Sunday 13 July 2014

Farewell to a Reader

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my dear friend and reader Bradley Morrison. He was a good man and he possessed great talent. We connected over our love for books, and he began writing a novel that he knew he might never finish. Even so, he tried his best, and I immensely enjoyed the few chapters he sent to me. They were graphic, shocking, emotional, and intense. The story left lasting images in my mind, and it breaks my heart that I will never get to read the end of that book. I could try to write it myself-- but it will never be quite the same. I spent all night reading over my old conversations with Bradley, and I found myself getting very emotional as I began to understand how much it meant to him.

Thank you to his daughter Tiffany for contacting me; I really hope that we can finish your dad's book and publish it someday! Don't worry, Bradley, wherever you are. Your book is safe in my hands and I would never let a good story disappear from the world. I will find a way to do your story justice and bring it to thousands of people.

To all my writer friends who dream of finishing their stories, please remember that our time here is limited. Seize the moment and make the best of today. Every word and every thought is precious. Don't leave me standing here with a handful of sand. Crystallize it.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

A Stunning Mermaid Tattoo

I have something amazing to share with you!
My reader, Dawn, sent me this gorgeous photo of a mermaid tattoo she is in the process of having done. When she told me that she was giving the mermaid red hair and green eyes as a tribute to Visola, I got so emotional. This is one of the greatest compliments that I have ever received. Visola is in my heart every day, but I never imagined she would mean so much to someone else! To have a permanent reminder of her displayed in such a bold and beautiful way—it is very much in the spirit of Visola herself. 
Thank you, Dawn, for sharing this magnificent piece of art. I can’t imagine how excruciating it must be to receive that tattoo and I admire your tolerance of suffering in the name of creating something lovely and meaningful.  I might be completely biased—but I think it’s stunning work!
Dawn was nice enough to give me permission to share this artwork with you, created by tattoo artist Michael Fachinni. As fellow mermaid lovers, I bet many of you can appreciate this! 

Friday 28 February 2014

Fathoms of Forgiveness is on sale!

Experience the most beloved book of the Sacred Breath series! On sale for $0.99 for a limited time. 

Enjoy this gritty, dark, and passionate novel. Dive into the undersea romance today!


Thursday 13 February 2014

The Summer of Para

To all fans of Thirty Minutes to Heartbreak, I have some good news! I have decided to declare Summer 2014 as “The Summer of Para” on my writing calendar, where I will spend a few months working on the final three books of Thirty Minutes, back-to-back. I will also be updating the book covers, like I did for the Sacred Breath series. They will be sexier, darker, and more romantic. I will be a bit sad to see the covers go, because I do love these, but it is necessary for marketing.

I can see the ultimate end of Thirty Minutes so clearly in my mind, and I know all of the big events that will occur in the next few books. Because the end is so close, I have been scared to write it to completion—I was worried it would mean letting go of the series forever, saying goodbye, and closing an important chapter of my life. However, I am now prepared for that to happen. I have never finished writing a giant book series, but I realize that it does not mean goodbye. Completing a story does not mean killing it. It means that my little baby is growing up, and moving out of the house; going off to college or starting its own family.

I’m setting the story free into the world. I can’t suffocate it and cling to it forever by avoiding finishing it. I need to let go. 
After a few months or years, maybe I can even go back and read over the stories, and experience Thirty Minutes again in a different way. I have often re-read many of my favorite book series—Terry Goodkind’s "Sword of Truth" series, and Jack Whyte’s “A Dream of Eagles.” And I also re-watch my favorite TV shows—Buffy, Firefly, Dragonball Z, Smallville, Xena, Charmed, Breaking Bad. It’s always sad when something you’ve been following for years finally comes to an end. Especially since it’s not usually the end of the story—the stories are limitless, but production budgets and time are not. 

I feel that I need to reach the end of Thirty Minutes so that I can move onto bigger and better things. I currently have a vague idea of how the Sacred Breath series will end, but I have no idea how long it will take. I originally thought the series would have seven books, back when I started writing it in 2012, but now I know that there is no possible way I can end at Book #7. We’re going to get at LEAST ten books in Sacred Breath. I hope I can write another one or two this year. 

I hope you're excited to read the final books of Thirty Minutes! I will post more about it here, once I have the new covers and tentative release dates.

Monday 23 December 2013

Preview of "Maelstrom"-- Sacred Breath Book #6!

I know that some of you have been waiting for a very long time to see what happens next in the Sacred Breath series, and I am excited to announce that the wait is almost over! It will only be a few more days until Maelstrom is available for your reading pleasure. Until then, please enjoy this preview of the first two chapters of the novel:

Chapter 1: She Needs Space

Aazuria unfastened the clasp of her heavy brocade robe and pushed the weight off her shoulders. Stiff golden threads grazed her skin as the garment fell from her body and draped itself over the corner of her bed. The queen sighed and reached up to rub the tension out of her upper back. Her thumb dug into the scar tissue of an old wound that had healed long ago, leaving behind only a saddening and somewhat bittersweet memory.
She was in the process of sitting down when a knock sounded on the door. Aazuria quickly retrieved her robe and arranged it around her shoulders again to maintain her modesty. Swiftly crossing the room, she grasped the knob and turned. She was somewhat surprised to see her husband.
“Trevain?” she asked with a furrowed brow. “Is everything alright?”
“No,” he said. The grey-haired man ushered himself into her room and closed the door behind him. He was so large that his presence seemed to cause the chamber to shrink. “We need to talk.”
“Please,” she said, shaking her head. “I just put the ashes of my friend’s body into the sea. Can we not save it for another night?”
“I’m afraid it can’t wait,” Trevain said in a firm tone. “If I don’t accost you now, you’ll be halfway across the world before the sun rises.”
“Yes, and for good reason.” Aazuria frowned. “I promised you that I’d bring your brother home. I have assembled a small squadron from my army to go after him tomorrow.”
“Forget my brother!” Trevain said sharply. “He’s probably off on a gambling bender. If only you knew what he put me through when he was younger—stealing my credit card for crazy Vegas trips. Now that we have real money, he’s probably fooling around in Monaco or Germany—Atlantis instead of Atlantic City, but it’s the same deal.”
“No. Callder changed when he had his daughter,” Aazuria said defensively. “My father mentioned something about instructing his ‘organization’ to deal with your brother. There is much more going on here, and even if you don’t care about his whereabouts—I promised Brynne.”
Trevain let his breath out in a whoosh of anger. “God, Zuri! How can you say I don’t care? I just know the hooligan better than you. We have many far important concerns to focus on at the moment; governments are angry with us! The United Nations is challenging us with the Convention on the Law of the Sea. We haven’t gotten the CIA off our back. We’re being hounded for oil drilling rights, and harassed by environmental activists…”
“I know.”
“And what about Leviathan?” Trevain demanded.
“I know!” Aazuria said, fixing him with a serious glare. “Believe me, I know.” Her brow became knitted in frustration. “I do think that trying to rescue Callder could help us learn about Leviathan. His last known coordinates were in dangerous Mediterranean territory. But even if there is no connection, just because I’m at the helm of the Oceanic Empire does not mean I will forsake my family.”
“Really?” Trevain shot back. “Because it doesn’t seem to me that you’re spending enough time or resources on finding our daughter!”
Aazuria pulled her embroidered robe closer around her shoulders, letting her eyes drift to the ground.  “You and I both know that Varia ran away. She doesn’t want to be found. Dr. Rosenberg said that she’s been through a lot of trauma, and it might be best to give her space…”
“Who cares what he says? We’re her parents and she’s a minor! She’s our little girl, in a world that is more dangerous than ever. She should be safe at home with a skilled security detail. She shouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere without our permission and protection!”
“You’re very upset,” Aazuria observed with dismay. “Do not worry so much. Glais will take care of her.”
“I can’t believe you trust that boy,” Trevain said in exasperation. “Why would you send him after Varia? How can you know that he really has her best interests at heart? Who knows what they’re getting up to, wherever they are? Aazuria! I will not let that ungrateful orphan hurt my daughter! What if he gets her pregnant? She’s fourteen, Zuri. Fourteen. I know the kids think they’re adults, but they’re not.”
“Please,” Aazuria said, lifting a hand to her temple. “Maintain your composure. Trevain, it might be prudent for you to head to bed. We’ve had a miserable day. Sionna’s funeral was not easy on any of us. I think you should leave me be. We are both too exhausted to make progress on any matter.”
“You can’t mean that,” he said angrily. “This is Varia we’re talking about! There is no such thing as being too tired to be good parents.”
“No, but one can be too tired to realize they are being a bad parent,” Aazuria said with warning. Seeing the genuine concern and fatherly desperation on Trevain’s face, she felt her heart soften a little. “Look, Trevain. You had the misfortune of meeting my father. He controlled every aspect of my life with an iron fist. Sometimes, the best thing one can do for a child is to give her the freedom to find herself.”
He stared at her for a moment, before making the slightest of nods.
Aazuria reached out to place a hand on his arm comfortingly. “We have both taught her well. She knows right from wrong, and she knows a great deal more than most children her age. She knows how to pursue knowledge, and she has a passion for art. She’s a good girl. We should respect her enough to let her grieve in her own way.”
Trevain nodded again, with a bit more certainty. “I suppose you’re right.” He paused, cocking his head to the side sheepishly. “You’re always right, you know.”
Aazuria smiled weakly. “I try my best to be.”
“Just…” Trevain hesitated and glanced to the window. “Do you think she’s happy?”
“I truly believe that she is,” Aazuria responded without hesitation. “Happier than either of us.”
An awkward silence hung in the air for almost a minute. Trevain cleared his throat. “Speaking of which… that’s another subject I wanted to address. I would really like to talk about us.”
“Oh, no,” she groaned, turning and moving away. “Please. Not tonight.”
“Aazuria, you can’t keep ignoring our problems. You can’t brush our relationship under the rug like there was never anything between us…”
“I am not in the mood to have this discussion right now,” she told him.
Trevain reached into his jacket and removed a bundle of documents. “Well, I guess we don’t have to talk—but I do have to give you these papers. I’ve signed them already—and maybe you can consider whether or not you want to sign.”
Aazuria’s brow wrinkled. She reached out and took the documents from his hand, scanning them with surprise. “Are these…?”
“Divorce papers,” Trevain confirmed.
She stared down at the words on the paper before glancing up at his mint-green eyes. “Oh.”
“You need…” He hesitated and fumbled for the words. “You need to decide. Either make a sincere effort to fix our marriage—or set me free.”
“Set you free?” she repeated quietly. 
“Yes,” he said. “It’s not right for one man to be married to two women. I’ve hovered in limbo for too long, trying to do the right thing and screwing up a little more every day. I finally realized that it’s not my decision to make. It’s yours.”
“You—you want me to sign these papers?” she asked.
“I’m tired of chasing after you, Zuri. I fight so hard… but it’s obvious that you don’t love me anymore. I need closure. I need you to stop hoping that you’ll come around. My mind twists every small sign of affection you give me into evidence that we could still make it through. If it’s over for you—don’t leave me hanging. Sign these papers, and make it officially over.”
Aazuria felt like there was a great boulder sitting on her chest. She took a breath, but was somehow unable to fully expand her lungs.  “I—I think…”
Trevain watched her reaction closely, with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.
She could feel that he sought either her vehement denial or her despondent agreement to sign. Either answer would give him a direction and sense of purpose. He needed her to point him down the correct path, in order to have the certainty to continue onward. Just like everyone else, Aazuria thought to herself. They cannot be strong on their own, so they ask me to create the rules of what should and should not be. Why can people not make their own choices and determine their own paths?
“Aazuria?” he probed.
“Sometimes I feel that I have lived too long,” she said quietly. “Life just goes on and on for hundreds of years—and it never gets any easier.”
“What do you mean?” he asked with concern.
“Trevain, will you please leave so that I can get some rest?”
“Please.” She moved to open her door, and gestured into the hallway. “Leave. Now.”
Trevain seemed ready to protest when another large figure walked through the door and entered the room.
Vachlan made eye contact with Trevain before turning to stare at Aazuria. “We need to get everyone out of here. Now.”
“Out of the palace?” Trevain asked with dread apparent on his face.
“No,” Vachlan said. “Out of the city.”
Aazuria held her breath before speaking. “Are we under attack?” she asked.
Vachlan shook his head to indicate the negative. “No. But we will be.”
“How much time do we have?” Trevain asked.
“I don’t know,” Vachlan responded. “It could be days. It could be months. But I don’t want to have my children in harm’s way when they come.”
Aazuria squinted. “What has led you to believe that we will be attacked?”
“I have a bad feeling,” the dark-haired man responded. “Something’s about to go wrong.”
Trevain and Aazuria exchanged confused looks.
“A bad feeling,” Aazuria repeated. She shook her head in disbelief. “A bad feeling? Vachlan, I understand that you’re upset. We all are. Just go to bed, my friend. We’ll deal with matters of state in the morning.”
“Queen Aazuria! I’m your advisor, am I not? Well I’m advising you to evacuate every soul in Romanova. You’d be wise to do as I recommend.”
“My friend,” Aazuria said gently. “As much as I trust your counsel—which is usually implicitly—we simply cannot send thousands of people out of their homes in the middle of the night because you have a bad feeling. It’s not good for morale, to send everyone into a panic like that.”
“Panic is good!” Vachlan roared. “Panic will keep them alive when fire rains down from the sky. You need to send all your people back deep underwater, where they stand even the slightest fighting chance!”
Trevain cleared his throat and looked at Aazuria. “Should I say it, or do you want to?”
“I will,” Aazuria responded quietly. “Vachlan, you haven’t been yourself lately. You’re not thinking clearly, and you should probably take some time off. Your judgment has obviously been impaired by Visola’s disappearance.”
Something flashed in the man’s dark eyes. “This has nothing to do with her!” he almost shouted. “We are at war and none of you morons even realize it! You’re going to get us all killed! For God’s sake, they shot Sionna! Sionna! Do you know what that means? It’s the beginning of the end!”
Aazuria felt a chilling sense of alarm creeping through her spine. She could not seem to ever recall seeing Vachlan so emotional. For the first time in their acquaintance, there was something approaching fear in the man’s eyes. It was unnerving. Aazuria swallowed and glanced at Trevain. “Your grandfather is not well. Please take him to bed.”
“Not well?” Vachlan said in disbelief. “Being cautious and trying to save your people makes me insane now, Aazuria? Fine! You want to avoid making them panic? I’ll bomb the city myself and say that our enemies did it! I’ll show them what terror really is! I’ll put the fear of god in those puny little people!”
“Please don’t do that,” Aazuria said quietly. “I highly doubt that will help the situation. I will consider your advice and begin planning a calm and efficient method of evacuation for the future, in the event it will be needed.”
“It will be needed,” Vachlan spat. “Mark my words. It will be needed, and you won’t be ready!”
“Come now, Gramps,” Trevain said in a kindly way. “You could probably use some shut-eye. When was the last time you slept?”
“I… I don’t know. I guess it’s been a few days. But I don’t need any sleep,” Vachlan swore. “I’m being perfectly rational.”
“Take him to the infirmary,” Aazuria told Trevain. “Maybe Sionna can give him some…” She trailed off in mid-speech.
Both men stared at her in stunned silence.
Unable to bear the weight of their pain-filled gazes, Aazuria shut her own eyes. “Go,” she ordered them sharply, her voice breaking. “Both of you, leave my room and shut the door.” When they complied, she moved to the edge of her bed and allowed her body to sink down into the mattress. She let her head fall forward into her hands.
“Viso,” she whispered into the empty space. “Where are you? Please come back. We all need you so much.”

*                *                *

“Where’s Mommy?”
Vachlan was woken from his fitful rest by two tiny bodies jumping on him. He extended his arms protectively to catch the dozens of pounds of energetic toddlers that had catapulted onto his chest. Looking up into a pair of inquisitive little eyes, he could not, for the life of him, think of how to respond. “I… I don’t know, munchkin.”
The little girl wrinkled her nose. “Is Mommy in outer space?”
Vachlan released a sigh. “Maybe. That woman… It’s just as likely that she’s in orbit as anywhere else.”
“Is she with Auntie Sio in outer space?” Ivory demanded.
The dark-haired man gave his daughter a puzzled look. “Who told you that Aunt Sio was in outer space?”
“Kaito told me. Kaito knows lots of things,” Ivory said with a solemn nod.
Ronan frowned, tugging on his sister’s pigtail in a cynical way. “Why would Auntie Sio be in outer space? She’s not an astronaut! She’s a doctor.”
“Oh Sedna, you’re so stupid,” Ivory told her brother with a groan. “There’s sick people in outer space too! They need doctors there badly, because everybody gets sick from the radiators. Right, Daddy?”
Vachlan nodded dumbly, unable to focus on the conversation.
“Radiators?” Ronan said with a puzzled look. “So Aunt Sio has gone to save everybody from the radiators?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Ivory reasoned. “Nobody will tell me anything, so I have to figure it out myself. I think mommy went to outer space too.”
Reaching over to the side of his bed, Vachlan retrieved a bottle of painkillers. He popped three pills into his mouth and swallowed them down to attempt to combat his headache. “Okay, tidbits,” Vachlan said, with strained cheerfulness. “I think you should head back to your bedroom and let Daddy rest. I have a very critical meeting early in the morning, and some phone calls I can’t miss.”
“No,” Ivory said firmly. “We have important news, and we need Mommy.”
“What’s wrong?” Vachlan asked, sitting up and yanking his gun from beneath his pillow. “Are they here? Are they coming for me?” On second thought, he reached to his side and slipped his hand under the pillow that used to belong to his wife. Retrieving another gun, he handed it to his five-year-old daughter. “Here, take this. Just stay calm, and we’ll get out of here together.”
Ivory stared down at the gun in her hand. “What’s this for, Daddy?”
“He thinks it’s time for fighting,” Ronan whispered to his sister. “That’s why there are dark, puffy bubbles under his eyes.”
Vachlan reached up to touch his eyes self-consciously.
“Silly Daddy,” Ivory said, putting Visola’s gun back under the pillow and patting her father’s cheek. “There’s no fighting yet! I’ll be the first to let you know when the fighting begins.” She nodded gravely. “The important news is other stuff. We have a surprise!”
“A surprise?” Vachlan asked in a tired voice.
“Yeah! Ronan lost his tooth!” Ivory shouted. She pointed to her brother’s face with excitement. “See?! It fell out when he was eating a banana!”
Ronan gave his father a big smile to demonstrate the large gap where one of his front teeth used to be. He then removed a hand from behind his back, offering up the tooth to his father proudly. “I want to show Mommy,” Ronan told him. “She said I could play with the flamethrower when I lost my first tooth!”
“It’s not fair,” Ivory said, shaking Vachlan’s shoulder. “I want to play with the flamethrower too. Why did he lose his tooth before me, Daddy? Is he more growed-up?”
Vachlan stared at the small tooth in his son’s outstretched hand. He reached out and took it between his thumb and forefinger. He held the incisor up and stared at its silhouette in the dimly lit room. He looked back to the gap-toothed grin of his little boy, and felt overwhelmed by emotion. The desire to share the experience of the lost tooth with Visola was so strong that it hurt. Feeling a prickle in the back of his eyes, he closed them briefly and cleared his throat, where a lump was developing. “I’m proud of you, champ.”
Ronan was surprised when his father enveloped him in a giant hug, but he quickly returned the embrace, curling up against his father’s side and nestling his head in the crook of the man’s shoulder. “Daddy, do I get a prize if I put it under the pillow? Is that how I get the flamethrower, from the tooth-fairy?”
“Yes,” Vachlan said, kissing his son’s forehead and placing the tooth under the pillow, beside Visola’s gun. Then he wrinkled his brow in thought. “Well, maybe not a flamethrower. Maybe a crossbow, or some grenades.”
“Yay!” Ivory shouted, violently seizing her spot on Vachlan’s other side to avoid being left out. She smiled and wrapped her tiny arms around Vachlan’s chest with as much strength as she could muster, giving him a vicious hug.
The older man could not help but smile at her aggressiveness. Ivory’s energetic ways clearly betrayed her to be her mother’s daughter. Receiving a Visola-style hug from this miniature version of his wife should have eased his agitated heart, but it just made him miss her even more. He slipped his gun back under the pillow so that he could ruffle Ivory’s auburn hair. Feeling the soft red curls beneath his rough hand, he frowned. The organs in his chest felt like they were spinning around within his ribcage, and smashing into each other like bumper cars. He could not remember ever having felt so unsettled.
“Why are you mad, Daddy?” Ivory whispered in the dark. “Did we do something wrong?”
“No, sweetheart,” Vachlan said, sighing and hugging her against him. He reached down to kiss her forehead as well. “I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Can we sleep here tonight?” Ronan asked. “Please!”
Vachlan found himself nodding before he could vocalize his assent. “Sure, kiddo. There’s a lot more room here in this big bed, lately.” He realized that, in this moment, he probably needed the touch and cuddles from his children more than they needed his affection. The two adorable innocents had bundled around him, bringing plenty of love and good energy—it was easing his headache and anxiety much more than any medication had managed to do in the past few days.
“When’s Mommy coming home?” Ivory asked again, in a sleepy voice.
Vachlan studied the ceiling, seeking answers. “I don’t know,” he said miserably. 
“Is she on her way back from outer space?” Ronan asked. He put his thumb in his mouth, poking around at the spot where the tooth used to be.
Tightening his arm around his son, Vachlan sighed. “I certainly hope so, Ronan.”

Chapter 2: She Deserves Retribution

A pair of black combat boots pounded the pavement with surefire purpose. Dozens of armored boots followed soundlessly, keeping in perfect stride behind their leader. Filling the steel-reinforced footwear were solid calves that rippled in flawless synchronicity. Attached to these calves were thick, burly thighs, which heaved and alternated in a dogged, relentless rhythm. Erect torsos, with abdominals not too dissimilar from brick walls, floated gracefully forward, presenting the illusion of being carried on liquid limbs.  Most importantly, severe faces with utter devotion to their objective, and sinewy arms carrying the necessary tools and weapons for success, drew nearer to their destination, moving as a single, unstoppable unit.
These warriors were not driven by motivations of a financial nature, or patriotic duty; they were not compelled by any tangible force. It was the woman spearheading the operation that filled them with fire and bile. They drew on her emotions, inspired by the way she clenched her jaw and fist. They clung to her decisions, recognizing something holy in her altered mental state. All her capacities were heightened in her madness, and she was somehow more than just a woman. Her warriors had each become an extension of her body. They felt what she felt. They moved according to her will. Their purpose was the purest of sorts. Revenge. Revenge on a nation. Revenge on a people. Revenge of any kind; damage of any conceivable measure that could possibly amount to the loss that had been suffered. Punishment. It was only fair. It was merely what the universe owed her. She was from a place where the holy people taught balance in all things. They said that everything the earth took from a person, the sea would someday return. But this time, the land had taken too much. There was nothing else to do.
She would punish the world.
Marching stealthily in the darkness, the woman turned back to her warriors. She waved her hand to indicate where each person should move in order to properly penetrate the power station. Their Japanese features displayed acknowledgement, but their boots did not even squeak as the men swiftly dispersed. The woman crouched down as she approached the gates, and waited for a full minute for all of her men to take their positions. Once she felt adequately covered, she pressed a button on a large panel on her forearm to indicate that she was about to take action. Dozens of green lights appeared on the small LCD screen, signaling that the coast was clear.
The dark-haired woman reached into the holster at her thighs, removing a small weapon with one hand, and an electronic master key. She used the key to open up the gates, and placed her gun in the crack between the doors, using the barrel to push it open. She carefully slipped her body inside, positioning herself behind her weapon and making sure to check every angle from which she could be approached. She frowned when she saw that there were several security guards in the courtyard who had already been killed. They had not been killed by her men. Her own weapons contained a fast-acting neurotoxin in tranquilizer darts, not lethal bullets. Lately, she had been feeling rather insane with rage—but not this insane. Frowning, she quickened her pace as she began to jog toward the central control room of the power station. More and more bodies seemed to litter the area, and it was obvious that the security guards of the power station had fallen hard and fast—before they had even been able to draw their weapons.
It was evident to her that this could only be the handiwork of one person. One very dangerous, volatile person. Lifting her gun to eye level, the woman cautiously crept forward, trying to ignore her heart beating in her ears. She saw a door that was slightly ajar, and heard large smashing noises coming from within, followed by electronic beeping. Moving forward rapidly, she tried to breathe as quietly and calmly as possible. Shoving her weapon into the tiny space between the door and the wall, she carefully advanced into the room.
Before she could take a step, a large hand had clamped around the barrel of the gun and pulled her forward. She found an elbow slamming into the back of her neck, and a knee against her lower back. Her face smashed against the cold, sticky floor, and she gasped as the air was forced out of her lungs. She felt the chilled circle of a gun nozzle placed against her temple.
“Don’t shoot!” she said desperately. “It’s me.” She felt the shooter hesitate, and she was almost sure that her opponent’s finger had already begun to squeeze the trigger before being halted by the sound of a familiar voice.
“Yamako.” The voice that spoke this acknowledgement was as cold as steel and much more bitter. “Why are you here?”
The Japanese princess exhaled and shifted her body on the ground so that she could stare up into the expressionless face of General Visola Ramaris. For a moment, her heart caught in her throat—the empty jade eyes and grim red lips were identical to those which had belonged to her dead lover. For a moment, she wanted to go to her, and trick herself into believing that Sionna still lived. Instead, she managed to croak out, “You’re doing it wrong.” Taking a ragged breath, she cleared her throat. “I’m here to help shut down the electrical grids.”
Visola turned away, and headed back to the control panel. She picked up a giant sledgehammer and returned to smashing the machinery.
“That’s not effective!” Princess Yamako shouted in exasperation. “For Sedna’s sake, Visola.”
The furious redhead turned to look at her sharply. “Get away from me. You shouldn’t be here.”
“This is precisely where I should be.”
Swinging her arms one final time, Viso plunged the entire power station into darkness. The only light in the room was the dim glow of the electronic arm band worn by the Japanese princess. Yamako could see the green glint of Visola’s eyes flashing at her with fury.
“I know what I’m doing,” the general said. “Don’t fucking get in my way.”
Yamako sighed. “Will you listen to me for a moment? This is temporary. You destroyed the hardware, but it can be easily repaired. Granted, it’s pretty important hardware, and the parts will take some time to replace. But there are tons of backup generators. This won’t slow them down for as long as you need.”
“How did you find me?” Visola snarled.
“I can find anyone,” Yamako said with a shrug. “Listen, Viso. You need me. I can get you way more intelligence than you could possibly find on your own.”
Visola was hoisting a weapon against her shoulder as she peered through the window of the control room. “Why are there guns pointed at me?”
“I brought a team with me,” Yamako explained. “They’re covering us.”
Visola arched an eyebrow. “They’re amateurs. I could spot them from a mile away.”
“They’re not just warriors. These men are field engineers and programmers. I went to school with some of them in Japan, and others are specially trained Ningyo warriors. We can help you, Viso.”
“I don’t need your help,” Visola spat. “What do you take me for? I don’t need fucking electrical-engineer-ninja-mermaids.”
“Yes, you do!” Yamako insisted. She used her elbow to push herself off the ground and pointed at Visola accusingly. “With your methods, you could put about eight million people out of power for a week. Sure, it’s no small feat, and it will allow you barely enough time to carry out your plans. But with my methods, you could have eighty million people without power. For several months.”
Visola hesitated.
Seeing her opportunity, Princess Yamako rose to her full height—which wasn’t much—and stepped closer. She pulled a small microchip out of her bra. “See this? Just one small bug, Viso—one tiny little virus is enough to give you what you need. Something similar caused the Northeast blackout of 2003. You want riots and massacres? You want mayhem and anarchy? I’m your woman. Take away their refrigeration and they’ll lose their civilization. We can sit back and watch as they turn on their neighbors and kill each other for a bit of a food. How else does one bring down a giant?”
Visola narrowed her eyes.
“It’s easy,” Yamako whispered. “Just give me the word, honey. You don’t even need to go anywhere and get your hands dirty. The entire electrical grid is run on software. It can all be accessed remotely. And hacked remotely. Just trust me, sweetie: This tiny bit of metal in my hand is enough to start the end of the world.”
The general’s pink tongue darted out and slowly ran over her top lip. Her lips then pressed together to share the moisture, as if hungrily preparing for a scrumptious meal. Even in the dark silence of the control room, where the only sound and light came from the fizzing and flickering of destroyed equipment hissing its final breaths, the microchip in Yamako’s hand seemed to glow with the promise of far greater destruction. Visola looked into the eyes of the Japanese princess, and saw the reflection of the dancing sparks, along with a glimmer of sadism—the latter might have been her own emotions mirrored back at her, but she could not be sure. A few gunshots distracted Visola from her thoughts, signifying that it was time to go. The redhead stepped forward and pushed past Yamako. “I work better on my own,” she stated simply.
“Viso!” Yamako shouted, following after the woman frantically. “You can’t do this without me! Most of the organizations you intend to target specifically have backup generators anyway. Even after I mess with the RTOs and ITOs, cutting the power for almost 100 million people, we will have more work to do. We’ll need to carefully plan the attacks on the big boys, once they are too focused on protecting their people to remember that they’re sitting ducks. If we plan this correctly, we can…”
“There is no we!” Visola shouted, swiveling sharply. She slung her weapon over her shoulder, sending Yamako a finite look. “Do you understand me? I’m doing this alone. Get the hell out of my face, and keep out of my way.”
“I can give you Washington D.C.!” Yamako shouted. “I can give you D.C..”
Visola turned back to look over her shoulder in a skeptical but interested way. Her lips parted slightly, as though she were considering the offer—she looked as though she might be deciding between having waffles and pancakes for breakfast. “No,” she finally said. “I will take it on my own. I can get around more quickly without you and your band of nerdy-ninjas getting underfoot and slowing me down.”
“Damn you!” Princess Yamako said bitterly, flicking a few tears from the corner of her eyes. “You and your fucking selfish pride! You act like you’re the only one who lost her. You act like you’re the only one she meant anything to. I loved her. I deserve my own chance at retribution, Visola Ramaris. You won’t deny me that!”
Visola swiveled suddenly and put her hand to Yamako’s throat, slamming her into the wall. Sirens began blazing throughout the hallway, sending red flashing lights over the faces of the two women. The coloring enhanced the bloodshot veins in Visola’s eyes, accentuating the madness that had taken over every corner of her being.  “You’re a child playing at vengeance, Yamako. This isn’t a game that you can win with your fancy gadgets and gizmos. This is fucking war. Get. Out. Of. My. Way.”
Princess Yamako’s dark eyes began to water. “I loved your sister,” she whispered tenderly. She lifted a hand to encircle Visola’s wrist around her neck as she struggled to choke out her words. “I understand why you’re like this. I loved Sionna too.”
Visola’s eyes widened in horror, as though someone had just spoken the secret name of God. She stepped away as though she had been struck. “Don’t say her name!”
Yamako looked down for a moment, unable to bear the pain on Visola’s face. Partly because she felt the same way, and partly because Visola’s face was too familiar, too indistinguishable from the woman who had been so brutally killed. Ghosts of the past came rushing back to the princess in Visola’s every scowl and glare—yet, this was the preferred situation. Yamako felt like she might fall to her knees in grief and be unable to stand ever again if Visola were to smile. Luckily, that did not seem to be a very plausible event. “Please,” Yamako said quietly. “We’re stronger together. This needs to be done correctly. Please, let us help. Vachlan and Dylan have prepared plans, and Aazuria wants to…”
“They’re all useless to me,” Visola whispered.
Yamako did not look up, for she could hear the chilling expression on the redhead’s face.
As unlikely as it seemed to be, Visola smiled. It was a disturbed and deranged smile; one which a woman might wear while standing on train tracks with her legs spread wide apart, waiting with anticipation for the impact. It was evident that she was either positive that she could stop the train with the power and precision of her thoughts, or in her heightened state of madness, she was completely invulnerable to being slammed, crushed, or flattened. Indeed, Yamako believed that a barreling train would not make a scratch on Visola. She feared for the locomotive that dared to try.
As gunshots sounded throughout the power station, Visola did not even flinch or seek their source. “They’re all soft,” the redhead declared. “They have families. They have responsibilities. They have lives. They can’t commit to this the same way that I can. Sionna was everything to me.”
“Then we’re in the same boat,” Yamako said harshly. “I can commit. You know I can. Please, Viso. If we work together, we can sick the armies of the oceans on more than just the CIA. We can sink New York down into the sea. Chicago and Detroit are on the water, and we can take them down as well. Miami, Houston, Los Angeles. You name it, and we will crush it.”
Visola stared at the Japanese woman for several seconds without blinking. “I’m going to avenge my sister. I’m the only one who can do what needs to be done. Go home, Yamako. Go home to your son. Don’t worry. I’ll crush everything that needs to be crushed. By the time Kaito is an adult, the United States will be a distant memory.” Visola rotated her body and began to walk away again. “I will wipe that abomination off the map, or die trying.”
“What a shame!” Yamako shouted after her viciously. “Sio deserved more. She deserved the best retribution that we could give her, and you’re half-assing this because you don’t want to depend on other people? I thought you were better than this, Visola. I thought you were stronger than this!”
Visola clenched and unclenched a fist around her weapon. She then turned and lifted her gun to point it at Yamako’s face. “And just how could I do this better?” she demanded.
“Maximize your resources,” Yamako said, flinching slightly as she looked past the barrel of the gun. “If you don’t want to talk to Zuri and Vachlan, if you don’t want to drag Adlivun and all of Oceanus into this—then you need to go to him—you need to seek out Leviathan. You need to go to the rebels, the gangs, and the wayward warriors of the water. You need to go to him. You need backup. You need armies!”
Swallowing a lump of disgust, Visola growled softly. She imagined that her sister had told Princess Yamako the story of her fleeting romance with the former Prince of Atlantis. This memory added fuel to her already raging fire of wrath.
“Please,” Yamako urged. “He’s the only one who can help. Go to him. Secure his armies, and let me take care of the tech. I have Japan on my side. I am more powerful than you give me credit for. If we play our cards right, we can take America down in a concentrated three day span of calculated attacks.”
“Leviathan,” Visola repeated thoughtfully. Then she spat in disgust. “Leviathan! Honestly, I would rather die than ask Taranis Evenor for help. After what that man did to me? Fuck him. And fuck you, Princess Yamako, for underestimating me. Do you even know who I am? Do you know what I’m capable of? If you did, you wouldn’t be here interfering with my shit. Get the fuck out of my face, and take your newfangled technology. She was my sister. I am doing this the old fashioned way...”
A security guard rounded the corner, pointing his weapon at the two women. “Freeze! Don’t m—”
He had not finished speaking before Visola had shifted her weapon and unloaded a round of ammunition into his chest. It knocked the man off his feet instantly. The redhead moved to his side and crouched down, turning to the Japanese princess with a grave look on her face. Pulling a dagger out of her boot, Visola slammed the knife into the man’s throat. She sliced directly across his neck, in a tantalizingly slow manner, as though she intended to make a point. Wiping the knife on her thigh, Visola returned it to its sheath. With fingers that were sticky, wet, and still dripping with blood, she pointed at the dead man. “You see? I like working with my bare hands. I don’t need technology. And I will wreck anyone who steps in my path. Including you, Princess.”
With that, Visola was gone. Yamako was left standing in the hallway, grinding her teeth together in frustration. “Damn her,” Yamako swore. “She’s a lunatic. She is impossible. She is so…” The Japanese woman let her hands fall to her sides in defeat. “She is so fucking hot.” 

Saturday 9 February 2013

Sacred Breath Book #5 Sneak Peek

Please enjoy this preview of the first chapter of Tides of Tranquility! 

Chapter 1: New World Order

Stop punishing yourself, love. You do not deserve to live your life in exile.
Blinking, she rubbed her temples in an effort to concentrate. She gazed around at the towers of irregular crystallized spikes which surrounded her in the oval chamber. Sitting waist-deep in a warm pool of volcanically-heated hot springs, she stared blankly at the trickle of water cascading over rocks and into the small pool. She hummed softly to herself, trying to feel the quality of the air vibrating through her vocal chords. Steam rose from the spot where the droplets of cool sea collided with the heated lagoon; she watched the steam hang in soft clouds around her body. She hummed louder, trying to use the sound waves to distort the steam. It was easy to use her singing to manipulate objects in the water, but creating the same effect in the air was like shooting feathers out of a gun. She needed more precision and power.
For how many years were you at the helm of this country? Now you’ve been reduced to this?
Elandria could not tell anyone that she had been hearing voices. She could not relate how the voices echoed through the caves, distracting her from her tasks. With her personal penchant for mental illness, and her family history of rampant suicides, she was afraid that her sister would worry. Considering the current state of affairs, the last thing she wanted to do was cause Aazuria additional stress. The woman was so busy that Elandria scarcely saw her; she was lucky if her sister visited even once a month. If it were not for the hundreds of letters from Trevain, she would not have any idea of what was happening at the palace. His letters had been her only comfort, until Mother Melusina had recently found them and taken them away. She was forbidden from contact with men whatsoever, and apparently, the written word was considered contact. It did not feel that way to her. Confined to Gypsum Cavern for five years, she felt worlds away from her family; but she was here for the purpose of penance. For atonement. Emitting another sound from her lips, she tried to maintain a single note for as long as possible.
You were the one who built that palace. You made this nation into what it currently is!
She choked on her note.
Although she missed her sister, she knew that Aazuria was traveling all over the undersea world to make sure that the realms under her rule were running smoothly. The former Japanese queen, Amabie Mizuchi, had been named Empress of Oceanus, acting as a neutral and esteemed figurehead for all the submerged nations to honor—but everyone knew that Aazuria was the true force to be reckoned with. She was widely credited as the hero who had led the charge on Damahaar and liberated the watery world from the clutches of the Clan of Zalcan, all those years ago. Some skeptics chose to attribute the victory to Vachlan Suchos, the Destroyer of Kingdoms—many said that without his preliminary weakening of the stronghold, and his less-than-savory connections, the war would never have been won.
Both viewpoints were correct.
Breathing deeply, Elandria tried to still her mind and quell her loneliness. She had work to do! It would not do to fantasize about home. Gazing intently at the swords of crystal, as though her blazing eyes could somehow melt them, she released a second frequency from her throat, slightly more high-pitched than the last. She held the note for several seconds, hoping that she would finally be successful. She stared at the dark quartz, imagining that she saw the spears shuddering. She had been attempting this simple task for hours. The interruptions from the voices in her head were not helping.
Adlivun was just a hole-in-the-wall. You elevated us to the status of an internationally recognized country. You put us on the map, once and for all! What did she do? She riled everyone up. She caused a big commotion, disrupting your carefully achieved peace. She led hundreds of people to their death; no Adluvians died needlessly in battle when you were queen!
It was only one voice, really, but it was a particularly frustrating one. It reminded Elandria of someone she wished to forget—someone who had died a long time ago. While he lived, he had caused her nothing but pain and suffering, and now that he was dead, his voice seemed to remain immortalized in the back of her mind. He had become her conscience. He had become her madness. Once, she had chosen to stop speaking altogether to protect her mind from his intrusions; she had accepted that she could not protect her body, but decided that her mind was her own.  Now, it seemed that her thoughts were no longer off limits from his exploitation—even from beyond the grave. She could not deny that he was a part of her. A crucial influence in her upbringing, and meshed into her very flesh and blood. Perhaps she would never be able to escape his oppression. Being alone so much brought the horrors he had inflicted upon her to the front of her brain.
You spent ten years by his side and she just swept in and stole him away! Isn’t that just like her? You are the true queen—you are his true wife. You should be ruling Adlivun, Elandria.
“Get out of my head!” she screamed, rising to her feet. She lifted her hands to cover her ears, her wet, dripping sleeves plastered against her arms. She could bear a thousand voices of insanity quarreling in her mind, as long as they did not mention Trevain. The memory of what she had lost was too fresh and too tender to be prodded. Would any amount of years be enough to cleanse her heart of the warmth it had known? The warmth it would never know again? She could feel her composure crumbling. She could feel her insides falling apart. “Leave me alone!”
Face the truth, my dear. He belongs to you.
“No, he doesn’t!” Elandria snapped, in a shriek that caused all the crystalline spikes to instantly shatter. She looked around in surprise at what she had done. The explosions had sent shimmering shards and dust of sandy quartz hurtling into the warm pool. The pieces floated on the surface, bobbing gently and glimmering in the low light. After laboring intently for hours to inflict even a tiny amount of damage upon the solid structures, she had somehow managed to instinctively destroy them in a burst of emotion. She raised her fingers to her throat, absent-mindedly rubbing her voice box, which was growing stronger every day. Her mentor often said while an opera singer on land could shatter wine glasses or windows, an opera singer in the water could shatter bones. Her chest heaved with panting breaths as she surveyed the carnage.
“He was never mine.”

*                *                *

By age fourteen, Varia had grown taller than her mother.
Trevain was often uncomfortable with how mature the young girl seemed—her childhood seemed to have vanished in the blink of an eye. He had not even gotten a chance to create some memories of what she was like as a kid before she had erupted from her little chrysalis and morphed into the skin of a strange young woman. Although slender and pretty, her stormy expressions gave her an air of severity. She carried herself with a sophisticated, royal poise that was reminiscent of Aazuria, and if he had not been instrumental in her conception, he would have guessed that she was surely at least a century old. He felt himself constantly trying to impress her and gain her favor, or trick her into smiling.
Despite his best efforts, she remained distant and untouchable. Trevain was not even sure whether she really loved him. He had the constant impression of having done something horribly wrong which had deeply offended her; was it this way with all teenagers? Had he done something so injurious? For that matter, was it this way with all women? Aazuria was even more distant than her daughter—he was not sure that she thought much of his parenting skills. This saddened him.
He really tried his best to be a cool dad.
These were his thoughts as he stood in Varia’s doorway, observing the young girl as she read an intimidating-looking book in her maroon armchair. He knew that Aazuria had hired some of the best professors in the world for their daughter’s education, and many were surprised with her already vast knowledge and aptitude for learning—especially considering her unique upbringing. Varia was professional and courteous with all of her instructors, always completing her assignments punctually and methodically. She rather reminded him of a robot. He often wondered if there was anything she was passionate about, or whether she would continue in this hardhearted fashion.
“Are you still reading Crime and Punishment?” Trevain asked her gently.
She did not even glance up from her book to respond. “No. Finished that last week. This is A Clockwork Orange.”
Trevain frowned. “Is that for school? Which of your teachers assigned it? I’m not sure you’re old enough to be reading that sort of thing. I didn’t read that until I was…”
“This is personal reading,” Varia said, lifting her chin to contemplate him. Her different colored eyes were always a curious sight to behold. Her blue iris was filled with innocence while her green one was mysterious and predatory. “Mother recommended it to me.”
“I see. Well, if she thinks you’re ready for it…”
Varia smiled. “Mother killed a man in front of me when I was eight. He embraced me, calling my name as he bled to death. I watched him drowning in his own blood. I think I can handle a bit of light reading, Father.”
Trevain lowered his gaze, feeling foolish. “I’m so sorry, Varia.”
“I’m not,” she answered in a low voice. She stared thoughtfully at a sketch on her bedroom wall. “I was directly responsible. Mother asked my permission—she wouldn’t have done it without my endorsement. I wanted him gone, even though he was the only man I had ever known. The strange thing is that he believed I adored him until his final breath. He never even knew my real name. At least I learned how to be an excellent actress from that whole situation.”
“Things are different now. Our enemies are gone for good. You’ll never have to suffer anything like that again,” Trevain promised. He wondered if she had used up all her energy in playing the role of daughter to his enemy—was there anything of a child left in her? Were they to be friends and equals now, business associates perhaps; had he completely missed the opportunity to be a father?
“That wasn’t the worst thing I ever suffered,” Varia said quietly, returning her eyes to her book. “It seems to me that a lot of people have been through far worse. The world is just full of awful people.”
“I really think you should stop reading that for now,” Trevain said sternly. “I don’t care what you’ve seen or suffered—you don’t have to address these serious issues now. Put a bookmark in it and pick it up again when you’re a bit older.”
Varia glared up at the man silently. She considered slamming the book closed or making a scene, but instead, she carefully allowed the pages to flutter softly closed. Elegantly unfolding her legs from beneath her, she rose from her armchair and glided over to her frozen bookshelves. She obediently placed the book on the shelf before turning to look at her father sweetly.
“It’s funny,” she said in a bitterly mellow tone. “The man who died when I was eight did not order me around nearly as much as you do.”
 “Varia!” Trevain said in horror.
She smoothed her dress and pushed her shoulders back as she regarded her father. “I will not apologize for speaking the truth, even if it offends you. I am the Princess of Adlivun and I am expected to read all there is to read and know all there is to know. I don’t have the luxury of being the happy little girl that you want me to be. Stop treating me like a fisherman’s daughter. Maybe I’m not the way you imagined, but you’re not the way I imagined either. We may be amicable, especially in public, but please leave me alone.”
Trevain shook his head, evidently wounded by her harsh words. “Go to bed, Varia. We have to wake up early tomorrow to go to the islands and greet your mother at the airport. I already got her some flowers.”
“She’s not coming home tomorrow.”
“What?” Trevain said in surprise. “She’s finished her business in Atlantis.”
“Didn’t you get her text? She’s visiting Grandma in Bimini for a few days.”
Trevain fished his phone out of his pocket and frowned when he found no communication from his wife. This was just like her—forgetting to inform him of her change in plans. He did not betray his disappointment and frustration, but simply nodded. “I see. Well, goodnight, Varia.”
The girl had obediently crawled into bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and closed her eyes. “Goodnight, Father.” She listened to his breathing as he closed her door. His footsteps echoed through the hallway, carrying him to his room. When she heard the sound of his door closing, Varia opened her eyes and tossed the covers off her body. She bolted to the window of her room and carefully slid it open, making sure that she made no noise. She could not alert the guards in the corridor.
Heading over to her bed, she retrieved some climbing gear from under her mattress. She moved back to the window and stuck her head outside, watching for patrol guards or anyone out for a midnight stroll in the wintery capital of Romanova, which had once been known as Upper Adlivun. Since the war, the city had truly been the “New Rome” at the heart of the Oceanic Empire. The name was also significant in honoring the lost grand duchess, Anastasia Romanova, who had never been found. Adlivun had been fortunate in recovering its own lost princess—and now she intended to sneak out of a window and plunge into a puddle of mischief. How better to appreciate the precious state of being alive? Young Anastasia would certainly have done the same thing, if she had been given half the chance.
The moon was high in the sky, shining off the snowy glacier on which the parliamentary palace had been built. It was bright enough for anyone to see her activities, but she was sleek and lithe. Hooking her climbing gear on her windowsill, Varia checked to make sure it was firm before lowering herself through the opening. She slid down quickly, several feet, until she came upon a horizontal pipe. Releasing the rope and grasping the metal cylinder, Varia soundlessly shimmied across the outside of the castle. She pulled her feet up, hooking them around the pipe to avoid being seen as she passed the windows of a few rooms.
When she finally reached her destination, she hung from the pipe and used her foot to knock on a certain window. Hearing no answer, she groaned and kicked the window again. Her fingertips were getting quite cold from clinging to the frosty pipe. When there was still no answer, Varia removed one hand from the pipe in order to try and force the window open. At the same time as she pulled, the curtain parted and the window slid sharply open. Due to the fact that her weight had been distributed between the pipe and the window, she found herself losing balance. She slipped from the pipe, but before she could fall three stories to the icy ground below, she found a strong hand seizing her forearm.
She exhaled in relief and laughed a little, gripping the forearm that had grabbed hers. Her partner-in-crime pulled her back into the window, helping her through and closing it behind her. Varia could not seem to help giggling at the double-thrill of nearly falling to her death (or grave injury) and defying her father’s wishes.
“You nearly gave me a heart attack!” Glais complained. He grabbed her hand and pressed it against his chest. “See? Dammit, Varia, if you die from falling out of my window, they’ll hang me for murdering you or something.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, ripping her hand away from his chest and hitting him in the arm. “Don’t be so paranoid. Did you get the stuff?”
He hesitated.
“Umm, yeah. But I’m not sure that we should use it. Seriously, Varia—I’m really sick of you getting me into trouble. If your dad knew what you wanted me to do to you—he would behead me. Literally behead me.”
Varia grinned, finding this imagery quite amusing. “Obviously. That’s part of the whole reason I want to do it.”
“Because you want to see my head rolling around in the snow?” Glais asked glumly.
“No, silly. Because I like the way it feels to piss him off. So where do you want me? Over here, on your bed?”
Glais leaned against the window, his breath fogging up the glass. “You insane girl! I can’t believe this. You’re going to get me flayed alive.”
“You’re such a baby,” Varia said with impatience. She rolled her eyes and grasped the hem of her shirt and began lifting it over her head.
“No, no, no,” Glais said, rushing to grab her wrists. He seemed frantic in the moonlight. “Really think about this. Once we start, there’s no going back. What if you change your mind? We might be different people when we’re grown up, and we might regret this.”
Varia gave him a determined look. “I know who I am, Glais. I’m the girl who was born at the bottom of the earth. Maybe you don’t know who you are yet, but I do. I told you I wanted this, and you promised you’d do it for me.”
“I’ll do it,” he said timidly, “but are you sure we should do it tonight? I have practice tomorrow and I should probably get some rest…”
“Yes, tonight!” she insisted. “Besides, you’re swift and strong—easily the best athlete in your sport and age group in Adlivun.”   
“I don’t want to be the best in Adlivun. I want to qualify for the Olympics!” he protested.
“You will. I’ll help you train and be there to cheer you on,” she promised. “Please, Glais? I never ask you for anything. This is really important to me.”
He nodded in defeat. “Fine. Are you sure you trust me? It’s going to hurt. A lot.”
“I don’t care about pain,” Varia boasted.
“But I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You hurt me all the time when we’re sparring. What’s the difference?” she asked irritably.
“Varia, you’re a princess. Eventually, someone’s going to find out. They’ll know it was me. Your father is going to tear me into a million pieces and then roast those pieces as prime rib and sirloin steak on his barbeque…”
“For Sedna’s sake!” she shouted. “I want a tattoo just like yours. Are you going to give it to me or not? Because if you won’t, I’ll find someone who will!”
His shoulders sagged in surrender. Glais lifted a hand absentmindedly to touch his own tattoo, the triple-moon of Adlivun that he had inked on his neck. It was in precisely the same spot as his father’s tattoo; as his memories of the man had faded, he often found his thoughts dwelling on that symbol, and had decided to get a matching one to honor Bain’s memory. He wanted to think of his father every time he looked in the mirror; he wanted to be more like him. His art instructor had mentioned the traditional Japanese method of using bamboo needles to create a tattoo. Some of his Ningyo friends in Adlivun knew the irezumi method and had been willing to teach him. He had not anticipated that the stubborn princess would become obsessed with his body-art, constantly touching his neck and begging him for one of her own.
He had difficulty refusing Varia anything she wanted.
“Maybe it would be better if someone else did it,” he told her, although the thought gave him a slight nip of jealousy. “I’m not the greatest artist. There are people in Adlivun who have been practicing for hundreds of years! I have only ever done this one tattoo on myself.”
“I have seen you draw on the skin of your friends,” she argued. “That one time you gave Kaito a dragon tattoo.”
“In ballpoint pen! For Halloween! With his mother’s permission!”
“Oh, Glais,” Varia said with a sigh. “You are such a good boy. It’s so disappointing.” She moved over to his bed and pulled her shirt off before tossing herself onto the duvet. She pointed at her back. “Come on. It’ll be awesome! I give you artistic liberty to make it as fancy as you want.”
“Okay, Vari,” he said with a deep sigh. “Have you considered how this might limit your acting?”
“Lots of famous actresses have tattoos,” she argued. “Most of my theater work is in period costume anyway. I won’t have to appear semi-nude unless it’s for movies or TV, and then they can just use makeup or editing. Besides, it’s not like I’ll get to act much once I have to help run the country. See? I have thought about this.”
“Okay,” he said meekly. “Do you really want the Adluvian triple moon?”
“Yeah,” Varia said, resting her cheek on the pillow. “People say that the ocean isn’t constant, but it is. The tides are always changing in response to the moon. People say that the moon isn’t constant, but it is. It’s only our perception of it that changes. I love the triple moon symbol and what it signifies. The maiden, the mother, the crone. How could I ever grow out of something that represents life as a cycle from birth to death? I would still want this tattoo, even if it wasn’t the symbol on the flag of the nation of which I am a princess. But it is.”
Glais nodded, moving over to his desk to get his supplies. “I hope you like it, Varia. I’ll do my best.”
When she felt the warmth of his hands against her cold skin, she closed her eyes. The soothing touch was soon followed by the jagged prick of sharpened bamboo. Somehow, this still had a calming effect on her nerves. She wondered if her mother would be angry. Nonetheless, she knew that she needed to do this for herself. It was an act of patriotism, cementing her commitment to her country and to herself as an adult. She needed to get this tattoo to prove to herself that she was ready to make important decisions that would affect people, or possibly scar them for the rest of their lives. She needed to remind herself that some consequences were permanent and inescapable.
The traditional needle bored into her flesh. Again and again, she felt it pierce and jab. She could tell that even though Glais was emotionally hesitant, his hands were firm and true. He was supremely skilled with a paintbrush, skilled at fencing with a saber, and skilled at this combination of the two. She wondered if she was the first modern princess to ever get a tattoo of her country’s symbol. Excitement flooded her chest with every puncture. She felt the bamboo blade lift from her skin.
“God, Varia. I can’t do this. What if I screw up?”
She opened her eyes, glancing over her shoulder to send him a smile. Glais was only 18, and still unsure of himself in many ways. But she was sure of him; all the marks he had left on her person up until this point had been positive. She trusted him implicitly. “Don’t worry,” she told him, reaching out to squeeze his knee. “I have always loved your art.”

Thursday 31 January 2013

The Oceanic Empire: Sacred Breath Series World Map!

When I was a little girl, my favorite part of reading a fantasy novel was flipping to the front to view the map as the characters voyaged across the lands. "Oh, so that's where Cair Paravel is! I see how the boundary splits up the Midlands and D'hara!" I'm sure you all know what I mean. So, earlier this month while working on Tides of Tranquility, I became overly excited when I realized I had so many kingdoms that I needed to create a map. It wasn't just a neat extra, but a requirement for the heavily developed world of the Sacred Breath Series-- I want my readers to be able to follow along easily with all the places we're visiting, and look back in memory on all the places we've been. 

The map will be included in the eBook and print versions of Book #5. I have created a poster of the map as well, which is available here:
I will be ordering a few posters and giving them away as gifts to celebrate the release! Stay tuned to my Facebook page for more details. :)
I hope you're excited about Tides of Tranquility! I am. =)