crossposting it from my blog. Part of this is MarketingThink: STT is adult in that it discusses adult topics even if it’s not full of pr0n, and my website is hit more often by people trying to figure out who I am, a definition that now includes ‘author of a children’s picture book.’ If you’re finding it on LJ, it’s because you are good at finding things, not because you stumbled onto it (see what I mean about breaking my own rules on good serial material?).

Secondly, I’ve been watching the behavior of users on my crossposted serials. LJ users inevitably comment more. Readers on the blog rarely do, but when they do they tend to be serial commenters (no pun intended): they’re really dedicated to saying something and do so nearly every post. But having said it, they’re isolated over here, separate from 90% of the other readers who might otherwise enjoy talking with them or responding to their thoughts. Plus, when I respond to comments, I hate having to do it in multiple places. So as an experiment, I’d like to see if putting the serial in one place gets all those people responding in one place. And if it doesn’t, then at least I’m not exhausting myself (or feeling guilt for not) responding to multiple people on multiple sites.

Second… the Money. The part that concerns me is the financials. Serials give me my day-to-day money: when I buy myself lunch at Day Hobby, when I have a ‘crud, I need to get more peanut butter bar things for Child’s lunch, quick stop at the grocery!’ moment, when I pay for coffee to have a place to sit and write… all of that comes out of my serial budget. My payment model for serials has traditionally been “one free, 1-2 if purchased, per week” and that’s worked well for me until the last couple of serials. Since it was spotty with Earthrise, I thought I’d try the ‘money or reviews’ acceleration model for Heir, and surprisingly that didn’t have the results I expected: I got some reviews and some money, but not as much of either as I’d ancitipated. My thought was to give people without the spare cash a way to contribute to the posting of the serial, but in practice the same people who paid were also the same people who wrote reviews, which leads me to think that maybe the differentiating line isn’t ‘people with spare cash and people without it’ but rather ‘people who are enthused about it and people who aren’t.’

So I do want to serialize this story, but I can’t do it for no money. People are seeming to enjoy the highly accelerated posting schedule and I can keep up with it… but not without food money. So there I wouldn’t mind your thoughts. Are you missing the subscription buttons? Do you want a Patreon for this project? Should we return to the ‘one or two free, the next ones bought’ model, and if so, how many episodes a week are you hoping for?

Tell me what you’re thinking. As always, we’re in this together. :)

Laundry Dragons on Track!

Today I finally received a proof copy that I’m happy with! To give you a sense of some of the things I needed fixed before I was happy, here were the last two hold-ups:

1. The border on the picture pages was 3 millimeters too close to the top edge of the page;
2. …and the text on one of the final pages was 4 millimeters too close to the left edge of the page.

…so yes, things I can confidently say most people aren’t going to care about, but they mattered to me and I am now completely satisfied with the result. I’ve sent out the surveys to get addresses and other pertinent information from everyone and will use that to get some boxes of books shipped my way! Next week, I’ll also be ordering the magnets and finishing up the wallpaper; that will take care of the last of the e-rewards, all the others having been sent out last week.

This means we’re on track to wrap up this Kickstarter by the end of the month, as I hoped. Which is great, because it gives me time to focus on a huge clot of projects that have now accreted in a way I wish they hadn’t. -_-

If you backed the dragons, I encourage you to take care of that survey now! Let’s get this show on the road. :D

Preview of Blood Ladders Book 2: The Get of Royal Bloodshed

And now, as promised, the first seven pages or so of Morgan’s continuing adventures.

The Get of Royal Bloodshed
Sequel to An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Coming in Fall 2014

M.C.A. Hogarth

      For the first twenty-six years of my life I had been a cripple, forever battling nausea, weakness, seizures and constant pain, a war that consumed my every waking moment and all the moments it contrived to steal from my sleep. For twenty-six years, I had been a prisoner in my own body, facing a life of increasing disability, losing friends, a chance at love and the meager pleasures of school and learning. For twenty-six years I had suffered and believed it to be my lot for the remainder of my miserable life.
      In one day, a sorcerer had undone it all and given me a supple, beautiful, working body, and all I could think, over and over, was that it had not been worth the cost.
      I heard the approaching footsteps despite the lightness of their tread, and then Kelu said, “It’s been a week. Are you done moping yet?”
      The wind off the sea combed my hair back from my face, the one I still wasn’t accustomed to touching. It was not so much that the differences were vast, though even cosmetically the alterations were significant–it was that nothing hurt when I touched it anymore. That alone was enough to make me feel as if I had been anchored in a stranger’s flesh. “Kelu…”
      “Your elves are restless,” Kelu said. I did not have to turn to imagine her with her slim furred arms crossed over her flat chest and her ears flattened against her skull. I’d seen her angry often enough. “The other genets are draped in mourning all over your cabin… even the drake is depressed. You could afford to be dramatic when you were dying alone in your student flat. You don’t have that luxury anymore, Prince.”
      “And what would you have me do?” I asked, unable to quantify the feelings her litany of sins had pricked forth in me.
      “You’re the smart one,” she said. “You’ve read all these history books. Do whatever it is leaders do when their soldiers are drooping.”
      “Water them?” I asked. “Like wilting flowers.”
      I could almost hear her scowl. “Are you mocking me?”
      “No,” I said, and managed a laugh. “No. Myself, maybe.” I twisted around to look at her, turning my back on the sea. “But I’m not ready for any of this. I want to go back. I want to get him back.”
      Kelu’s arms were indeed folded over her chest. Her expression was even stormier than I’d imagined, lips pulled back along her thin muzzle to expose her teeth. “Don’t even think it,” she said. “You’re not getting him back. He’s gone, Morgan.”
      “There must be a way–”
      “Going to your wreck of a human library and finding out how to be a real prince of the elves, maybe,” Kelu said. “But turning this ship around and going after him? What are you going to do? Knock on the sorcerer’s door and ask him nicely?”
      “The dice might favor me,” I said wryly.
      “Or he might kill the king just to see what you’d do,” Kelu said. “You can’t even get the ship to turn around, he magicked it so hard. It’s ridiculous, it’s stupid. We have to move forward, not back.”
      “My brother,” I whispered.
      “Has lived long enough without your help,” Kelu said. “All you can do to help him now is go do what you do best.”
      “Get into messes?” I asked.
      She sighed, exasperated. “No. Read books, take notes and make sense of it.”
      “The fate of the world rests on my ability to do scholarly research,” I said. “Fancy that.”
      “Lucky for us you’re good at it,” Kelu said. “If the fate of the world had rested on your ability to use a sword, we’d be in trouble.”
      Twenty-six years of bodily weakness had not acquainted me very well with what few martial arts remained relevant to a university student. It was why Kemses e Sadar, the only elven noble who had pledged himself to my brother the king, had assigned a contingent of elven guards to accompany us on our errand back home: six men and their commander, called Last.
      I had not thought to ask him why the name, even. That bothered me. Kelu was right: the voyage home was all of six weeks, and I’d lost one to guilt and despair. I had five left to find my bearings in this new body… to learn my guards’ names and faces… to plan the expedition to Vigil’s athenaeum.
      I had a notion about how to begin.

      “Last,” I said, “Teach me the use of this staff. Please.”
      The captain of my guard rose, glanced at the weapon in my hands. “Your Grace,” he said. “It can’t wait until we make landfall? Finding footing on the deck of a ship is challenging.”
      “Then if I learn here, I should find it easy on solid ground, yes?” I said. “Please. I know nothing of weaponry. I would be honored to become your pupil.”
      He studied me, no doubt wondering if I had finally dispensed with brooding. He seemed a capable man: pragmatic, stern, just the sort I associated with my vassal Kemses. Like most of the elves, beautiful, not in a merely human fashion, but almost as if illuminated on the surface of the world with precious gems ground into the ink of his body. He had remarkable coloring: a bronze shimmer limning his supple skin at all the creases and hair like brown and gold agate. And he moved as if poured from pose to pose, a complete harmony with wind and air and ground.
      My birthright: to be so limber, so attuned to the world. Would that I knew how to claim it, but I was still used to being human, and in pain. Thus my request.
      “Very well,” he said at last, and nodded toward the deck. “If my prince would oblige.”
      We walked onto it together.
      “May I?” he asked.
      I handed the staff to him with an ambivalence. I had killed a man with it–no, that sounds too clean, and no elf dies so easily–I had destroyed a man with it, and the memories clinging to the incised iron surface made my skin cold. But it was also the staff that my vassal had given me… and the staff that my king and I had used to pledge ourselves to one another. We were bound, the staff and I… in dark memory and bright both. It felt strange to see it in another’s hands, but Last’s were respectful.
      “Blooded,” he said. “You can feel it.”
      “Really?” I asked, startled.
      He nodded. “A man’s weapon becomes his own the more he uses it. That one is well on its way to becoming yours.”
      I smiled wryly. “Aren’t princes usually armed with swords?”
      “Sometimes. The prince who guards the King-Reclusive wields a weapon: typically a sword, but anything will do.”
      I glanced at him. “You know the legends.”
      His gaze was shuttered. “We are not human, my prince, for such things to have already passed into legend.”
      I kept forgetting the elven immortality… little wonder, having been raised human. My own body now was imperishable: nearly literally. I would have to be rent limb from limb and burnt to fully die. Such was the power of the enchantment that imprisoned the elves.
      “So, then,” I murmured. “A prince with a staff.”
      “If it will be your weapon, then let us teach you it,” Last said. “It will not be easy.”
      “I do not need your kindness,” I said, “but your knowledge.” A hesitation, then I finished. “Your patience also, if you will.”
      A flicker of a smile curved those thin lips. He handed the staff back to me. “Let us begin.”

      “A good start,” Kelu said with a yawn as Almond peeled the sweat-streaked clothes off my aching body. I could have done it myself–in my previous body, merely dressing was often a hardship–but it pleased Almond to help me and I hated to deny her such small pleasures. The lives of the genets were ugly enough.
      “That’s all?” I asked. “I let my own guard captain run me ragged in front of God and all his elves and most of the humans crewing the ship besides, and it’s a good beginning?”
      Kelu flipped her ears back. “It’s very clever to bond with your guard on matters that they understand,” she said. “But what exactly are you planning to kill once we get to wherever it is we’re going?”
      “I don’t know,” I said. “That would be why I’m training.”
      “I thought this place we’re going was a library,” Kelu said.
      “It is,” I said, using a wet towel to wipe the worst of the sweat off. It hadn’t rained lately enough to justify the use of the ship’s water stores for a bath, but both genets and elves had such keen senses that I feared to offend them. “But they named it Vigil, Kelu. Vigil against what?”
      “Demons,” Almond whispered, setting the clothes in the wash-bin.
      We both glanced at her. Kelu shrugged. “Or dragons. Or sorcerers. Who knows? But you haven’t heard of any demons, dragons or wizards attacking lately, have you? I imagine that’s the kind of thing that would attract attention, even among humans too witless to notice every other kind of magic.”
      “No,” I admitted, leaning back. “You mean to ask me what my plan is, then.”
      “It would be good to have one,” she agreed, “since ‘go to the library and find the grimoire that will undo the elven enchantment and free my power’ is lacking in detail.”
      I glanced at her, my smile crooked. “You had noted.”
      “Well, yes,” Kelu said. “I did make this trip nine times, remember? Amoret said ‘go to the human lands and find the lost prince’ but she wasn’t all that interested in detail either. So guess who got to figure it all out before we ran out of food, got caught by humans, or ended up lost in the wilderness between cities? Your mainland’s a lot bigger than the archipelago.”
      I sat on my cot, resting my hands on my knees and frowning. Almond perched behind me and started brushing my hair—unnecessarily, since I’d found that elven hair didn’t seem to knot or tangle—but it soothed her to do it, so I made no comment. “We’ll have to head for Evertrue.”
      “Why?” Kelu asked, folding her arms. “Why not go straight to the library?”
      “Because the athenaeum is thick with professors and scientists and archeologists,” I said, “all eager to excavate the ruins. These are learned people with some knowledge of history and even of magic and elves… if we appear in their midst, we will cause something of a sensation.” I thought of one of my last discussions with my brother before Sidithin had appeared to spirit him away. “I don’t want any more people to know about the elves than necessary to accomplish this. Not while we’re still a nation divided.”
      “I thought the humans on the mainland had forgotten us,” Almond said softly from behind me.
      “They have,” I said. “Most of them. But they have a prejudice against monarchies, and they have no context for the sudden discovery of an entire nation of aliens, and they have more than enough legends that have prepared them to hate the notion of magic and kings.” I shook my head. “No, I can’t take the chance, not yet.”
      “So,” Kelu said, “since you don’t want to be discovered, you’re going to head straight into the capital.”
      “We did,” Almond murmured.
      “We posed as animals to people who were expecting to see animals,” Kelu said. “There’s no disguising them.”
      She was right, sadly. Even smeared with mud and gore, an elf shone like something rarified and lovely. I had cause to know. “I need help getting into Vigil,” I said. “And… I need to tell my family…” I faltered. I hadn’t known I was adopted until very recently. “I need to tell them, and my friends that I’m fine. I vanished for several months with only a note to keep them from fretting. I owe them an explanation.”
      “And you miss them,” Almond whispered.
      “And I miss them,” I murmured, feeling the exhaustion of those months in my shoulders, in my back… in my perfection. I had fled Evertrue in the hopes of finding a magician who could cure what I’d thought was a wasting disease, or, failing that, to die someplace far from those who would be forced to watch my decline. Not in my wildest imaginings did I believe I would return an entirely different species, not just restored to health but transformed into… well.
      I had no idea how they would take it. But Almond was right. I missed them.
      “So,” Kelu said. “We’re going to get to Far Horizon, pick up some horses for the rest of the elves, ride to Evertrue—cross-country, to avoid being seen, and cloaked, I hope—and sneak into the capital by night. And hopefully find someplace we can hide eight elves, four genets and a riding drake.”
      “Yes,” I said firmly.
      “All right,” Kelu said. “I guess it’s a start.”
      “I’m glad it meets with your approval,” I said, dryly.
      She chuffed a laugh, surprising me. “I wanted you to turn the archipelago upside down, and so far you’re doing a good job. I guess if you want to turn the human nation upside down in the process, that’s fine too.”
      “God,” I muttered. “I hope not.”

***

And of course, he does go back to Evertrue, and is reunited with his friends from the beginning of Book 1. And then? We ride on to Vigil, to begin unraveling the mystery….

This book is already 40 pages long! And it’s up next as soon as I finish up with the Wingless sequel this month. I hope you enjoyed the sneak peak. :)

Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, Final

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Final Episode

      I put myself between him and Amhric, shaking. “No.”
      He lifted an arched black brow. “No?”
      “I don’t want what you offer,” I said. “And so I will not pay your price.”
      “Oh, come now,” Sidithin said. “It’s unbecoming to lie. You wanted what you asked me for very badly and still do. Do you think to have it for nothing, then?”
      “I don’t want it at the price you ask,” I said.
      “You agreed to it,” the sorcerer said. The storm wind tugged at the groaning ropes, caressed him with his hair; he remained unmoved, exquisitely balanced at the edge of the wooden spar.
      “That was before I understood–”
      “Ah,” he said. “I am not to blame for your naïveté. We made a bargain, you and I… a king for your salvation. And here I find you escaping with no… no intention at all… of fulfilling your end of it.”
      “I’m not done with him,” I said, extemporizing with a racing mind. “Elves live such long lives, Sidithin. You may have him when I’m done with him, and then I’ll accept the payment. That’s fair, yes?”
      “You’re lying again,” Sidithin said with a sigh. “What have I done to you to deserve such duplicity? Or is it merely that you are inconstant?”
      I put my hand back to touch Amhric, to hold him behind me, for the reassurance that he remained unharmed. I could sense just beyond us both the trembling readiness of my few elven guards, but I knew that if they dared move the sorcerer would destroy them–or not–or worse, depending on what whim moved him. “Sidithin, there is no shame in a mutual decision to break an agreement.”
      “No,” he agreed. “But this is not… at all… mutual.” He lifted a hand and I felt Amhric shudder. “I think I’ll take my prize and be gone.”
      I threw myself at him then, not with the weakness of my body, but with the desperate strength of my magic. He was an elf and one of our subjects; I was the prince, who could compel. I reached for him to drain him of what was his and grant it to my king–
      –and was batted aside with such casual authority that I found myself sprawled on the deck without remembering how I’d fallen.
      “And you resort to violence,” Sidithin said, shaking his head. “So crude.” He walked down the bowsprit and hopped onto the ship, almost as if dancing, and there he went to Amhric, passing the silent human captain and ignoring the seething guards. He gathered the king’s small hand in his and brushed his sensuous lips over those golden knuckles.
      “My liege,” he said, and the subtle mockery in the word goaded me to leap for him, only to be yanked back against the deck. I fell twisted and bared my teeth, straining against the thorned vines that rose in lazy eddies around my wrists. This again…! Had all I learned been for naught?
      Sidithin glanced at me over his shoulder, coquettish. “Do not presume to best me, little prince,” he said. “I have been wielding magics far more potent than yours for longer than your pretty human kingdom has slept without nightmares of elves.” He turned back to Amhric. “And now we go.”
      I closed my eyes, preparing for one last effort.
      Said the king in his low, gentle bass: “No.”
      Sidithin sighed. “Must you make this difficult? You know how it must end.”
      “Perhaps,” Amhric said. “But I will not have it said that the king was parted from his brother without a fight.”
      Sidithin laughed. “The King-Reclusive wants to defend himself!” He glanced at me with a poisonous smile. “How poor a job you are doing, O Prince, to have reduced your king to this. He has to fight his own battles.”
      Our elven guards moved then, before I could command them to stillness–with a flick of a finger, Sidithin froze them in place. “Tsk,” he said, shaking his dark head. “This is a matter between royalty.”
      “Sidithin,” I hissed, “Leave it be. Leave us alone!”
      He tilted his head. “Should I?”
      “Yes!”
      “I could roll dice,” he said, thoughtful.
      Anything would be better than the certainty that he would drag my brother away and leave me helpless to follow. “That you could,” I said. “I would obey the dictates of the dice no matter the outcome.”
      “Of course you would,” he said. “You have no choice. Ah–” He lifted his hand at the ship’s captain, who’d taken a step toward him. “Don’t even consider it, mortal. Your death lies at the end of that thought. Humans mean even less to me than my own kind… if such a thing could be conceived.”
      The captain glanced at me and I shook my head.
      “Nor you,” Sidithin added to Almond, who had fallen to a miserable heap at their feet. “I would hate to destroy you by accident. Destruction is best done willfully, enjoying all its many consequences.”
      “Roll your dice,” I said. “Please.”
      He grinned with teeth and without joy… without any visible emotion at all, as if his heart was as powerless to coalesce a single feeling as his physical shell was to hold a distinct shape. “And you would beg me for that, I sense.”
      “Yes,” I said, instantly. How many humiliations had I borne for lesser cause? How often had my own body brought me to my knees for no master other than my belief in the senselessness of fate? But here was a cause I could abase myself for… if only it saved us. If we could escape, if we could reach the mainland and find my cure by any other means, I knew, knew I could stand against Sidithin. But not like this. Never like this. “Would it amuse you? How low shall I place myself? I could kiss your feet.”
      “I seem to recall you doing that before,” Sidithin said.
      “A slightly different circumstance.”
      Surprising me, Sidithin said, “I liked it better than this one.”
      “We could have that again,” I said. “Make a new bargain. Another night for the freedom of the king.”
      He laughed. “Do you hold your prowess in such esteem, then, that a single night with your body would pay a lifetime’s ransom?”
      “Fine,” I said with a grim smile. “Two nights.”
      He laughed again.
      “Roll your dice, Sidithin,” I said. “Or let me buy his freedom some other way. I don’t want your gift.”
      “No,” he said. “Many things may be said of me and most of them calumny, but this thing will never be said: that I break my promises.” He took Amhric’s wrist. “You entered into this with me in good faith, Morgan Locke, and now you try to break with me, like the lowest of dogs. I will remember that about you, in the future.”
      “Sidithin, don’t!”
      “Save your breath,” Sidithin said. “Be glad that I’ve guarded your virtue. I have not always been so careful.” He bent before me and smiled into my eyes, and there was nothing, nothing in the void of his gaze, nothing behind them to entreat, no sympathy, no compassion. He ran his hand lightly from my throat to my groin in a caress too intimate for public view. “You know,” he said, “that without the king a new prince has little power.”
      I glared up at him, fighting the invisible chains that bound me to the deck.
      “No, I suppose you wouldn’t know that, would you,” he said. “You know very little of the prince’s powers… not how to lift the shield that guards the King-Engaged, nor to wield the Sword that defends the King-Reclusive.”
      “I will find a way to undo you with them nonetheless,” I said.
      “Perhaps,” he said. “If you sail on to history’s crypt and unearth the knowledge there.” At my start, he said, “Oh, yes, I have an inkling of your errand.” He continued stroking me, regarding me with those uncanny, empty eyes. They did not even gather the light in wet reflection, but remained inscrutable. “Vigil, yes? To learn the secret of immortality.”
      “How–”
      “Did I know?” Sidithin laughed and awarded Amhric a coy glance over his narrow shoulder. “There is a king in the world again, and a prince. And where there are kings and princes there are demons. And where there are demons… there are great magics. But there is no evidence left of great magics… no knowledge left of how to fight with them.” He slid his hand beneath my coat and spread cold fingers over my skin, spreading his leaden aura. “And there you will perhaps learn how to use these princely powers you are now about to inherit.”
      My breath caught. “You want us to go to the mainland.”
      His brows lifted; he seemed surprised. “Why… I believe I do,” he said. “Or perhaps I am warning you: if you come against me before you have some control over your magic, intending to liberate your beautiful sibling, I will overmaster you both and it will end for you. I have little patience for impotent royals.”
      “Why would you warn me away unless you feared that I could win?” I asked.
      Sidithin sighed and turned his head toward the sky, as if sharing some exhausted understanding with the storms wedded to his bleak aura. “Please,” he said, with such boredom that I felt the weight of his centuries in every word, “destroying the easily destroyed is so dull. Such a tiresome waste of energy. I would much prefer a fight I might actually lose.”
      He made a fist over my stomach then and jerked it up through my clothes and I screamed with the suddenness of it, the pain. In his hand he clutched a writhing gossamer of smoky thorns and all-too-real blood, drizzling onto my coat, soaking it. “I keep my promises,” he said, and ripped it free of me. As I writhed, consumed and burning, I heard him whisper, “Don’t bother to fight the chains… they’ll hold you to this ship until you reach the human lands. Go to Vigil, beautiful Prince… go and learn. Come back to me a worthy adversary.”
      And then I remembered nothing more.

      I woke, and all the aches of my body had flown into my hollowed heart to nest in the emptiness where my sense of Amhric had been growing… to live there, for they could no longer live in my limbs. I had shed my human mask for the truth of moonlit cream and glittering black, for the grace and warmth and too-real beauty of elven shape, for the dancer’s sense of the air around me and the pulse of the world against my skin, close as a lover and piercing in its poignancy.
      I woke and I wept, cradled by the genets and surrounded by my demoralized elven retinue, because with those new senses I could feel the cage the sorcerer had erected around the ship, the bright-fire of the bars, and I knew that he was right. I could not break them… not yet.
      “Master,” Almond whispered, pressing her cheek against my side, “Oh, master.”
      Bent over me on one knee, the captain of the elven guard said low, “My lord… what shall we do?”
      “We sail on,” I whispered. To wield the Sword that defends the King-Reclusive. “We learn. And then we come home to make an ending.”

***

…and that wraps up Book 1. We will get a peak at the beginning of Book 2 on Saturday! I hope you’ve enjoyed Morgan’s adventures (and you see why I have Book 2 on my schedule to write this spring!).


Re-reading Interview With a Vampire

It’s been… ah… two decades? Since I read Anne Rice’s seminal Interview with a Vampire, a book I remembered fondness for not just for the story but for the link it created between myself and my much-adored older sister, whom I wanted very much to be like: I snitched it off her shelf, thinking I would be goth and awesome because vampires! And got a very different experience, as you probably realize if you’ve read it yourself.

Re-reading the novel now is fascinating, not just because I’ve changed, but because I can now look out at the subgenre it inspired and see just how unlike those books are from Anne Rice’s original. Interview isn’t about vampires. It’s a meditation on the effects of mortality on morality, and the dangers of ennui. It is a supremely sensual book in which very little happens, the narrator is nearly entirely passive and the plot is an excuse for him to muse on his own agonies as he struggles with the nature of good and evil. It’s a book deeply sunk into a Catholic sensibility, vital and spooky, its spirituality blood-drenched and fleshy and divine. This is a novel that understands how bones can pass on the miracles of a saint and the blood and body can be transubstantiated.

By modern standards, Louis is a whiner and a horrible protagonist. His role is to examine his own life from a remove and find it wanting. We go along with him because the paroxysms of his moral fiber as it dies are somehow fascinating. There are vampires in this book, but like saints and angels they’re used only to give us a standard against which to measure our own souls. If the rafts and rafts of modern descendents of Louis are missing anything, it’s this sense that the glamor of vampirism is a shallow verdigris, beautiful but inextricably linked to moral decay. Who would want to be one of Anne Rice’s vampires? They are beautiful and inhuman in a way the glamorous romantic heroes of today’s novels can never approach. Today’s vampires are humans with spiffy powers that happen to be powered by blood (even that, only sometimes). They glitter! They are marvelous and just dangerous enough to be sexy. Rice’s vampires were animated dolls with staring eyes, divested entirely of any relationship with their human antecedents. They were the stuff of horror, not because they were murderers, but because they no longer saw murder as anything notable.

This is not to say that I don’t like the vampires born of Louis and Lestat’s success. But there is a moral and religious underpinning to the originals that is absent in the modern versions, and I think that quality was what made Interview enduring.

So that was enjoyable. I’ve moved on to The Vampire Lestat and am enjoying the change in tone–it’s a far less baroque novel–while also despairing at the realization that a book set in the 1980s now feels like historical fiction. -_-