Hunters: Chapter 9

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Chapter Eight of Hunters! Garrison struggles with what to do now that he knows Cursed are hunting him, and Tricia is still on the loose.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

Chapter Nine

 

Garrison

 

“I know all the bars in the city that open at six AM, but you’ll need to take a couple buses to get there.”

I stared at the bent man in the stool next to me. The comment was unsolicited, but unsurprising since we were the only two patrons in the bar. Red veins spiderwebbed over his cheeks and pockmarked nose. Gray ropes of hair spilled over the shoulders of a flannel jacket so worn that I couldn’t determine its original color. A thin film of whiskey sat at the bottom of his glass and it chattered against the bar in his palsied hands.

I glanced at the time on my tablet in front of me. Ten was plenty early for a bar to be open. I didn’t want to encourage him further with a reply and instead took a deep draw of coffee from the stained mug in front of me. Jameson whiskey fluttered at the edge of the bitterness. The bartender had burned the coffee while hunting for and dusting off a mug, which had a pale floral bouquet painted across the side.

“But here’s where I end up.” His pale tongue flicked over dry lips in a motion he’d repeated at least a dozen times already. He tossed into his mouth a handful of corn nuts from the bowl at his elbow. “This place is a niner. I can’t drag myself out of bed earlier than this most mornings, and Mel’s is close.”

Even though I shut out his thoughts, I couldn’t shut out the constant monologue. He was as hard to ignore as the stench of the bar. It had been years since anyone could smoke inside anywhere, but decades had infused tobacco smell into the burnt gold shag that crawled up the walls. Erasing it would require changing the carpet, and that seemed low on Mel’s list of needed improvements.

“Leastways it’s one I can get to on my bike.” He nodded out the front window at the adult tricycle on the sidewalk. “Bus rides are a waste of good money.” In the rust-flecked basket between the rear wheels sat a cooler, its once white surface battered and discolored with a nauseating rainbow of stains. A net of bungee cords lashed it and a rolled sleeping bag in place.

“So what brings you here?” The man asked. The tongue again slid over his upper lip. “Haven’t seen you around before.”

“I’m here for work.” I hunched over my tablet screen and scrolled through apps, more to get him to leave me alone than to review anything I’d entered since the fight at the Queens Inn the night before.

“Where you from? Your talk got a bit of a twang.”

“Back east.”

“I fought with some shitkickers back in ‘Nam. Carolinas, sounds like.” He scooped the last of the corn nuts into his fist and funneled them into his mouth. “Enjoy some Northwest hospitality. Leastways while this place is around. You closing what, next month, Mel?” His raw eyes fixed on the bartender, a leathered man whose white mustache was stained a dark tan above his lip. I wondered how much he had contributed to the eternal smell of his own bar.

Mel gave a slight nod. His shoulders sagged at the admission.

The man wheezed a sigh and wiped his hand along the thigh of his pants. “Who knows what I’ll do then. The bus, I guess. Waste of good money.”

Mel slid a tin of corn nuts from below the bar and refilled the bowl. “We won’t have our talks anymore, Vance.” It was the first time I’d heard Mel speak since I came in, and his voice was as thin and bony as his body.

“We don’t talk no more anyways. Ran out of things to say a while ago.” Vance pushed back from the bar. His stool squealed against the floor in the quiet. “I gotta go piss. Save my seat.” His laugh sounded like a cement mixer as he trundled to the restroom.

I took a sidelong look at his glass. Whatever he’d been drinking smelled like turpentine. I grimaced and tapped the worn top of the bar beside my mug. Mel took the bottle of Jameson at his elbow and filled.

“Need a warm-up too?”

I shook my head.

Mel pointed with his chin at the restroom. “Sorry about Vance. He comes in twice a day like a Swiss watch. He’s got a goddamn schedule. Pissing right on time, too. Been here an hour, so he’ll come out and say he’s leaving. Then he’ll be back here at nine tonight.”

“He looks like he’s homeless.”

“He’s a drunk and a vet. What do you think? Let me know when you want a refill.”

Mel walked away, dragging a towel across the bar top to sweep the few errant crumbs and pools of liquid off its surface. It would take little effort to slip into his mind and see if he figured I was a vet too, meant the comment as a barb rather than an ill-placed quip. But it wasn’t worth prying into heads I didn’t need to. I tapped the notes file on my desktop now that no one could see and again tried to decide on my next move.

“See?” I muttered. “Preparing. That should make you happy, Eugene.”

I hadn’t heard from Eugene all night, and I tried not to let myself worry. He called the hospital, I told myself. He got help before he bled out. And if I were him, I wouldn’t have had any more contact with me, either.

My small network of rescued thralls was now closed to me. I couldn’t risk their lives to help me, not with Vasily or any of his minions on the loose. Whether it had been his plan all along or not, his attack on Eugene cut off my support network. And having to do all my legwork had shown me just how bad I was at a lot of it.

I would have to depend on Army surplus stores for any gear and weapons I’d need, which limited my options. At least I knew where to look in the armaments department. But I had no idea how to track down Vasily or his sister/aunt/whatever Ursula. Antoine had intimated that Vasily was coming to Seattle. He had been in New York last night so I doubted he was out here yet, but it was only a matter of time.

And who the hell knew if Ursula was coming, too, or if she was already here. I didn’t know what I’d done to gain their attention – they were part of the Russian mafia and intelligence, and I hadn’t crossed paths with either – but it was serious enough to have pulled at least Vasily across the Atlantic.

The last action I’d taken against Cursed had been destroying the Rothschilds. That Cursed family, which made them an oddity on its own, might have had dealings with the Filitovs. Cursed were insular enough that they seldom dealt with others of their kind, but why not add another oddity to the pile? The Rothschilds and Filitovs might have had some connection that my activity had disrupted.

Which was speculation I now had no way to follow up on. Two Cursed were chasing me and I didn’t know how I’d hurt them, let alone where they’d try to hit me from. But without help I’d be floundering in my attempts to figure that out.

And they weren’t even the reason I had left my home turf to come to Seattle. The demon that had Cursed my wife and destroyed my life was.

I slid the drawing of Tricia Praest from my pocket and smoothed it out on the bar. Where did she enter into this mess? Ashlea had known her. That might connect her to the Filitovs and make her part of their plans for me. But if I was wrong, Praest had no reason to know I had found her.

Her intense burgundy eyes stared back at me from the paper. My hatred of the succubus boiled, but struggled against the memories of her I had perceived. When I looked at her I didn’t see the drawing, but the amalgamation of the thoughts I’d seen of her. Her demonic sensuality pulled at me in the glances she had given. The seductive power of her scent filled my mind. I tasted her passion, experienced the heat and bliss of the sex that had consumed my wife. The carnal power I had sensed even in memory rivaled what I had felt under Helen’s sway.

My erection throbbed. I longed to feel her hands on me, her mouth, caress her breasts and lips and taste every inch of her flesh. I ached to feel the fire and pleasure deep inside her. I knew those pleasures and remembered those pleasures and desired those pleasures even if it meant my soul….

Jesus. I took a steadying breath and unclenched my fists, then drained my now tepid mug of coffee and whiskey. Taking on Praest terrified me. It was as if I had been her thrall already, already made love to her and died, because I had seen every moment of those things in Helen’s mind. I had already been with her as a fellow succubus and felt the inhuman ecstasy through Ashlea’s memories. I knew her body, her soft flesh and flavor and warmth. And those experiences mixed with the luxurious, horrifying memories of Helen’s enslavement. I knew what they had felt and remembered too well what had happened to me. Despite my anger, I still feared I would simply give myself to her when I faced her.

My hands trembled and I scooted my coffee cup out, beckoning to Mel. Now wasn’t the time to break down and dose, God damn it. I needed as clear a head as I could manage.

Vance lumbered back to his seat. An unpleasant odor clung to him, which pulled me out of the memories clawing at me.

“You gotta clean your shitter more often,” he said. “Looks like it hasn’t been since the last time I used it.”

Mel wrinkled his nose. “Something crawl up your ass and die, Vance?”

“It’s your corn nuts. Something about ‘em makes me shit terrible. I think they went bad.”

“Corn nuts don’t go bad.”

“Yours are bad. Get rid of that shit.”

“But I still got a case.”

“Then take it to the food bank. They’re bad”

Mel flipped him off, but moved to refill his glass.

“No thanks. Gotta get going.” Vance patted me on the back. “Let me know if you need a list of them bars.”

I grunted a reply. Vance turned toward the door, then stopped. His eyes lingered on my drawing.

“You looking for that girl?”

I froze.

“Tricia Praest,” I said, tapping the drawing. “You know her.”

“Well, didn’t know her name till now. But you don’t forget a beauty like her.”

My senses pierced his mind, and I struggled against the flood of emotions that followed what I saw.

“She comes round the homeless camps every so often, usually with Sister Rosie. She don’t say much, but oh my God is it a blessing when she wanders through.”

I gripped him by the shoulders and steered him back into his barstool. When he opened his mouth to protest, I pressed a hundred dollar bill into his dirty hand.

“Vance, you’ll have to break your schedule today. You and I need to talk about Praest.”

Vance stared at the bill for several moments. He couldn’t tear his eyes from it even as he answered. “What do you need to know?”

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, All Rights Reserved

Chapter Four (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Four for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Again, still in present tense, and I added conflict and sexual tension in future drafts. You can check out the current version of Chapter Four here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

Chapter Four

The Cursed

 

I say I’m going to kill Sebastian Essex. I really mean I’ll try. Not only am I still beat to shit from the club fight, but Sebastian has at least two centuries on me. For the Cursed, age means power, and it’s going to be a bitch if it comes down to a fight.

Lucky Sebastian was never much of a fighter. Might mess up his suit.

My puke-green Mercury Montego is twice as old as the college-aged valet that has to park it, and looks twice as shitty in front of Millenium Towers, where base-floor studios go for a million. The hundred I hand the kid doesn’t soften the horror on his face. Maybe he’ll at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon snorted with it.

I disguise my limp as best I can as I walk across the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abound, and I can’t risk staying down here. The staff are too fixated on my bruises, ripped clothing and splattered blood to notice my lack of reflection anyway.

“Can I help you, miss?” The clerk asks. His voice cracks on the last word.

“Sebastian Essex,” I say, punching the elevator button. The doors slide open in seconds.

“He’s on the-”

“Top floor, I’d guess.”

“But he has to buzz you in!”

“He will.”

The closing doors cut off any reply.

I pound the button for the 35th floor and wait. The monitor above the panel shows the video feed from inside the elevator, empty.

The speaker clicks and buzzes. The elevator rumbles to life. There is no preamble, no questions. Sebastian would know exactly who the cameras weren’t showing.

The doors open onto a dim penthouse. The wall of windows looks out over the glittering sea of downtown Seattle, limning in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s embellishments. Leather couches and recliners face a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lack any disrupting shade.

Two lean, wiry bodyguards, clean shaven and angular, flank the elevator. Both step forward as I enter, one holding a metal detector wand. I’m used to some level of desire shadowing eyes that look upon me. Both of them stare with numb, lifeless eyes.

“The hand comes off with that thing,” I say, without looking at the one with the metal detector.

Both guards pause at my tone, and shoot blank glances toward the living area.

A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winks to life in the shadows.

“Tricia Fucking Priest,” Sebastian Essex says, proper British laid thick over his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’’ve been in America too long.”

“So have you.”

“No shit. Please, be a dear. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”

I glare the two monkeys away, then slide my twin kukri from their sheaths and drop them on to the countertop. The machine pistol next, then the pistol shotgun, knife, and phosphorescent grenades. Each lands in the pile with a satisfying clang.

“Christ. You are a Yankee now.” The cigarette tip floats across darkness as Sebastian steps into the light.

Sebastian Essex may have been black in life, I never asked. The ages have scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. His one eye shines dark as he regards me, his other covered by an eye patch. His black dreadlocks cascade to his shoulders. His matching goatee frames his gray lips. A golden coin, its markings the dead orange of burning coals, is tucked snugly in one ear.

I make a show of looking around the penthouse. “Nice place.”

“Isn’t it. It will do, I suppose. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shithole of a hemisphere.” He makes a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze doesn’’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of fucking sunshine I remember.”

“And you’re still an asshole.”

“With the same ten word vocabulary.” He takes another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, lets the pale smoke slither from his lips. His eye lingers on my bruises, the blood on my clothes. “I thought Seattle was a haven of tranquility. Only you could manage to get into a fight here.”

“I just had a metric fuckton of shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”

“What’s the standard conversion for that?”

“Fuck you.”

“I figured even pack demons would stay clear of you.”

“They came after me because you’re here.”

“Well, if you need a topper, feel free to take one of my guards. They’re shit outside of bed anyway.” He chuckles. “Speaking of, how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed a proper fuck?”

Our eyes meet, and his domination scrapes my mind. Raw desire, incubus and succubus fucking each other mercilessly, two Cursed the incarnation of desire unleashing our passions on each other. I feel jealousy swallow the two bodyguards. They can feel the temptation flaring between us. Even without Sebastian’s attempt to dominate my will, the seduction of demonic sex is luxurious.

I don’t move.

He lets out a one-breath laugh. “I see you haven’t let your mental guards slack.” His eye drops to the cross around my neck. ““I suppose our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?”

Less than ten minutes and I’m already done with him. “Why are you checking up on me?”

Again he studies me. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Tricia, Tricia, Tricia. I don’t give a fuck about you.”

I can’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed in this city you’d care about.”

“You’ve gained American arrogance, too. You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A pretty one, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you fucked the entire city into submission. Which, let’s be honest, would take even you awhile.”

I stare at him. “Then why are you here?”

“Because,” he says, taking another drag from his Sobranie, “Hinge is here.”

Holy fuck.

I snap invisible out of reflex. My senses lash out around the condo, hunting for the presence of my former master.

Sebastian breaks out in laughter. “He still makes you jump, doesn’t he?” He sweeps his hand in the direction of the windows. ““I meant in the city. Even I have difficulty feeling his presence.”

I slip back into visibility. “What is he doing here?” The panic in my voice is humiliating.

“That should be obvious, even to a blunt instrument.”

I grind my teeth together. “Me.”

“The prodigal daughter. You didn’t think he would just leave you alone, did you?”

“I’d hoped.” It has been almost a century.

“Hinge has many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which seems to go against his typical batshit insanity.”

I bite my lip, watch Sebastian’s face. His expression betrays no thought or emotion, but I can feel it. “You’re scared of him.””

His gaze narrows. He turns away from me, walking back toward the leather recliner. “You would know he’s the scourge of all Cursed in Europe if you had any way to find out.”

“How’s he a threat to other Cursed?”

“He’s eating them.”

My open shock renders my long-practiced mental guards irrelevant. “You can consume other Cursed? Is that possible?”

“Christ, you live in the wild Goddamn west out here.” He rests his elbows on the armrests and steeples his hands as if giving a lecture. “You get old enough, mortal souls no longer sustain you. So you start feeding off other Cursed. Hinge is ahead of the curve by several centuries. We usually don’t worry until someone hits a millennium.”

“‘We?’”

“When a Cursed goes off the rails, the most powerful of us organize to stop them. The one time Cursed of all types can get our shit together.”

It’s my turn to laugh. “You’re what, three centuries old? There were Cursed older than you… and Hinge… in Europe. Victorian. The Roman. Why aren’t they dealing with him?”

“Hinge has consumed them.”

“Fuck.”

“That’s an understatement. No one noticed what he was doing until he ate Victorian. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”

My head swims. “How powerful is he now?”

“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him when they see him. He can rewrite the memories of newly Cursed with impunity.”

 “That was always his gift,” I say. “Probably how he got away with eating those elders from under your noses.”

“Slow down there. You keep thinking, your brain will fucking explode.”

I glare at him. “I came here ready to destroy you. I still might. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Sebastian lets a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “No, you are definitely not an idiot.”

“How did he manage to destroy elders? He’s barely half Victorian’s age.”

“Never underestimate the power of a Cursed who Descended.”

“Hinge Descended.” It’s as much a statement as a question.

Sebastian rolls his eye. “He told you fuckall about anything, didn’t he? No one made him. He was fucked up enough as an inquisitor to become Cursed all on his own.” He points his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have some Catholic guilt knocking around somewhere for that thing to work.”

“Which means his age means nothing,” I breathe.

“Not nothing. If someone Descends, I assume their age is doubled.” The corner of his mouth curls. “And I’m conservative.”

“So you came here to try to destroy him. Alone.”

“Fuck no. I’m here to watch him.”

“Really. And leave me out there as bait.”

Sebastian shrugs without answering.

I run my hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to give a shit about me, much less come after me. My brain scampered through the facts I knew, assuming Sebastian wasn’t feeding me utter bullshit.

“There have to be other Cursed that could stop him. One Memnonite would do the trick. Hell, look what one Andrasi did to me. A pack would rip him to shreds.”

Sebastian shakes his head. “Beings fuck for lust. They also fuck for pride. They fuck for greed. For envy. For gluttony. For wrath. A powerful lust Cursed will take any other Cursed with ease. It’s hard for a Memnonite to fight through an orgasm so powerful it would turn a mortal’’s brain to mush.”

“What am I supposed to do about Hinge, then?” I turn to the countertop and start re-stowing my weapons. The bodyguards both start, but retreat further when they sense my fury.

“I don’t give a shit. Ignore him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I’m only here to see what he does about you.””

I hold the kukri in my hands, feeling their weight, balance. I imagine Sebastian’s head flying off his shoulders.

I gasp and force the sudden building orgasm down. My hands tighten on the kukri as I steady my breath.

“That’s just a taste of what Hinge can do,” Sebastian says.

“Thanks for the help,” I growl, and sheathe the kukri under my jacket. “You’re still an asshole.”

“Tricia,” Sebastian says. I turn to him in surprise. For a second, his voice holds a note of concern. “Don’t trust any memories of your time with him. There’s no telling how long he’s been fucking with all of us.”

“Hopefully that means my past is a lie.”

“Oh, no. You were a murdering, stark-raving bitch. You still have to seek forgiveness for that.”

I can hear the mockery in his tone.

“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.”

“No worries. I plan to.”

I can’t even muster a retort. I spin on my heels and pound the elevator button.

“But if I did want to get in your way,” Sebastian said from behind me, “I’d probably start with your friend, the good pastor.”

Anger again swells at my vulnerability – Sebastian has laid bare how out of practice I am – but fear sweeps it aside. Sebastian isn’t the one who wants to fuck with me.

I bolt into the elevator and try to will it to plummet to the lobby. Descended or not, Hinge will pay if he has touched Pastor Tom.

 

Chapter Two (first draft)

Standard

This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Two for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Again, previously the tense was present, and I moved the Andrasi encounter entirely to the second chapter. I also amped up the sexual tension Tricia feels. You can check out the current version of Chapter Two here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

 

Chapter Two

The Cursed

 

I step out of the private room, leaving crumpled rapist husks laying in the darkness behind. Constellations of body fluids flare across my body under the black lights of the dance floor.

It will be awhile before anyone finds them. They would have made sure no one would interrupt their conquest of a drugged teenager. No rush to leave. But a club is a dangerous place for me to be. I just gorged on four corrupt souls. They are mere sustenance, not nourishment. Their memories, their sadistic plans for me, their recollections of past conquests strip their souls of any purity. I feel satisfaction ending their miserable lives, but I still hunger.

Holy Christ, I still need to fuck. Really fuck.

I close my eyes and stand still. The body heat of the dancers flowing past beckons me. Desire, everywhere desire, need. Theirs are mere whispers next to the screaming inside me. Every doubt about coming here explodes. The hunger is too powerful to resist. I have no desire to. My mind goes numb.

I reach out into the human sea, grasp the nearest person by the hair and spin her toward me. She lets out a squeal of surprise, cut off when I drag her lips to mine. At first she stiffens and presses her lips tight. Then they quiver, open, and we devour each other. She tastes like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace is sudden and fierce. The world dims. Her body melts into mine, scorches like an inferno. Our hands move over each other, exploring, wanting. Her rich and intoxicating scent engulfs me.

I feel her passion, her power, her eager soul. The lasers strobe over the seething dance floor around us. Lust thunders from the crowd. I tremble as it pulls at me. I want more. I want it all. The dancers are so embroiled by lust that I could drop my human glamour, walk across the dance floor in my full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire.

Her mind opens to me the second we touch, and Stacey captivates me. Not like the worthless raping shits I ate. Stacey is kind, she doesn’t steal or lie, she doesn’t cheat on her boyfriend and wants a family with him. My God, she is the purest, kindest, most delicious creature I’ve tasted in decades.

And if I enslave her, I would damn the soul I’m struggling to redeem, if it’s redeemable at all.

Fuck. I shove Stacey away.

She stares at me, gasping. Her short-bobbed blonde hair curls over one eye, but the other stares, the thin rim of her dilated eyes the color of a winter stream. Her cheeks flush fire.

“The fuck,” a guy next to her says, and wheels her away by the elbow. The boyfriend. His haircut is a mirror of hers, but brown with gilded strands like wood grain. His shirt looks painted on his sculpted torso. Groomed stubble carves out his jaw, and his straight teeth glow in the black lights. My head barely reaches his chest.

I turn my attention to him. I couldn’t actually feed from another woman, just enslave her, but her boyfriend was another matter. I can feel desire mixing with his anger. Seeing me kiss Stacey again would shatter his resistance.

I stop myself before I indulge the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I say.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

His biceps strain as he holds Stacey back from me. Her gaze hasn’t left me the whole time.

God damn it. I spin away and bolt deeper into the crowd. In a moment I can’t see them anymore. I’m trembling with desire, but my sanity slowly claws back. Rapists and sinners, their souls empty of true satisfaction, at least deserve death. But a few more seconds and I would have enthralled that girl whether I wanted to or not, and I would have consumed her boyfriend’s soul for the fuck of it. A succubus isn’t built to cope with abstinence or control. Demonkind call themselves Cursed for good reason.

I can’t let myself give in to my nature, and a feast like this club is too much temptation. I won’t be able to look at Pastor Tom again if I throw away all my work fighting my Curse now. I have to get out of here before I do something I’ll regret. I push my way toward the doors.

I feel its presence behind me an instant before its sword slashes at my head. I wheel to the side. The black sword misses me by less than an inch. The blade carries straight through two guys dancing in front of me without slowing. The music drowns their screams. Blood sprays over me and the dancers around them.

An Andrasi rage demon towers behind me. I’m at eye level with its belly button. No glamour to disguise its nature. Angelic wings fan out behind it. Its muscular arms hold a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Long hair that looks like a tangle of wet eels hangs to its shoulders. Its translucent crimson skin glows from the fiery black skeleton underneath. Its eyes blaze emptiness.

“You die, succubus,” it growls, straight into my mind.

“What….” A girl turns as blood splatters across her face. She stares at the two bodies on the dance floor, shocked in to silence for a handful of seconds. Then she looks up, straight into the eyes of the Cursed that cut them down. She screams.

The club goes apeshit.

Humanity surges past me in terror, scattering in all directionss. I use the chaos to crouch and draw the kukri at the small of my back. I had spent the last century working to become a physical badass – a necessity in the Northwest, alone and surrounded by Andrasi – but I haven’t needed to draw a weapon in decades.

Since the last time a rage Cursed swung a five-foot sword at my head, come to think.

A vacant bubble has formed on the dance floor around us. Hentai sex screams over the screens. Lasers ripple through the translucent body of the Cursed as it stares at me with those empty eye sockets. Blood curls down its black blade.

“You don’t want to destroy me,” I say, as calmly as I can. Despite my mental guards, I feel the Cursed’s aura of rage needling at my self control. It smells like blood and ash and mindless anger. The shouts and crashes from the fleeing patrons confirm that the mortals are as intent on fighting as getting away, all because of this fucker.

Its voice boils into my brain. “You break oaths, you die.” It laughs, a chilling sound that claws my mind with fury, and strides toward me.

I skip sideways, keeping out of sword range. “I’m not the one in someone else’s territory,” I say. “Makes you the oathbreaker.”

“You die, then I kill your friend,” it says.

Friend? Oh for fuck’s sake. Talking to these things is like throwing eggs at a brick wall.

“Fight me,” it says. “I like when you fight.”

“Well, then.” I snap invisible, then lunge.

It’s one of my tricks. Makes up for not showing up in mirrors, cameras or video, which is a bigger pain in the ass than you’d think. The Andrasi know I can do it, but I need every millisecond of surprise it might give me.

The Andrasi swings its sword across my expected path in reflex. I roll out of its path and spring to my feet at its exposed side. My kukri chews crimson jello. No blood from the cut, it just opens like raw steak. Arcs of chartreuse energy flicker from the wound. I hope that means it hurts like hell.

Its elbow smashes the back of my skull. The world sparkles and tilts. I turn the fall into a sideways tumble away from the Cursed, cradling my head. Agony.

“I smell you,” it growls. Its eyes no longer follow my movement, but it charges straight at me.

I slash the kukri across its wrist on its next swing and break for the doors. But thoughts of escaping that way vanish. The front of the club is pandemonium, a pile of people tearing themselves apart, some to get out and some overwhelmed by the rage aura. Not getting out that way.

“Fight me,” it says again. Its blind slash takes a chunk of my jacket.

I wheel around and charge it again. Badass or no, I can’t go toe to toe with a rage Cursed. Need to get out in the open.

It smells my approach and swings again. This time I leap over the blade and spring off its rocklike bicep into a somersault over its head. I grasp where its wings meet its back as I tumble by. It roars. My momentum drags it backward, upside down in front of me with wings and feet thrashing in midair.

I sprint forward, smashing my shoulder into the small of its back.  Its screams shake my body. It feels like carrying an active volcano. I barely hang on long enough to plow it into the wall.

Masonry and rebar explode. The impact knocks the air out of my lungs. A second crash, a second wall. My shoulder wrenches and shatters. Rock cascades over me seconds before the constant Seattle mist. I let go of the Cursed and collapse on all fours. The momentum carries the Andrasi face first into the opposite building, cracking brick. It collapses onto its back, leaving a cracked indent half a foot deep in the wall.

I will myself to stand and leap on the Cursed’s chest before it can recover. It tries to get up, but I hang on by its greasy hair, ignoring the pain of my broken arm. I hack my kukri repeatedly across its neck. It howls in my head. My side explodes with pain, I feel its sword plunge into me and split out the other side, but I keep slashing. Its body glows putrid with each cut.

I hit spine. The jolt travels through my body. Its howls silence and it collapses back to the ground.

“Don’t die yet,” I say, and plant my lips on a mouth big enough to swallow my head.

Flashing, discordant images fill my mind to replace its dying whimpers. Images tear through my thoughts, and I shove myself away with a gasp. I grip its head by the sides, my broken arm howling in protest, and twist.

Its head tears off with a wet, ripping sound. The Cursed begins to smoke as it crumbles. The smell of burning carcass fills the air.

I stumble back on the surrounding rubble, hitting the ground hard. My entire body is agony. I touch where it stabbed me, confirming the sword dissolved along with the Cursed, and focus my energies on sealing it and mending my shattered shoulder. It takes most of the power I got from the rapists to heal the damage.

Holy fuck. I lay in the drifting mist for what must be minutes, still invisible, trying to make sense of what happened. The Andrasi haven’t bothered me in years, because we stay out of each other’s shit. They keep out of Seattle, I let no other Cursed – specifically, no incubi or succubi – in. But this one decided to kill me in the middle of my city, in a nightclub full of mortal witnesses.

And I find out why as I sift through the jumble of its dying thoughts. A pale man in a tailored gray suit worth more than a car, getting out of a limo at the most expensive condo tower in Seattle. Long black dreadlocks, a goatee and eye patch, smoking a black cigarette. Just a momentary image, but the image bites just as deep as the Andrasi’s sword had. Nothing has changed about this Cursed beyond the cut of his suit in the century since I last saw him, or in the centuries before that, knowing him.

My end of the bargain with the Andrasi is easy to keep since no one gives a shit about a place surrounded by roving packs of rage demons. Besides, I don’t like my kind any more than they do. But there is an incubus in Seattle. One purposefully shielding his presence from me, or I would have felt him the second he entered the state. And one I know more intimately than I would ever want.

Sebastian Essex is going to tell me what the fuck he’s doing in Seattle, or I’m going to kill him.

 

 

Amp Up Your Conflict Two: Make Everything Worse

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Amp Up Your Conflict Two:Make Everything Worse

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 In every scene you write, always think about how you can make the situation worse. Making your moments of crisis as dire and emotionally charged as possible will keep the tension ratcheted up and your narrative moving.

It’s important that nothing ever goes your protagonists’ way. They should succeed through their choices and actions, not luck. Readers will spot luck and deus ex machina the moment it appears, and they won’t buy it. However, those same readers won’t question if something bad happens. That gives you as the writer the freedom to make the situation as awful as possible.

Start with your base conflict. Your protagonist wants to flip gender stereotypes and propose to her boyfriend. She plans a dinner at his favorite restaurant and secures the best seat in the place. But the restaurant loses her reservation. They have to wait for an hour to get a seat, which is in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. Their waiter never remembers to check in on them, and a leak starts dripping onto the center of the table.

You have the scene set up with plenty of conflict. The night is a disaster, and not the right mood at all to propose. But now think of just one additional crisis to make the scene even worse:

Just as the leak stops and dinner is finally served, giving your protagonist hope she can salvage the night, her boyfriend’s ex walks into the restaurant with her date. Maybe they get the table your protagonist originally wanted. And it upsets her boyfriend so much she can tell he still harbors feelings for her.

Not only did you tease the readers with a satisfactory resolution and then rip it away, you also opened up new plot possibilities. Does the ex share in the lingering feelings? Does your protagonist know and like or dislike her? Is her new date the jealous type? With one additional crisis, you’ve introduced a Pandora’s box of potential conflict. You can follow all, some or none of these new possibilities, but regardless of your decision, you’ve just heightened the tension in your story.

Whenever you write a scene, always think about how it can get worse for your protagonists. Never let anything come easy for them. You’ll keep your reader turning pages, and when your protagonists do succeed, their victory will be all the sweeter.

 

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

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All stories need conflict. It’s what keeps your protagonists developing, your characters on their toes and your readers on the edge of their seats. Conflict doesn’t have to be big or world-changing; anything that presents your characters with a challenge or drives your narrative forward qualifies, no matter the size.

In my next writing advice series, we’ll discuss ways you can amp up the conflict in any story so you keep your readers hooked and your characters dynamic.

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

 

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I would wash the Batmobile, Master Bruce, but I have a colonoscopy this afternoon. Long story. Regrettably, you will have to chase the Penguin with a soiled vehicle.

All your characters have backstories. From your protagonist to the clerk at the corner store, everyone has a story. Moreover, they have lives. Life is happening to everybody.

This doesn’t mean you need to know everyone’s backstories in detail, or that their life crises will add depth and conflict to your narrative. But a great way to shake up a slow section of your story, or add complication to an existing conflict, is to throw a curveball at a supporting character.

Say your protagonist is a devoted Catholic looking for moral support from his priest before he makes a rash decision. Have the priest accused of embezzling from the church. Your high-powered attorney is preparing for the big case of her career, but her paralegal starts to fall apart when his pregnant wife is hospitalized. In both of these examples, the ramifications for your protagonist make an already tense situation that much harder.

Conflict doesn’t have to come to your main characters exclusively. Conflict happens to everyone and can be used to heighten tension in your narrative. It may even take your story in new directions. Just remember that you don’t have to make life suck for just your protagonist. You have a whole world of characters whose lives you can make worse for the sake of your story.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: Conflict

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 4: Conflict 

You have conflict. Lots and lots of conflict.

unnamed (3)Conflict is drama. If your story has conflict, it adds the spice that any love affair needs.

Stories don’t have to start with fist fights or space battles. Conflict can be as big as finding love in a civil war or as small as choosing the right ring to propose with. It can be as fast as a car crash or as slow as the new valet showing up with a limp.

But those are really situations, not conflict. The most important element of conflict is that it involves characters. Even in a pitched space battle, I care about R2-D2 and C-3PO. Conflict is personal, and conflict involves characters I care about. If you lose the characters I root for, the conflict loses its power. Now it’s just noise and confusion.

Something has to happen in your story, and it has to happen fast. Don’t waste time setting up the scene or characters before you dive into the meat of the tale. Stories I love start as close to the initial crisis as possible with characters I care about and let things spiral downhill from there. If you never let up on the conflict, and you make it personal, I won’t be able to put your manuscript down.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: Your Characters Breathe

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 3: Your Characters Breathe

Unless, of course, they happen to literally be suffocating.

When I hear your characters’ voices in what they say and see them in what they do, I can’t help but fall in love.

Characters need strong identities. As an editor, I need a sense of who they are early on. I need to see their personalities in their actions and speech. Dialogue should be so personal no other character could say it, and actions so unique only one character would react that way.

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This is where good preparation comes in. Characters are like icebergs. We only see ten percent of them above the water, but we can sense the ninety percent below that moves them. A character’s background informs what they know, how they speak, and how they react to situations. Remember all that work you put into backstory but never got to tell us? This is the part of the iceberg that shows through. Say your character walks by a homeless man on the street. Did your character grow up poor, or was she raised demonizing the homeless? Did she grow up in a military home, which explains why she gave a homeless veteran money while she passed by a dozen others? With one simple encounter, her actions and words reveal her character and make her feel real and alive.

Another often overlooked element that brings life and dimension to characters is the little nuances, the nervous ticks and dialogue tags the character has. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is one of the finest acting performances in years. So many elements went in to his character, but the most important pieces might have been the most minor. He made the Joker real by constantly flicking his tongue out and licking his lips. Playing with his ratty, greasy hair. Moving his hands in a subconscious, jittery flow. All of these nuances added to the chaotic insanity of the character.

THE DARK KNIGHT, Heath Ledger as The Joker, 2008. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

THE DARK KNIGHT, Heath Ledger as The Joker, 2008. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

Be sure to add these details to your own characters to reinforce their personalities. Maybe your protagonist chews his fingernails to the quick, plays with the brim of his hat, strokes the edge of his chin or jogs his leg when he’s sitting. Perhaps he runs his hands along everything he encounters or doesn’t look directly at anyone when he talks. These elements are small, maybe a few words of description here and there, but these small, unique quirks speak volumes.

Take a great character (say, Sherlock Holmes) and analyze him. Would any of Sherlock’s dialogue or actions feel comfortable coming from John Watson or Moriarty? Would any of his actions? Of course not. Make sure your characters are just as alive.