Old Friends: Purity teaser

“I do not want to kill you, Heinrich,” he breathed. His hair was tousled around his shoulder, spilling over Heinrich’s wet snout. The wolf was panting heavily from their short battle. The hot dog breath made Fane wrinkle his nose, and he could feel the ribs moving beneath him as the lungs made an effort to breathe.

Heinrich growled. Fane didn’t understand what he was trying to say.

They remained that way, trapped on the forest floor as the strigoi morţi and vârcolaci around them slashed and snarled at each other. An echoing boom made the trees shake and the reek of gunpowder suddenly tore through the cool calm of rain.

Distracted, Fane glanced up. The movement tore at the scratches on his chest, and he inhaled sharply against the pain. Before he could look around to see who had fired the gun—honestly, the fight had only just started—Heinrich snarled and kicked him off.

Fane tumbled back and rolled down a slight slope, coming to rest at the base of a large evergreen. Woozy, he pushed off the leaves and onto his fingers and toes, squinting through the dark.

Heinrich stalked toward him, tail swishing in the dirt. His lips pulled back from his long, filthy teeth as a low growl issued up from his throat.

Fane stared, waiting.

Saliva dripped from the fangs. Deadly teeth in a powerful jaw, ready to snap. Sharp claws, already proved to draw blood even from a vampires. Heavy yet agile. Fane was almost intimidated. Werewolves were worthy foes.

Or at least, Heinrich Abendroth was a worthy foe.

Just as the wolf was about to pounce again, Fane lunged and grappled him to the ground. The rain was picking up, washing the dirt and blood from flesh and fur. Heavy, muscled legs thrashed out, slicing claws in all directions. Fane snarled and rolled to the side to grab Heinrich’s flailing legs; the wolf’s filthy, matted fur pressed into the open wounds on Fane’s chest, making the jagged edges sting.

Heinrich wriggled away and snapped his drooling fangs at his opponent. Pain blossomed in Fane’s shoulder; thick blood pooled down his flesh and ruined shirt.

He had not been bested in a true fight in years, not since the 1970s, when he had been briefly killed by his father’s former friend, mind lost.

He leaped forward, batting Heinrich’s sharp claws and bloodstained maw out of the way. The wolf roared, but Fane dodged his next attack by feigning to the left, and leaped at his object of desire: his black frock coat, cast so carelessly on the leafy carpet, soaked by the waterfall of raindrops. In one quick motion, he bent and swiped up his coat, unearthed his revolver, clicked back the hammer, and aimed it at the approaching vârcolac.

Heinrich stopped.

“Silver alloy ammunition, Heinrich,” he hissed.

All around them, the strigoi morţi and vârcolaci still fought with snarls and awry gunshots, oblivious to their leaders’ halt. Rain soaked his hair, his shirt, watering down the coagulated blood on his chest and shoulder and sending it in thin rivulets down his stiff body.

The wolf stared at him, tail swishing over the damp leaves.

“Take one more step toward me and it shall be your last. That is a promise, Heinrich. You know I do not make empty promises.”

Cowardice: Purity teaser

Crispin Kramer would not be one to call himself a coward. But when he had seen Evangeline Moreau picking wildflowers a few kilometres away from Le Vallon, prickly fear had instantly overwhelmed him.

That fear had turned into outright panic when Belle Baudelaire leaned in close to his hear and whispered, “Why not kill her, Crispin? Write a message in her blood. Heinrich would be proud.”

He didn’t want to tell her what he thought. He was sure Heinrich already doubted him, and sent him as the leader of the revolt in Auvergne to test his loyalties. Heinrich Abendroth was no fool. Crispin figured he was a genius, but of the unhinged, unstable variety.

Outright panic turned into sweaty palms and shallow breaths when Samantha Boulanger and Genji Lee captured Moreau with ease and brought her to the rebels.

When that goddamned harlot Baudelaire circled him with that dark gaze on him, silently taunted him. When Ivan Petrov and his wife, Katarzyna, cooed taunts in English and Russian, prodding their prisoner and scratching her unmarked skin.

And when he felt a hand slide slowly up his back and curl over his shoulder, and when he felt breath touch his face when Belle murmured, “Kill her, Crispin. Show the Arsenaults just who they’re dealing with.”

He couldn’t bear to look at Moreau. He could hear her stifled cries, her desperate pleas in a choked mixture of English and French. And when she struggled against her captors, Regina Carter had viciously slapped her, hard enough to shut her up and make Manfred Gottschalk grunt something about how pitiful the Arsenaults truly were.

Standing still, unable to move or speak, Crispin had done nothing when the aptly named Jezebel Baudelaire slithered up to him and lightly touched his cheek, grazing his skin with her pointed nails.

“You can’t do it?” she had purred, giving him a particular pouting look that every man—even Heinrich Abendroth—melt and become a doting puppy to her every whim. “Too bad.”

And sweaty palms, shallow breaths, terror at what in the hell he was doing—it all became an indifferent haze when Belle ruthlessly kicked down Evangeline Moreau and crushed her skull with a single well-aimed stomp.

While everyone else hooted and laughed at the grotesque execution, Crispin had been the only one to spot Evangeline’s husband, Claude, near a copse of trees in the near distance.

He had witnessed the entire thing.

Belle spotted him next. Crispin, along with Samantha, Regina, Katarzyna, Ivan, and Iris Santos, waited at their makeshift camp as the others—Belle, Manfred, Genji, and Alex Hanson—stalked up to the panic-stricken Claude in hopes of giving him the same ending as his wife.

But while Manfred managed to cut Moreau’s chest, he escaped.

And now, after waiting until day broke to launch the official attack on Le Vallon, Crispin sat on a hill overlooking the town, watching as the nine under his command shrieked and shouted and destroyed everything they could.

Ghosts of the Past: Purity teaser

Muriel was not haunting her favourite spot on the balcony when he strode beneath it. Silence rang from the first room of the fifth corridor, where Harold’s poltergeist resided. Vlad had not been in the ballroom when he passed through to exit the double doors to the tunnel. No doubt Madalina would not be in Bran Castle far above. Mircea was far away and lost, save for a small memorial in the prince’s cold, still heart.

It seemed the ghosts of his past were quiet this evening.

Well, save for one.

“It has been far too long, mio vampiro,” a breathy voice said from behind him as he reached the top of the hill. The chilly evening was enhanced by a cloudy sky, and Bran Castle was filled with darkness. No lights flickered or glowed from inside; the tours had long since been closed for the evening.

He rested his palm on the cold, hard stone wall, pressing on the bumpy scar until it almost physically hurt. “Sixty-one days,” he said, shutting his eyes. Pat of him had hoped she wouldn’t come out of Purgatory this evening, hoped he could go about his business in peace.

“I have not been completely alone.”

He dropped his hand and turned to face her. “Have they been asking more questions?”

“They never stop.” She moved closer to him, and her big eyes were wide as she gazed at him. “The half-breed and her friends frequent this place more than anyone.”

Her voice, her presence—everything about her was disconcertingly cold. He could remember a time when he revelled in her human warmth. Even her innocent eyes, once comforting, were as pale and dead as the rest of her.

He hated ghosts. Congratulations were in order for Mircea—the only ghost of his past who did not insist on existing nearby, or at all. He was perfectly content in Hell. “I will speak with Madam Gwyther. She is a troublemaker.”

She nodded, but it was distant and slow. She was distracted. “I met a human girl recently. She asked questions as well.” She turned away and stared up at the sky, where the moon would be if there was no cloud cover. “She asked how long I was your prisoner.”

“Odd. Did you indulge her?”

“Yes. There were some… problems, as I did not know the proper English, but she understood. She seemed kind.” She lifted a hand as if she could cup the stars in her palm. “The heavens are truly beautiful. I hope to one day be with them.”

He watched her in silence. The longer time he spent in her presence, the heavier a painful block inside him became. This was why he hadn’t visited her in sixty-one days.

“Humans have visited the heavens,” he said after several long beats. Verity glanced back at him, confused, and he continued. “They built a device that could take them to a world beyond this Earth.”

A tiny smile perked her mouth, surprising him. Since when could a devout Catholic appreciate science? “Did they make it?”

Fane shut his eyes and turned his face away from her. His right hand was clenched around the scar, and his nails gouged his palm. “There are footprints on the moon.”

War Triage: Changeling teaser

The wounds were gruesome. One man was peppered with arrows; the shafts protruded from him like the spines of a porcupine. I had my doubts that he would survive, but kept quiet as the oldest squire led me around the makeshift triage. Burns were by far the most common injury. Men with fifty percent or more of their body covered in deep-tissue burns were already separated to their own section, just inside the treeline; those with a better chance of survival were kept with men with nonfatal stab wounds or slashes. I kept my face carefully composed as I surveyed the injuries. Burns from fire, ice, and electricity: they were all painful to look at, and most of those with terrible patches had already been sedated with, from what I could tell by watching one squire dole out a measure to a soldier, obscene amounts of opium.

The squire, a comely lad of about seventeen or so, peered up at me with desperate, round eyes as he finished leading me around the hospital. “Well, mum? What d’you think?”

I sighed and began to roll up the sleeves of my homespun tunic. “Separate magical wounds from tangible, and those with lesser severity from those who are on death’s door,” I ordered, pushing my wet hair from my cheeks. “Have some of the younger squires with little medical training to help the men with few, nonfatal wounds; we might be able to put them back on the battle right away if need be. Nonfatal magical wounds, there is little we can do right now—”

“Sorry, mum, but one of the men, he said you was from the mountains?”

I exhaled shortly and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Yes. I am. But I am reserving my skills for those with dreadful wounds, both magical and tangible. Nonfatal wounds are not delightful, certainly, but they will at least be survived. I will need as many hands helping me as possible, until Lord Hession returns from the battle to assist. Fetch some of the more capable squires.”

The boy nodded and hurried away to do my bidding, leaving me to make some quick decisions regarding the lives of several Nallisian and Syllian soldiers. The one drenched with arrows would have to be put down to keep him from suffering too much longer; none of us would be able to keep up with the demands of so many separate wounds. A few of the men with burns didn’t have much of a chance; neither did the one with no obvious external injuries save for an ashen pallor that made it clear he had been partially devoured by revenants.

“All right, let’s get down to it,” I muttered, and brought to my fingers a healing ward. I crouched beside the man with arrows and lightly touched his shoulder. “I am so sorry.”

He smiled weakly; blood stained the corners of his mouth, and his breathing was gurgled and laboured. “I died serving my king, Lady Healer. Make it quick.”

Loss: Of the Arbour teaser

Sage stole a glance at her bunk. She was invisible beneath her blanket, but he could hear her gentle sighs as she slept, interspersed with the occasional snuffle and snort. It seemed the only time she was at peace now was when she slept, and even then she often woke, sweaty and tearstained, from nightmares.

Sage had forgotten to ask Briar to marry them. And during the Siege of the Arbour, when Cain the Mad invaded the Nation’s last safe haven, Keelin had been escorting a group of five year olds—the Arbour’s youngest students—and Sage’s three children to safety. In the confusion of battle, she had been killed—and Siras, heartbroken and devastated, had blamed Sage.

He stood and trudged to his bed. Siras has spoken little since the Siege, and smiled and laughed even less. There was no real indication she had forgiven him, but none that she hadn’t, either. He looked at her once more as he shed his shirt and crawled beneath his thin quilt. Her face was relaxed in slumber, but not peaceful; it could never be so, drenched and marred as it was with scars and sorrow.

Once the cabin was dark and the only sounds were Siras’ breaths and the creaks and thuds of the ship around them, Sage shut his eyes and began the process of taking inventory. Stride had suggested it, partway through their voyage, as a means for Sage to sleep. It didn’t often work, but the habit was ingrained into him now.

Not one for praying—a habit he found rather ridiculous, but wisely kept quiet when the subject was approached by his more religiously-inclined companions—he simply went through a mental list of those he loved and wished them well wherever they might be. Stride had told him it was similar to a prayer when he suggested it, only the thoughts weren’t directed at any deity. And that suited Sage just fine.

First and foremost was his family. Maia, Ash, and Isobel, back at the Arbour—how big would Ash be now? How much had Bella’s vocabulary grown? And Flynn, somewhere in this scattering of verdant islands, afraid and alone.

His father, Stride, and mother, Carol; Galvyn, former Master of the Arbour, the paternal grandfather he hadn’t known was his until after the old man was murdered.

Briar, across the hall. Siras, sleeping less than a metre away. And with a small pang of regret and loss—Keelin, murdered by mistake.

The professors at the Arbour. General Shal, Commander Ren, Countess Elin, Knight-Commander Vian; his allies during the Revolution.

He sighed and opened his eyes, exhausted but unable to sleep. He was exhausting his list, but there were still a few more names and faces he could use; maybe by then, his body and mind would be tricked into slumber.

His heart clenched as he began the next segment of his habit. The image of a young man, with tousled blonde hair and warm brown eyes, and fingers picked and chewed to nothing; one of his oldest friends, his own firstborn’s namesake, and Maia’s elder brother: Ash. He had been murdered many years ago, at the dawn of the Revolution, for his involvement in an expulsion during their final year at the Arbour—but it had been much more than that, hadn’t it? They hadn’t realized it at the time, but…

Sage rubbed his face and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable on the hard bunk. There was one name left on his list—one that he often touched on in passing, coming to him at random times during the day. It wasn’t unpleasant, but he would rather the ghosts of the past leave him alone, literally and figuratively.

Once upon a time, King Cain the Mad had been a brilliant student—albeit with anger issues—studying at the Arbour alongside Sage. They had never been friends, but their many altercations had been memorable. It had only been at the end, however, with Sage’s dagger buried in Cain’s chest, that all that lay between them had been set aside; because of it, Sage could truly mourn his loss.

He glared into the shadows above his berth and grumbled, “Why can’t you just leave me alone, Cain? I did nothing to you that you didn’t deserve.”

The night passed slowly. Sage lay awake, listening to the wooden creaks of the ship and the sea sloshing against the hull, and the snorts and sighs of the sailors in cabins around them, all peacefully lost in slumber—something that seemed especially determined to elude Sage.

Favourite characters. Mine are doomed to die.

This is a rant that has reached each of my little corners of the internet, and now that I’ve just finished NK Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy (unrelated to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle), I feel the need to strike up the match once again.

It’s frustrating. For fictional characters, to be loved by me is to be loved by death.

I must pick the most unlucky characters to love. Even minor characters sometimes, but mostly it’s the major ones I get attached to then so severely disappointed when they’re horribly offed. Many of these even got some shed tears.

There are a few lucky ones who come close to dying, but miraculously survive.

So let me give you a list of characters I love who have died, in no particular order.

Don’t read this if you are terrified of spoilers for a vast assortment of things.

L: Death Note, manga and anime, cried each time.

Sirius Black: Harry Potter, cried each time.

Dumbledore: Harry Potter, only picked him as a favourite character as a backup when Sirius died.

Snape: Harry Potter, haven’t read the last book but everyone has told me about his creepy death.

Sieh: Inheritance Trilogy, and the bastard even had the gall to do it heroically, but this was especially painful because he’s the god of tricks and when he died I thought it was a joke and he’d be revived. He wasn’t.

Ned Stark: Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, but Sean Bean is a red shirt, so is anyone surprised?

Mr Crepsley: Cirque du Freak, and it totally tricks you into thinking that he didn’t die, fucking wept like a baby.

Roan Shryne: Dark Lord the Rise of Darth Vader, cried.

Jack of Blades: Fable, but I love bad guys, so I should’ve seen this coming.

Carth Onasi: Knights of the Old Republic, though he only dies depending on which alignment you choose in the end.

Grandmaster Jauffre: Oblivion, and I know he doesn’t necessarily die, but I was too busy focussing on fuckingasswipe Martin (who can handle himself, by the way) to pay attention to Jauffre, and this relates to

Baurus: Oblivion, who at the same time as Jauffre’s death, also died a horrible Daedra-filled death, all because I thought Martin would die, because it was the first of two points in the game where Martin can be killed.

Martin Septim: Oblivion, and this little shit does it heroically too – and is also voiced by Sean Bean, so, again, shouldn’t have been surprised.

Lucien Lachance: Oblivion, this still makes me angry, don’t make me talk about it.

Boromir: Lord of the Rings, and do I really need to mention Sean Bean again?

Logan: Fable 3, depending on which ending you choose.

Ulfric Stormcloak: Skyrim, depending if you side with the Empire or the Stormcloaks.

Rainlord Nealrith: Watergivers Trilogy, and it doesn’t help that he was outlived by his wife, the most enticing and hateable character in the series.

Taquar Sardonyx: Watergivers Trilogy, but by the time he died I wasn’t really in love with him anymore.

Luckily, there are a few characters who, as previously stated, miraculously escape their impending doom. Here are those:

Atton Rand: Knights of the Old Republic 2, and he doesn’t necessarily die, but it doesn’t explain what happens to him, and if he lives and is mentioned somewhere in SW:TOR don’t tell me, because I’m not there yet.

Lestat du Lioncourt: the Vampire Chronicles, but he’s just suicidal and doesn’t actually manage to die.

Roger Wakefield MacKenzie: Outlander, he’s hanged but luckily his mother-in-law is a present-time nurse who fixes him and also luckily, he’s hanged improperly so he chokes a bit before passing out rather than having his neck broked.

Jamie Fraser: Outlander, survives again because of Claire, his present-time nurse who sucks snake venom from him.

Nahadoth: Inheritance Trilogy, but he’s a god so he can’t die officially, which relates to

Itempas: Inheritance Trilogy, Naha’s brother/lover who is frequently killed but is also a god and is immortal so he just revives over time.

I’m sure there are more, but it’s late and I don’t feel like thinking anymore right now. I’m too upset over Sieh’s death and the whole “he’s a god, the god of tricks, and he didn’t come back to life” thing. Even my own characters that I create are doomed to die. Bad guys, obviously – though I don’t really like any of the bad guys in Changeling so far, but in OtArb… oh God, I cried when the baddie was finally offed. And in Purity, when my wee Roger died. More crying there.

What about the rest of you? Do you recognize some of these characters and did you feel the same about their deaths? Are your favourite characters doomed to die as well?

Please say it isn’t just me.

Is it Death?: Of the Arbour teaser

He expected a hesitation that never came. Even as the final word was still sliding from his tongue, the leader growled and lunged forward, his short sword held high over his head. Sage barely had time to register the attack; he shrieked and dropped instinctively, and saw the tip of the sword slice past him before it whirled around and came down.

It didn’t even hurt. He had always expected something so much worse.

A ragged gasp tore through his throat and everything seemed to stand still. The edges of his vision blurred, faded, and cleared up once more—and then the pain hit.

His side flared with agony and heat and his hand instantly went to grip the wound. Blood soaked his fingers and spread through his shirt. The blade was gone, but it still felt as though the hot metal was slicing cleanly through his flesh, tearing it.

Somewhere far above him, a man laughed.

“So this is a mighty and powerful Child of the Arbour? I can’t say I’m very impressed. You go down like a stuck pig. Easy enough.”

“Stop dawdling!” another voice shouted. “Just get him onto a horse and tie up that cut. We can bring him back to the Dunes alive like this.”

Something grabbed his shoulders, and Sage yelped and rolled to the side, digging his heels into the dirt to escape not only the bounty hunter trying to hoist him up, but the pain shooting through his body. It crawled through his skin, his nerves, pulsing out through the blood that poured freely from the wound in his side.

He was going to die. He knew it, somehow. Heard somewhere—from Siras? She was a dispenser of useful knowledge—he heard that abdomen wounds could either be nothing but a minor nuisance or a slow, painful way to die.

He tried to squirm away once more, but another pair of hands trapped his ankles together and he was sprawled helplessly between two of the bounty hunters. Rocks and dirt scraped and tore but he was unable to resist as he was lifted and half-carried, half-dragged by his captors.

“Here, put him here. There’s enough room on this horse,” one man grunted. The dagger slipped uselessly from Sage’s hand and thudded to the ground; he managed to blink away the fog glazing his vision, and he saw it half-buried in the grass, right in front of a hoof. Then he was shoved forward, sprawled on his stomach on the back of a horse.

As soon as they started to tie his hands together behind his back, he fought back nausea and the lure of unconsciousness and yanked away his right hand. The bounty hunters shouted to each other, but before they could grab him, Sage slithered off the back of the horse and landed with a thump that stole what little breath he had.

Woozy, he gasped and stared above him, having no energy for anything else. Blood—his blood—slowly oozed from the dark flanks of the horse standing above him. He cursed under his breath and started to crawl away, scooting across the grass and dirt on his back.

One of the men lunged at him, a cloth for binding or gagging clenched tightly in his fist. Not exactly keen on discovering the actual purpose of the cloth, Sage flung up his legs in the air, successfully cracking the hunter’s jaw with his boot. With a crunch and a screech, the man tumbled backwards, giving Sage a chance to flee.

Tightly clutching his wound with one hand, Sage shuffled onto his side and hauled himself onto his knees. Blood dribbled through his fingers and his head was light and his sight blurred—was this what it was like to die? A cough rattled his lungs as he laboriously climbed to his feet. If this was it, he just hoped it would be over soon. It was horrible.

Just as his fingers left the ground and he was starting to straighten out and run—either to flee for help or to crawl somewhere and die alone—something hard and heavy slammed into the small of his back and sent him sprawling into the dirt.

Spasms of pain wracked his body: a steady, bloody throb in his side; an ancient ache in his leg, where the two old injuries had never quite healed; the sharp stabs and dull pulses where rocks ground into his tender flesh and bone.

A fist took a thick wad of fabric from the front of his shirt and hoisted him partway off the ground. Mottled green eyes glared down at him. “Do you ever stop?” the man growled, shaking his fist so Sage’s head rolled uselessly on his neck. “It’s no wonder so many people want you dead!”

Sage opened his mouth, ready to respond, when something collided with his cheek and pain clouded his mind. Lids fluttering, he tried to open his eyes, but another hit came—then another, and another.

He inhaled sharply, feeling like he was swallowing glass, then one final hit came and he went numb.