Saturday, June 23, 2007

Excerpt from 'Tween a Devil and His Hard Place

The following is an excerpt from the sequel to Tween Heaven and Hell. I hope you enjoy it:

I was in the cavern again, below the dubious Diablo’s tomb. The air was murky and thick, filled with a wet, grey fog that swelled into my mouth and nostrils and seemed to consume my air. My footsteps in the dank, murky space were muffled and slow. My chest heaved with the effort to breathe.

A sense of danger kept me moving forward, although I didn’t know where I was going. My skin prickled under a feeling that something lurked unseen in the opaque air of that cavern. I imagined I heard a harsh, guttural breath here, a warning cough there. Once I thought I saw the outline of some shadowy creature hovering near, quivering with dark intent. My skin prickled with unease. I tried to walk more quickly.

I was several steps into the dark, nighttime forest before I even realized I’d finally broken free of the cavern.

A fat moon hung high over the trees. Bats skittered and dove above my head. The trees swayed softly in a building breeze. A bank of stringy grey clouds moved toward the moon, threatening to plunge the softly lit woods into heavy dark.

I took a deep breath, reveling in the clean soft air, and started forward again. I moved through the dense forest with one eye cast on the moon for direction. I still didn’t know where I was going but I was much more comfortable going there.

The trees suddenly flowed away and I was standing in a small clearing. A beam of light from the moon shot directly into that clearing and illuminated a figure standing there.

The woman was tall and handsome. She stood still and straight, long arms hanging straight down at her sides. She wore shimmering silver robes, which were tied at the waist with a string of black pearls, a pentagram dangled at the end of the pearl belt.

Her hair was long and straight, of a red so deep and dark it looked black in that soft, nocturnal light. As I strained to see her face the clouds finally caught up with the moon and danced across it, leaving behind a patchwork of delicately fluttering light.

Her features were obscured, but her voice I recognized all too well. Despite the fact that I hadn’t heard it in almost twenty years.

“Blessed be, Astra.”

In my dream state I didn’t jolt in surprise as I recognized her. My dream self acted as if it had been just last week, or even that morning since we’d last spoken. “Aunt Diedre. How are you?”

The woman tilted her shadowed face and raised her hands, palms up, toward me. In the palm of each was a pentagram tattoo. The robe slipped away from delicate wrists, the flesh white and unblemished, except for a teardrop marking on her left wrist that reminded me suspiciously of the daemon hickey on my neck. As she began to speak she lowered her arms to her sides again.

“I am sorry to disturb your sleep niece. My coming will be difficult for you as it has been for me. Unfortunately I am drawn by events that occur outside your sphere and felt compelled to warn you.”

The clouds finally moved on, allowing the fat, yellow moon to beam down into the clearing again. It touched the figure before me and flowed around her, but somehow didn’t show me her face.

“What events, Aunt?”

“I have no time to tell all, Niece. Know only this, your mother stands at the dark center of an evil vortex. Her intentions are not clear as yet, but her actions have thrown suspicion against her. I am here to warn you away from her. She is working against your best interests and you must spurn her.”

I frowned and started to move toward my Aunt. She didn’t appear to move but the distance between us never changed. “I haven’t spoken to my mother in three years. I don’t know what she’s doing or how it could possibly affect me.”

My aunt lowered her head in acquiescence; her long auburn hair falling across her shadowed face. “I know you believe that your world and your mother’s have run on parallel but disparate tracks all these years, niece, but she reaches for you now. And you will suffer for her contact.”

I took another step just for fun and the distance between us stayed the same, but her presence in that moon-touched clearing waned. “I don’t understand. How can my mother affect me? She hasn’t tried to reach me in all these years; I believed she was shamed by me.”

Aunt Diedre lowered her head and I swore I heard a soft sigh escape the perfectly formed Royal lips. “Your mother has held you close in mind if not in the physical plane, Astra. She knows you will one day become a Queen in the Royal court and that your powers continue to grow. She is ambitious and she knows if she watches and waits you will one day come into her sphere, and she will work to gain influence over you.”

Since I figured I was dreaming and didn’t have to believe the parts I didn’t like I ignored the becoming Queen part, and the growing power part, but the idea that my mother would try to influence me after all the years she’d basically ignored me was just too much. “Then I won’t come into her sphere. I can avoid her if necessary.”

Diedre smiled. “It is never that simple is it niece?”

I frowned again, at a loss for words. Unfortunately, my aunt didn’t suffer from the same problem. “You are also at the center of that vortex I mentioned, niece. Those who you are enmeshed with are at cross purposes with you. Trust no one except the Prophesied One.”

My eyes widened. “Dialle?”

The form in front of me wavered and faded, the head lowered again and then rose to face me. Aunt Diedre said nothing for a moment but I could almost feel her uncertainty. Finally she sighed again, “I did not say that name, niece. There are some who believe the Great Uniter has not come forward yet.”

I frowned, my heart speeding up as I realized Dialle had been speaking truth when he’d expressed doubt about the Uniter’s true identity. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, even my sexy Royal scoundrel didn’t know if he was the prophesied one. I felt my very short fuse hitting the nub end and it was all I could do to stop myself from stamping a foot in temper. “How is it possible, Aunt, that no one knows who the Prophesied One is? Including the Prophesied One?”

The shadow form that looked like my Aunt Diedre shrugged narrow shoulders and, once again those tattooed palms rose as if in supplication, but I knew better. “Every century we have a contender and every century we have been denied. The great one has yet to emerge. Though I will grant you that recent events have certainly given weight to Dialle’s claim.”

Against all reason I felt my temper rising at this. “Dialle has made no claim, Aunt. Events have transpired to place the light on him. He seems to have the Angels’ support, and he has shown himself a knight for good as well as evil. His resume speaks for itself.”

Again the form before me lowered its head. This time it stayed lowered for what felt like long moments. Finally the head lifted and, at last, I saw almond shaped black eyes in a perfectly formed golden face. Wisps of glossy dark auburn hair curled softly around my Aunt’s gently crafted features, framing a small, heart shaped face. Her mouth, formed of softly pouting lips of a dewy rose color, opened slightly and I saw brilliant white teeth, the canines just the tiniest bit too long and sharp to be human. She said, “not precisely, though I’ll admit he comes closer than most.”

I scowled at her and felt my hands forming into fists at my sides. I wasn’t sure how my blood had reached the boiling point but there was no doubt that I felt protective of Dialle, though I’d never have thought it possible.

“What dost thou mean, Aunt Diedre? Speak clearly now, for thou hath truly angered me.”

When I get really pissed or excited I often resort to Tweenspeak. I can’t seem to help myself.

My aunt’s face softened and, amazingly, she smiled at me. “Thy devil rises, niece, bringing pleasure to my soul.” But she could see that her words didn’t lessen my anger so she went on quickly. “Calm thyself young Astra. You will know when you are meant to know.” She hesitated before going on in a soft, clear voice, “we will all know when the deed is done.”

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