Commonality Sanctum: An Inside Look



Hallo, you beauties!

As you can guess from the title, I’m giving you a sneak peek into my newest endeavor: Commonality Sanctum. In this post you’ll get to see the tail end of chapter five and all of chapter six. Keep in mind, this is a draft version, so some things might change down the road. I wanted to share this section, specifically, because it’s very character-driven instead of plot-driven. In other words, you shouldn’t be lost having not seen previous chapters.

So, here we go. I hope you enjoy entering the mind of an ex-cult-member!


Chapter 5 (Claudia Dayo) (Partial)

Friday, July 11, 2025—Present Day 

I shot upright, whipping my head around to try to find the source of the mechanical grinding sound. It was coming from the alcove with the books. Michael cut his eyes to me but didn’t bother moving his head.

“It’s the printer,” he explained calmly. I let myself relax a little bit at a time.

“I fell asleep,” I said. The words came out slow. In the compound we were only allowed to sleep at night, and even then we usually didn’t get to sleep the night through. Every few hours we’d be plucked from bed to clean or pray or reflect.

I fell asleep during the day. My skin felt cold.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Fear rose from the pit of my stomach in waves. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. It won’t happen again.” I could feel myself shrinking back into the cushions of the couch, and I couldn’t stop it. It was such an ingrained response. If you sleep when you’re not supposed to, you get beaten. If you eat when you’re not supposed to, you get beaten. If you speak when you’re not supposed to …

“Claudia,” Michael said. He half stood, turned towards me, his arms out, hands getting close. I would’ve screamed. I almost did. He was so quick, though. One minute he was hovering over me and the next he had my face pressed against his shoulder with one hand, the other holding my legs as he cradled me in his lap.

He was so gentle. I cried. I think from relief.

I cried, and he held me and whispered against my hair, his deep voice rumbling through me.


Chapter 6 (Michael Alvis)

Friday, July 11, 2025—Present Day 

The response had been automatic. I regretted it the moment she was in my arms. Catharine had been nightmare prone. I’d held her like this so many times before, when she’d wake up crying or scared. The thought made me want to push Claudia away. Holding her felt wrong. She wasn’t Catharine.

Claudia must have felt me tense. She looked up at me with watery eyes and chocked out an apology in a voice thick with tears. I tried to relax. I pushed her head back to my chest. I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want to upset her further either, so I held her until she stopped shaking, until her breathing evened out. I gave it another minute, then placed her back on the couch and retreated to my bedroom. I closed the door and leaned against it.

What are you doing, Michael? The question rattled around in my head, unanswered. I needed help with Claudia. The only person I knew who could help her was Nate. An ex-member of Commonality Sanctum, he’d left the cult three years before I’d met him. He still had friends on the inside, which was how he’d found out about the kidnapping scheme. Apparently he’d not had all the details, or he’d have known the cult wasn’t going to stop at kidnapping.

I grabbed my phone from the nightstand where it was charging. I scrolled through my contacts list until I found Nate’s name and hit call. He picked up on the fourth ring.

“I saw it on the news this morning. I had no idea,” he said, skipping right over the pleasantries.

“I didn’t think you did,” I said.

“This is fucked up, man. Tell me you weren’t there.” I didn’t say anything.
“Michael …”

“I need your help, Nate.”

“What a surprise,” he said dryly.

“It’s serious.”

“When isn’t it?”

“Can you come over here? There’s a girl … She’s an ex-member. Sort of.”

“Jesus, Michael, what are you doing?”

“I keep asking myself that. I haven’t found an answer yet. Look, she’s freaking out. I don’t know what to do.”

“Being an ex-member doesn’t make me an expert. She probably needs a psychiatrist.”

“Maybe. But you know what it’s like, right? You can relate to her on a level I can’t. Can you just try? Please?”

He was silent for a while, but I could here scuffling in the background. “Yeah. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks, Nate.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” he said, then hung up. I pocketed my phone and took a deep breath before opening the bedroom door.

Claudia hadn’t moved. She was curled up on the couch, the blanket forgotten, half spilling onto the floor. The TV was white noise. I turned it off and sat on the couch beside her. Her face was dry now, her eyes puffy and red. I leaned in a little to get into her line of sight. When she focused on my face, I straightened.

“I’ve asked a friend to come over,” I said slowly. “I think he can help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yeah. Help you adjust. He’s an ex-member, like you.” She was starting to get that nervous look that came right before she freaked out. “I trust him, Claudia. I really think he can help. He’s been out of the cult for a while now.”

She nodded but looked more resigned than agreeable. She wrapped her arms around herself and pulled her knees up to her chest until she was a small ball of tightly wound nerves. I got up and headed for the kitchen. I put on enough coffee for Nate and me, then filled a glass with milk and took it to Claudia. I set the glass on the coffee table in front of her and sat on the chair. She picked up the glass and took a tentative sip. Then another. And another. When the glass was empty she set it back on the table and stared at it.

“Would you like more?” I asked.

“May I?”

“Of course,” I said. I grabbed the glass and headed to the kitchen to refill it. That was the last of the carton. I tossed the empty carton in the trash, then took the glass back to Claudia and handed it to her. I was about to sit down when there was a knock at the door.

I looked through the peep hole, opening the door when I saw Nate.

“Thanks for coming,” I said as he walked passed. He scowled at me. I shut the door, locked it, and followed Nate into the living room. Claudia was pulled back into herself again, the glass of milk empty on the table in front of her. I moved around Nate to sit on the couch beside her.

“Claudia, this is Nathan Peters,” I said. Nate waved and took a seat in the chair.

“Hi, Claudia,” Nate said. His voice was pitched low and there was a melodic quality to it. “Michael tells me you were a member of Commonality Sanctum.”

She nodded. Her expression was even.

“I was a member too, although I haven’t been for some time now. I remember the adjustment period well enough. It’s been hard, right?”

She nodded again. She adjusted her position, opening up until she was sitting cross legged with her hands in her lap, facing Nate a little more. Nate responded by inching closer to the edge of the chair, his forearms resting on his thighs as he leaned forward.

“How long were you a member?”

She looked at me, then back to Nate. “Twenty-three years,” she said.

Nate looked at me. He kept his face expressionless. Or tried to. The skin around his eyes tightened and his lips thinned slightly. He ran a hand over his face. “Shit,” he said, breathing the word. “So you were raised in it.”

Claudia nodded. She seemed to sense Nate’s distressed. She pulled her right leg to her chest, wrapping her arms around it.

“Nate …” I said.

“Yeah, man. Sorry. I mean you could have warned me though.” He rubbed the sides of his face in three quick successions and then dropped his hands to his knees. “Okay. Well that’s something.” He leaned back. “I was thirteen when I joined. My parents’ bright idea. I stayed in for about ten years, but once I realized …”

“It’s a lie,” Claudia said.

“Yeah. Once I realized that Commonality Sanctum was a cult, I ran. My parents left a few years after I did. It takes some people longer to figure it out. Some people never do.”

“It took me too long.”

Nate leaned forward again. “You can’t dwell on that, Claudia. It’s not about how long it took you to figure it out, it’s that you did figure it out. That’s the victory.”

She opened her mouth but didn’t speak. Could Nate really call this a victory? She was one day removed from mutilating a corpse for the cult. Nate didn’t know that part. Yet. Claudia took a deep breath and looked Nate in the eye. “What I’ve done in the name of Com … of the cult … It can’t be undone.”

Nate looked at me. I looked at Claudia. “You could have done worse,” I said. She hadn’t killed the boy, after all. Nate kept staring at me.

“Is this about the Thorne kid?” he asked. I grimaced at the question but nodded. Claudia leaned her forehead against her knee. “Jesus Christ, man. She didn’t kill him, did she?”

“No,” Claudia said. Her head snapped up fast enough that it had to have hurt. “I didn’t kill him.”

“Then what?”

“This might be one of those things where the less you know, the better off you are,” I said.

“Fuck, Michael, how bad is this?”

“Well … It’s not good,” I said. Nate rubbed his face again, breathing a little heavy, a little too quickly. “I understand if you need to bail. I’m not trying to get you into any trouble or anything. I just needed some help with …” I nodded to Claudia.

“It’s starting to seem like you need help with more than just that,” Nate said. I held my hands out. What could I say to that? Nate shook his head, then refocused on Claudia. “Tell me what’s going through your head.”

She looked at him, her expression almost vacant. “Nothing,” she said. “Everything. What am I supposed to do when everything—everyone—I know is wrong. How do you live like that?”

Nate gave a bitter laugh. “I’ve been there, believe me. How are you supposed to have faith or belief in anything else when you’ve been raised on lies? Trust seems impossible—”

Life seems impossible. What purpose do I have now? What’s the point?”

“Survival. Happiness. Living. Hell, Claudia, there’s so much to experience. You just have to take it day by day. Survive today. Survive tomorrow. Survive the next day and the next. One day you’ll wake up and realize that everything is okay.”

“Is it like that for all ex-members?”

Nate and I looked at each other. No, it wasn’t like that for all ex-members. Not everyone could live with the lies they’d spent so much time and effort believing. The loss of all those years wasted. The loss of the one thing they’d dedicated their lives to. Many ex-members that had been in since childhood opted for the suicide route. Nate and I had talked about that a lot when we’d first met.

“You’ve been lied to all your life, so I’m not going to start off here by doing the same,” Nate said. A lie probably would have been better in this case. It would have been easier on her. “For a lot of ex-members …” His voice faded away. He cleared his throat and tried again. “When I first got out, I was so lost. I didn’t know anybody outside the cult. I didn’t know how the real world worked. Things, no matter how scarce, had always been provided for me. I never needed to worry about shelter, because we lived at the commune.”

Claudia repositioned herself back into a cross-legged pose, opening up as Nate spoke, and occasionally nodding.

“I was one of the lucky ones. The compound I lived in was in a city full of ex-members. I snuck away one night. I walked the streets for … I don’t even remember. Four or five days, I think. I scavenged food from dumpsters, slept in doorways. I found my way to a shelter, a homeless shelter. They had these meetings where you could talk with other people staying in the shelter. You sat in a little circle and told your story. One night after the meeting, an ex-member approached me. We talked for hours. She said that there were other ex-members living together in an apartment not far from the shelter and, when I was ready, I could meet them.

“About a month later I got up the courage to leave the shelter and move into the apartment. A month after that, I had a job. Another month and I had a driver’s license, a bank account. After about a year, I moved out on my own.”

Nate pulled his hands up to his chest, the fingers of one circled the wrist of the other. Then he began rubbing his left palm with his right thumb. It reminded me of the way Claudia picked at her fingers when she was nervous or scared.

“I got a call one day,” Nate finally continued. “One of my former roommates had committed suicide. Not even half a year later, I got another call. Another of my roommates …”

He trailed off. Claudia reached out and briefly touched his knee. Tears gathered in her eyes, trailing down her cheeks whenever she blinked.

“Not all of us make it,” Nate mumbled.

Rise and Run Giveaway


Hello, sweetpeas!

Starting tomorrow (2/23/2018) you can enter for a chance to win a free, signed copy of Rise and Run. The giveaway will run through March 2, so there’s a limited amount of time—and a limited amount of product.

Just click this here link to head over to Goodreads to enter the Giveaway. While you’re there, go ahead and give me a follow!


Cover Reveal: The Finale



Good day! Hallo! Welcome! You’ve put up with all my nonsense and now you’re ready for the big reveal, right? Well, have I got a surprise for you! No, wait, it’s not a surprise if you know what it is. Well, then, have I got a cover reveal for you! First, of course, I have to include the obligatory links where you can buy and/or or review the book. I know, I know. It’s nothing personal. Just business. So here goes:





I hope you’ve enjoyed my teasing you for a few days. And I hope you enjoy the book even more so.


Cover Reveal: Part III



For whatever reason, I keep wanting to start this post with, “What up, bitches?” But I will not.

So, you’re here! And I’m here! And Dave is … Well, I don’t know where Dave is, but since you made it here today for the extras, I won’t let you down! Today I have for you a chapter that, although I thoroughly enjoy, was omitted from Rise and Run for pacing reasons. It was originally the second chapter in the book, so you might have questions to which I’ll simply say, “Hey, just go buy the book tomorrow, and all your questions will be answered.”

Oh, and, this wouldn’t be a proper part III to the cover reveal without the whole … missing piece of the cover. So, you’ll find that below. For now, read and enjoy!

Chapter 2

November 4, 2012, Bar Harbor, Maine

Rian Connell had called in every favor owed to him to get Effie released after she was apprehended on the suspicion of murdering a government agent. And when Mýrún couldn’t be found, Anthony Kenna’s murder was pinned on Effie as well. Not a stretch, considering that both men had died the same way.

The DoD’s reluctance to admit that the stolen boy existed—not even a word was breathed as to his purpose—worked in Rian’s favor. Effie’s case never went to trial, so thoroughly did all parties work to bury the classified project. The only reason Effie wasn’t buried herself was Rian’s high profile and the extensive media coverage it entailed him. Effie was released after three months with full-throated apologies, and no small amount of whispered threats.

But no one went against Rian. No one dared. If there was a problem that his imports and exports business couldn’t pay for, it was dealt with by the less legal aspects of his empire—and the extent of classified information he shouldn’t have was extra leverage.

Rian stood outside the Women’s Center of the Maine Correctional Center, his sandy hair slicked back. His gray and white pinstripe suit jacket was open to show off a matching waistcoat and a deep red tie. He held his arms open just in time to catch Effie as she sailed into him, knocking his glasses askew as she settled into as fierce a hug as she could manage with her pregnant belly between them.

“We have to find him,” Effie said. She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a sign of acquiescence.

Rian’s eyes went heavenward as he searched for the proper response. “I’ve looked for him, Effie. The boy is nowhere to be found,” Rian said, his Irish accent softened by his years in the States. “And Mýrún … she’s vanished just as soundly.”

“She couldn’t stay,” Effie said for what must have been the hundredth time over the past three months.

Rian waved off the chauffeur and opened the limo door for Effie himself. She scooted across the bench seat and Rian took his place beside her before instructing the driver to take them home. He closed the partition.

“I’ve widened the surveillance range. My sources have all confirmed that the DoD hasn’t located the boy yet. At least that’s something.”

“You don’t think …” she whispered, unable to finish the thought.

“No,” he lied. “I don’t think he’s dead.”

“Take me there,” Effie said. “Take me to the pickup location. I need to see.”

“And I need you to be home,” he said “Besides, taking the limo would draw unwanted attention.”

“Then why’d you take it?” she asked. Rian kissed her forehead in answer, then pulled her into him.

“If your mind is set on this we’ll go, but not now.”

She nodded. He was right, of course. He generally was. But knowing that didn’t stop the impatient tapping of her foot or the way she nervously picked at her fingernails. She had to find the boy; she had to.


December 11, 2012, Lewiston, Maine

It was nearing midnight when Rian arrived at the project building where James Moran’s witness reported seeing the boy. Moran, Bar Harbor’s police chief and Rian’s closest friend, drove up with a few of his men following behind. Unofficially. As Moran got out of his car and Rian walked over to meet him, three undercover Chargers pulled up around them.

Moran handed Rian an earpiece and neck loop mic. “Just in case you want to turn me off,” he said as he handed Rian a wireless remote control. The earpiece was small and comfortable, a nanotech prototype that Rian had paid a fortune to get into Moran’s possession. He pulled the mic over his head, then tucked it under his shirt before attaching the remote to his belt.

Rian looked around at the growing unofficial police presence that had spilled from the Chargers. They looked ready.

“Two on you, two on me,” Moran said. “One at the front entrance and one at the back.”

Rian nodded and returned his attention to the building. Its windows were boarded up and the front door hung loosely from its broken hinges. This was Russian territory. Encroaching on it could cause Rian problems down the road, but he’d promised Effie that he’d get the boy.

Rian always kept his promises.

“I’ll take the ground floor,” Moran said. Rian nodded, freeing his pistol from its holster, and followed Moran to the building’s entrance, all but two officers in tow.

Rian and Moran stopped, one on either side of the listing front door. The smell of urine escaped through the opening. Rian peered down the empty hallway, a cancerous throat with torn and molding carpet and wounded walls. He nodded to the two men lined up behind him, trusting them to cover him as he made his way to the stairwell.

He stayed low against the wall, palms cupping his pistol grip, the barrel facing the floor for now. His right index finger rested against the trigger guard. He took shallow breaths through his nose, not particularly wanting to smell the building, but wanting to taste it even less. One foot crossed over in front of the other and his back lightly scraped the wall. The stairwell was just around the corner to the right. Behind him, Moran shifted, ready to go in. Rian turned the corner, pistol up.


Rian took the stairs slowly, half out of choice and half necessity. The wooden stairs were in disrepair, not creaking as much as weeping when Rian or one of the officers put weight on certain slats. As he reached the landing, he took a moment to adjust his eyesight. It was darker up here, the smell louder.

“Move,” Rian whispered.

“Moving,” Moran answered, his voice coming crisply through the earpiece.

All the doors on either side of the hall had been removed, showing only dark sores along the blue-gray stretch of hallway. Rian and his party cleared the rooms one at a time. Inside the apartments, Rian saw signs of abandoned lives. Barbies and Hot Wheels, Legos, Play-Doh, gaming systems with game cases sprawling like an overturned Jenga tower. Mold spreading from desiccated food on dirty dishes in one kitchen. Overturned chairs, broken tables, empty spaces where television sets might have been, shattered lamps.

The whole second floor had been turned over.

The last apartment was fairly intact. Rian swept through, room to room. He swept his gun through the doorway to a bedroom. Lined up against the far wall were three bare mattresses with barely enough space to walk in between. Chains hung on the wall, about halfway between floor and ceiling, over all three mattresses. The next bedroom had the same setup.

“Ground floor is clear. Going to three,” Moran said.

Rian and his two officers reconvened in the hallway.

“All clear, sir,” the taller one said. The other shook his head. He’d found nothing.

“Two is clear,” Rian said into his mic as he walked back to the stairwell. “Going to four.”

The carpet on the fourth floor had been peeled back. Long, wide strips had been cut out in places. There were holes in the walls where the sheetrock had been broken, exposing the framework. It looked like someone had been pilfering copper wire.

The three men entered the first apartment, sweeping the rooms. “Sir,” the taller officer’s voice came simultaneously over the earpiece and through the wall. Rian walked over to the officer, now standing in a doorway. He stepped aside to let Rian look in.

Chains on the wall, naked mattresses, and five bodies.

“Human trafficking,” Rian muttered. “Looks like the Russians are tying up loose ends.”

The bodies were starting to turn, the smell sticking to the back of Rian’s throat. He patted the officer on the shoulder and turned to leave. As he stepped through the apartment’s front door, he picked up movement coming from the opposite end of the building and ducked back inside.

“Third floor is clear,” Moran said over the comm.

“We’ve got movement on four,” Rian said.

He chanced a peek from around the frame. He watched as three men and four women—some crying, their distress barely audible—were herded into the hallway. A fourth man followed behind them with a gun in hand.

The man looked out of place, plucked from a department store catalog in his cheap suit. The group was about twenty feet away, heading toward the opposite stairwell, when Rian heard a cry from the apartment they had vacated. It was a small sound. A loud thump followed on the heels of the cry.

Then silence.

Rian waited until the hall was deserted.

“Eight coming your way. One armed, the rest …” Rian searched for the right word. He hated using the word victim. He settled for, “Captives.”

Over the comm, Rian heard Moran directing his men to new locations.

“Keep clearing the floor,” Rian said over his shoulder. He crept down the hallway to the last apartment on the left, from where the cry had come.

A quick look inside revealed a man in dark clothes standing over a boy who couldn’t have been more than four or five. Rian couldn’t tell if this was the right boy; the age seemed off. He took a breath, then moved to fill the apartment’s doorframe.

He didn’t say anything, simply lined up his target and fired.

The bullet hit near the man’s kidney, the lack of spray out suggesting there would be no exit wound. The boy made no sound as the body fell forward, collapsing on top of him. Rian hurried into the room to pull the man aside. Unconscious, but not dead yet. He squatted down in front of the boy, who there was no mistaking now.

The boy’s left arm was set at an odd angle and his face and neck were bruised. A bleeding cut trailed from the corner of a bloodshot eye. Rian turned at the sound of the officers clearing the rooms next door. When he looked back to the boy, the cut was nearly closed.

Rian blinked a few times, then shook his head.

“It’s all right now, boyo,” he finally said, trying to sound neutral.

Rian heard a shout, gunshots, and more shouting, this time with additional voices thrown into the mix. A woman wailed.

“Building is secure,” Moran said.

“Perimeter is secure,” a second voice responded.

“The boy is secure,” Rian announced. To the boy, he said, “Just sit tight, huh? You’re safe now.”

Rian stood up as he heard the first set of boots on the stairs. He checked the man he’d shot. Still not quite dead. He met Moran at the door, still keeping an eye on the kid and the soon-to-be corpse.

“We caught ourselves a bad guy,” Moran said.

“One of Kuznetsov’s men,” Rian said.

Moran whistled. “Shit. Well, I’m sure he’ll have an accident in prison.”

“A better alternative would be for him to have an accident before he leaves this building. I’d prefer that Kuznetsov doesn’t find out about this. Or at least not anytime soon.”

Moran nodded. “And the boy?”

“A bit beat up, but alive. His arm looks broken.”

“Who’s that with him?” Moran asked, eying the man on the floor.

“Another of Kuznetsov’s men. Post-accident. Give it a few minutes and all you’ll have to do is hide the body.”

Moran shook his head. “Funny. I’ve got EMTs on the way for the civilians. I’ll send a team up to check out the boy.”

Moran headed back down to his men. Rian returned to the boy, who hadn’t moved. He hugged his knees with his right arm. Rian sat beside him, leaning against the wall.

“Let me see,” Rian said, indicating the boy’s left arm. The boy held out his arm, made no noise as Rian inspected it. Bright bruising mottled the skin. Not broken after all. Fractured, maybe.

“Can you tell me your name, boyo?” Rian asked.

For a long while, the boy didn’t answer. Finally, he whispered, “LS061514.”

“And how old are you?”

“Three, soon.”

“I’m Effie’s husband. Do you remember Effie?”

The boy nodded.

Rian couldn’t think of anything else to say. Kids weren’t his area of expertise—just one of the reasons why Effie’s pregnancy terrified him.

“How’d you manage to get all the way over here?” Rian finally asked.

The boy squirmed a bit. “I got hungry,” he said as though that explained everything.

Rian gazed ahead at nothing. He’d ask again, when the boy was out of this squalor. A week from now, a month from now, he’d ask again.

The paramedics arrived about ten minutes later. Rian moved aside to let them work. When the lead EMT asked which hospital to take the boy to, Rian slipped her a roll of bills and gave the address of a private clinic that one of his shell companies owned.

“We need to evacuate so the cleanup crew can get to work. You almost ready?” Moran asked as he walked back into the apartment.

“Just about. I need to arrange to have papers worked up for the boy,” Rian said.

“Why don’t I start on that while you get him settled? I know a guy who knows a guy.”

Rian smiled a little at that. “Conor Quinn seems like a good name, don’t you think?”

“Sure,” Moran said. “Listen, Rian, the ambulances are going to draw attention to this place. Not to mention our cars and the cleaners. Kuznetsov will know something happened.”

“I’ve got a guy at the Sun Journal. He’ll make sure the right story gets out,”

“Better work fast,” Moran said. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

Rian followed the paramedics out of the building and climbed into the ambulance. “No lights, no sirens,” he said to the driver as the rear doors shut.


March 13, 2012, Kennebunk, Maine

The doctor and a flock of nurses bustled about while machines beeped anxiously. The screaming alarms were endless. Rian heard it all at a distance, his ears as resistant to decode the sound as his eyes were to the sight.

Conor gripped two of Rian’s fingers. The hands of both the man and the boy were clammy. A nurse cleared his throat, but when he saw Rian’s face, he thought better of speaking to him at all, much less trying to persuade him to leave.

She looks so small, Rian thought as he looked at Effie. So small. Somehow everything had gone wrong. The baby was stillborn and complications during the labor led to the subsequent surgical removal of the thing. The thing that would have been Michael.

His son.

Rian looked down at the boy holding his fingers in a painfully tight grip, but the boy only had eyes for Effie. One of the machines sang out a long flat line, kicking the noise and rushed movement into a higher gear.

Then everything stilled.

The doctor covered Effie with a sheet as the rest of the team shuffled out in varying states of emotion.

“I’m sorry,” was all the doctor said before leaving Rian and Conor alone with the body.

Conor let go of Rian’s fingers and walked over to the side of the bed where Effie’s arm hung out from under the sheet. He placed her hand on top of his head, like she might wake up and ruffle his hair. He held her wrist in both of his small hands and closed his eyes.

Rian looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn’t there. As he turned toward one of the observation windows, he caught sight of an older woman. Her thin white hair hung in a plait over one shoulder. She was handsome, even in old age, and her bright blue eyes shined with unshed tears.

Mýrún Ylva.

Rian looked back, saw Conor staring at Mýrún, still holding Effie’s hand on his head. Rian turned and ran out of the room, but she was already gone.

He walked back in and rested his hand on Conor’s shoulder. The boy laid his head on the hospital bed, oblivious to the bloodstain creeping outward. Rian squatted and gently took Conor by both shoulders, turning the boy to face him.

He wanted to say something, but had no words. Instead he hugged Conor fiercely, then picked the boy up and carried him out.

Well, that was fucking depressing! But I hope you enjoyed it all the same. As promised, here’s the final piece of the puzzle! Keep and eye out tomorrow for the Cover Reveal finale (that’s when you get to see the whole damn thing in order). Also keep and eye on this here page for the Amazon purchase links!


Villain Series: Part IV



Forward: Welcome welcome welcome! This is the final part in the villain series. I really hope everyone has enjoyed it so far. Now, part four is a little different from the rest. It’s written in 1st person POV instead of 3rd to allow a better in-depth look at Chernobog. It’s also shorter than the others, because this section has only one purpose: to define Chernabog as a villain, whereas up until this point he toed the line of anti-hero. Well, I’m ready, so if you’re ready too, then let’s get to our villainous conclusion! Muah-ha. Muah-haha! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

I have wondered at times why some men choose to pick off their prey from a distance. But here Beatrice is, lined up slightly low and right of the center crosshairs, and I now know one reason why long-range killing appeals to some.

I don’t want her to know.

It’s never been a problem before. Killing, I mean, never a problem, but this isn’t the same and there is this … sick twisting in the pit of my stomach. This isn’t something I want to do—it just needs doing.

I slide the bolt back to chamber a round. As the wind picks up, I adjust my aim to compensate—a half centimeter to the left should put the bullet right between brainstem and spinal cord. Quick and painless.

“What are you doing, brother?” Belobog. His light is muted, dim. I look over my shoulder and see him standing there like some goddamn lost puppy. He doesn’t look at me. I don’t blame him.

“I asked her to marry me earlier tonight,” I tell him, turning back to look through the scope. “She said yes. Practically spilled over with delight.”

“Then why…”

“Why blow her brains out?” The words come out low, grunted speech. “You made a mistake, brother. You made a mistake, bringing her to me, and now I’m correcting it.”

And this woman is a mistake. She is affecting some kind of change in me and that can’t happen. That I want her to die happy is unnatural. That I don’t want her to see it coming or know by whose hand she dies is pathetic. That I want her to love me in death is weak. And I know even this favor to her is selfish and self serving, but it matters. That’s more than I can say about much of anything these days. Beatrice matters, her happiness matters.

That’s not who I am.

I won’t let her change me, but neither can she continue. And while I might be pulling the trigger, it is Belobog that put her in my crosshairs.

“You say you want to set me free, brother, but I know better. You want to change me.” I look over my shoulder at him again, and this time he meets my eyes. “I will not change. I will not lose myself to you or her or anyone. What you did, brother, was give me another reason to be angry, another reason to hate this goddamn ball of dirt and everyone on it.”

Even as I tell him these things, I’m experiencing what must be regret. I have been in this borrowed body too long. The skin I’m in itches and burns and I can hear it tearing even though I can’t feel it like I can my own.

Through the scope I see Beatrice shift in her chair, showing her ring off to her friends as they sit in front of the café. She leans back again, torso toward the road. Only 200 yards. It’ll be a clean shot. I make one more wind-based adjustment and slow my breathing. My heart rate slows.

Pump, exhale, pump, exhale.

One more heartbeat and on the tail end of my exhalation I pull easily on the trigger. I immediately pull the bolt back, discarding the shell and pulling another into the chamber. Just in case. But I hear the screams, so I know it’s a hit. Looking through the scope, I can see the impact wound.

A clean shot.

I stand and turn to face Belobog. My back and face are sweating. Regret and anger fester as my borrowed human form melts away. My brother watches the scene below play out in silence.

The mistake having been taken care of, I leave.

Villain Series: Part III



Chernabog looks in the mirror he’s been standing in front of for the past quarter hour. He looks human, but beyond that he has difficulty differentiating this body from that of every other human on the planet. He doesn’t poke or prod at the human jumpsuit. There is just too much of him in it. Chernabog feels the whole of him might burst from the fleshy restraints. Gods and demons weren’t meant for such insignificant casings.

“Well?” Belobog asks.

Chernabog busies himself tightening his tie and straightening his suit jacket. He focuses on as much nothing as he can. “This body is…” he indicates himself with a sweep of his hand, finally settling on, “weak.”

“How so?”

“Small, overfull, boiling. It’s too limited.”

Belobog nods. He grabs Chernabog’s face between his hands and pushes some of his light into the body. Chernabog grunts and pushes Belobog away with a muttered, “Better.” Chernabog isn’t sure what his brother has done, but the body now seems more able and less suffocating.

Belobog slaps a hand on Chernabog’s back. “Try to be… Or, try not to be… Well, try to have fun in any case,” he says. Chernabog shutters, settling in his skin, and heads for the door.


Chernabog taps his fingers on the table as he watches Beatrice walk through the restaurant door. She appears absolutely delightful. Chernabog actually notices her hair—long, dark waves. As she walks toward him she smiles, her unpainted lips only a shade or two darker than her pale skin. She leans slightly to the right and waves uncertainly. He beckons her over and she comes, weaving through the tables.

Chernabog pulls Beatrice’s seat out for her, then takes his seat across from her and bares his teeth in an approximation of a smile.

“This place is wonderful,” Beatrice says, taking in their surroundings as she settles in her chair. “I wonder if there’s anything on the menu I can eat.”

“If you try hard enough, you’ll find there’s almost nothing you can’t eat,” Chernabog says. To his surprise, Beatrice chuckles.

“A sense of humor. I like that,” she says. “I’m vegan.”

“Never heard of it.”

Beatrice waits to see if he’s joking. “No meat,” she says finally. “No dairy… No anything that comes from animals.”

“I think the word you mean is ‘masochist’,” Chernabog says. Why else would someone do that? He doesn’t ask the question aloud, afraid she might go on a tirade about the reason behind it all. She shrugs one shoulder, tilting her head to meet it, the smile still on her face.

“It’s just a choice. That’s one of the things we can rely on in this world, after all. Not saying that’s entirely good,” she says. “Hell, I chose to huff gasoline when I was younger and that wasn’t my best decision.”

Chernabog raises his eyebrows, wanting to hear more about her poor choices.

“Well,” Beatrice says, “I chose to marry a CEO. That turned right around to bite me in the ass. So now I choose to sing karaoke to offset the boredom of being an accountant. One of my better ideas, I think.”

Chernabog laughs, startling himself with the sound.

“And cartography. Can’t forget that,” Beatrice adds.

“I’m starting to be very glad you were able to get a babysitter tonight,” Chernabog says, surprised that he is, in fact, in a positive state of feeling.

“I’m sorry?” Beatrice says, confusion blossoming over her features.

“Your profile said you had a son. He must be very young since you can’t possibly be older than twenty-something. I only assumed…” he says, letting the statement hang in the air. For the briefest moment, he is concerned that he’s done something wrong. A moment is all it takes for Chernabog’s anger to find kindling in his fear.

Beatrice’s eyes lose focus. She looks down, then back at Chernabog. “I’m thirty-seven, actually,” she says and smiles, but it’s missing the previous joviality. She looks a little dizzy, makes a grab for the edges of the table. “He would have been eight this year.”

Chernabog hesitantly places his hand on Beatrice’s wrist. Through the touch, he can feel her pain. It’s so big, he wonders how she can hold it. His anger settles back down, dormant for now. He pulls his hand back and shifts uncomfortably. “I’m sorry,” he says, the words sounding to his own ears more cautious than sincere. “I shouldn’t have said… But why not take it out of your profile?”

“Because I do still have a son. That he isn’t here any longer doesn’t mean he never was.”

Villain Series: Part I



Mount Triglav gives an earth-rumbling heave before the world falls silent. There is no light here. There is no life. It is Walpurgisnacht—a night the pagans once celebrated with bonfires and dancing.

Thunder breaks the silence and in the following stillness there begins a gentle shutter through the earth, the air, a shimmering of heat waves. The heat waves bend and fold in spatial displacement as one by one the demons come. The shapes and sizes are infinite, this one with a cleft pallet, that one with a leather hide, another with a featureless face, clawed, beaked, razor-toothed, scarred, smooth, beautiful, wretched, they come in all forms. And they are all weak.

Deep inside Mount Triglav, an energy comes alive—noises pour forth, screams of rage and frustrated keening. The demons take a collective breath. The mountain peak wavers and broadens. It bends forward. The keening crescendos, then stops. A bloated silence consumes the world. The demons stretch necks against the air, scratch feet against the ground, curl themselves small, and hold themselves tight. Not a sound breaks that heavy silent barrier. The world is deaf.

Panic creeps up spines, grips hearts, and whispers deep, deep in the mind.

A wing splits from the mountain peak. Another. A body rises up, undulating snake-like to free itself. Chernabog is free. His body shutters, then stills.

One heartbeat.


A tide is rising in him, the force so swollen it must be released. His mouth is barely open before the sound begins spilling out—a sound that ruptures eardrums for miles. Blood begins to seep from the demons’ ears. The demons nearest the mountain are crushed under the weight of that enraged sound. Chernabog raises his arms, beckons with long, claw-tipped fingers, and the demons come. Up the mountain they stumble, crawl, maimed by deafness and bone-shattering pressure, yet moved by Chernabog’s unbending will.

It is Walpurgisnacht now. None danced willingly.

Chernabog calls the fire imps. They slither and crackle in his palm. They dance naked before his dispassionate gaze. He forces them into new shapes—pig and wolf and goat—and a hint of something like satisfaction crosses his face. He moves his free hand above and over the misshapen imps and they bend and writhe unnaturally, unable to do anything else. The great demon turns his hand this way and that, watching the imps scramble, clawing for purchase at his fingers. The humiliation doesn’t last long. With a hard flick of the wrist, Chernabog dislodges the imps into the core of Mount Triglav.

Chernabog looks down on his minions, watches them cower. His lip curls back, sneering, disgusted. He sweeps a hand forward, beckoning. His harpies descend. He looks on as the harpies grab at the little demons and then soar back into the air, higher and higher. They let go. Little demons producing little, distorted screams.

Chernabog sits back, wings hitching close to his body as his shoulders sag. He waves a hand and the demons fight amongst themselves. He stares blindly at the little fighting demons. He senses his brother. Chernabog clenches his fists as the muscles in his neck and shoulders tighten. One fist relaxes enough for the claw of his forefinger to scratch at the pad of his thumb. Little circles full of angry, nervous energy. Chernabog closes his eyes and waits.

Even through the relative safety of his closed lids, Chernabog can see the brightness as his brother approaches. Belobog. As bright and shiny as a goddamn beacon. The little demons cower from the light. Chernabog grunts.

“Brother,” Belobog says, his voice surrounding Chernabog as completely as the light.

“You came early,” Chernabog says, his voice rubbing like stones, an almost petulant quality to the words.

“You’re angry.”

“I’m always angry,” Chernabog tries to snap, but his tone is anguished, the words drawn out in a painful moan.

“Perhaps change is in order,” Belobog says gently.

Chernabog’s surprise almost has his eyes snapping open, but he squeezes the lids harder, white spots dancing behind his eyes with the effort.

“What does that mean, brother?”

When Belobog is hesitant to answer, Chernabog stiffens, face contorting between a scowl and frown. Chernabog can feel the light fading, drawing in around its source.

“Open your eyes,” Belobog says. His voice is coaxing. Chernabog obeys, warily parting his lids until he is squinting at his brother. That he has obeyed Belobog angers him, as everything in this world angers him. A strangled sob passes Chernabog’s throat. Belobog pulls his light in tighter, mistaking the source of his brother’s pain.

“What do you want?” Chernabog growls.

“To offer you peace.”

Chernabog laughs, the sound a rolling thunder causing rocks to slide down the mountain. But there is fear in that laugh. The only peace is in death.

“You’ve come to kill me,” Chernabog says.

“No, brother. I’ve come to free you.”

On Creating a Villain



Hey. Hi. Yeah … it’s me. Look, I know it’s been a while, but that’s why my bio doesn’t include “responsible adult” in it anywhere. But I’m back now. Oh, and Dave is here, too. Say hi, Dave. Dave? Hmm, must be his nap time. Well, that’s all right. I’m here. And today, I’d like to talk to you about villains.

Villains can be some of the most fun characters to read and write about. A proper villain is as compelling—and occasionally more so—as the protagonist. When writing, often so much focus is put on the protagonist that the villain falls by the wayside. A good way to fully render a villain to completion it to loosely base the character on someone real. Want an example? I’ve got the perfect one.



The Personification of Hate and Rage

On September 5, 1930, Carl Panzram was hanged by the neck until dead at US Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas. To say the very least, Panzram was not a good man.

In my life I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all of these things I am not the least bit sorry […] I hate the whole damned human race including myself.

That excerpt is penned by none other than the man himself and published in Panzram: A Journal of Murder. All quotes included in this entry are credited to that book. I highly recommend you read it. However, if you want an alternative, look no further than Last Podcast on the Left’s three-part series on Panzram.

So, what makes Panzram so appealing in terms of creating a villain? Everything. But I’m going to try to keep this short…ish. Panzram is simultaneously like and unlike the average serial killer. Well, maybe average isn’t the right word, but you catch my meaning. Of the unholy serial killer trifecta—bed wetting, animal cruelty, and arson—Panzram is known to have at least dabbled in two: arson and animal cruelty. However, Panzram regretted his cruelty toward animals. A bit unusual for a serial killer. Furthermore, he specifically used arson as a form of punishment. Arson wasn’t about pleasure or destruction, rather it was about revenge against someone who’d done him harm.



The Blissful Formative Years

Looking at Panzram’s childhood and encounters with authority—he was in and out of lock-up since age 11—it’s not hard to understand how his mentality could be so dark. So angry. At 11, Panzram was sent to a reform school for stealing apples, a piece of cake, and a pistol from a neighbor. At this school, they would use punishment in the form torture:

They used to have a large wooden block which we were bent over and tied face downward after first being stripped naked. Then a large towel was soaked in salt water and spread on our backs from the shoulders to the knees. Then the man who was doing the whipping took a large strap about ¼ of an inch thick by 4 inches and about two feet long. This strap had a lot of little round holes punched through it. Every time that whip came down on the body the skin would come up through these little holes in the strap and after 25 or 30 times of this, little blisters would form and then burst, and right there and then, hell began. The salt water would do the rest.

That was happening to 11-year-olds by reformers trying to beat religion into them. But it gets worse. After his release, around age 13-14, Panzram was gangraped by hobos on a train. He says:

I told them no. But my wishes didn’t make any difference to them. What they couldn’t get by moral persuasion they proceeded to get by force. I cried, begged and pleaded for mercy, pity and sympathy, but nothing I could say or do could sway them from their purpose. I left that box car a sadder, sicker but wiser boy than I was when I entered it.

And that shit happened again not too long after this incident! Panzram’s only education was in the form of the physically strong brutalizing the weak. Through his run-ins with everyone from hobos to law enforcement, he learned that “might makes right.” From his early encounters with men, Panzram learned that sodomy was a display of strength. It wasn’t about pleasure; it was about power.

During one particularly lengthy prison stay—he was constantly breaking out early—Panzram had to carry a 50-lb iron ball shackled to him three miles to a rock quarry, work eight and a half hours busting rocks, then carry the ball the three miles back to prison. This lasted for six months. You better believe that motha’ fucker was jacked after that.

So began Panzram’s reign of terror.



Writing a Villain

By looking at Panzram’s own account of his life, we get to see a great deal of his thinking, his beliefs, his motivations, and so on. Combine that with others’ view of the man—many of whom stated that his very presence was larger than life—and we start to get a complete picture. This man, whose motto was “rob them all, rape them all, and kill them all” is definitely not one-dimensional. And neither should fictional villains be.

When creating a villain, start from the beginning. Look at the formative years of some of the world’s most prolific serial killers and use that psychology to help you form a background for your character. Think of how you want your villain to be seen by other characters, and by readers. I picked Panzram as an example because he’s both charismatic and terrifying, manipulative and driven by unadulterated hate, uneducated and intelligent. He’s the basis from which you could create the sociopathic villain that everyone likes and trusts until it’s too late or the seeming monster who seeks power and revenge. Either of those choices could build a striking, engaging villain that captivates readers.

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be posting a four-part fiction series focusing on a villain. This particular series came about in a creative writing class from years ago and sees a Disney villain going on a blind date. My villain is Chernabog. I’ve revisited the original series to incorporate elements of Panzram. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Villain Series: Part I

Villain Series: Part II

Villain Series: Part III

Villain Series: Part IV

The Shill and the Purblind



It’s a little exposition-dense. A kink I’ll work out over the drafts to come. For now, since it’s been so long and I know you need something to live on—talking to you Dave—enjoy this bit of fiction from The Shill and the Purblind.


Chapter 1

My mother was a slave, Idun Verdandi recited. My mother tried to hide me. She cared. She cared. She cared. My mother tried to steal me. She cared. She cared. She tried. She died. She died because she cared. She cared. She cared. My father did not care. He died just the same. She tried. She tried. They died. No one deprives the hēahcyning of his property. The high king is all. He is all. He is death. He is soon dead.

Idun knew one truth: In the cold of Ísigstān, the only way to truly keep warm was through hate. Having been born a slave in Ísigstān kingdom, in the house of the Vetr Sun, living in the very same castle as the hēahcyning himself, Idun was always warm.

She hugged her knees to her chest and leaned her back against the ice-flecked stone wall of her chamber as the other slave girls slept. She would not sleep.

To sleep was to give in to the night fevers.

Idun recited the story of her parents again, her warmest story, until the cold left her. She raised a thin, pale hand and brushed her hair toward the front of her face, giving herself privacy from the sleepers. Don’t let them catch you if they wake. Don’t let them catch you. Don’t let them catch you crying.

She watched the silver-white strands that hung in front of her eyes, a genetic camouflage trait bred into Ísigstān natives over the course of a thousand years. Her very birthright. The hair from scalp to shoulder looked dull, stringy. The other foot and a half of her locks, from shoulder to waist was in worse shape. The black dye, a slave marker, dried her hair. Turned it brittle.

The more valuable slaves—those more usable, treated like pets, treated like whores, and pranced around in front of nobility—could keep half of the natural growth.

That mark of ownership was much less humiliating and much less permanent than the other. A brand that ran from cheek to cheek, curving over the nasal bridge in a turned down crescent.

Many of the slave children died from the brand.

Idun touched the rough, raised skin, before her hand fell heavily to her lap, cradled between her empty stomach and shaking knees. Tiredness ate at her. Sleep would soon take her. Another choice made for her.

She grabbed the piece of cloth she had ripped from her bedding and placed it in her mouth. She let a corner piece of the cloth stay pressed between her lips so that, once she awoke, she could yank out the rag before she choked. For nearly a month, she slept this way. If her night screams ever woke the hēahcyning again, she was told, she’d pay with her flesh.

Wasn’t she already paying that price? Yes, of course. She had been since the year the blood came on her.

Even as she lay there, she fought to keep her eyes open. The wind kicked up outside. Idun felt the gusts come in through the small, high-set window. The window would close over with ice, soon. For warmth, Idun reasoned, again taking stock of her warmest story. The one she used ever since she’d heard it.

My mother was a slave. My mother had tried to hide me. She cared. She cared. She cared. My mother tried to steal me. She cared. She cared. She tried. She died. She died because she cared. She cared. She cared. My father did not care. He died just the same. She tried. She tried. They died…. The high king is all. He is… He is… soon dead.

Idun curled in on herself. As she began to drift, she felt the skin of her arms start to burn, handprint shapes glowing along her biceps.

Every night, this is how it began.


Idun’s body was covered in sweat, her black eyes open, seeing nothing. Around the rag in her mouth came whimpers that might have been words. Her torso shot up from the straw-stuffed mattress. She screamed. The rag muffled it. Her eyes looked about the room, still sightless. She sensed it in the corner, felt it: a tall, dark shape. She got up from the bed, speaking nonsense around the rag, and clumsily put distance between herself and the shape.

When she got to the door, her heart was beating painfully. The door is gone. She walked along the wall, trying to feel through frozen-numb fingertips. She was cold throughout, though her skin was fever-hot. Beads of sweat ran in lines down her neck.

There is no door.

She circled the room, searching, each circle taking her closer to the shape. She sensed, during the first circle, that the shape was wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Then, she sensed it was humanoid. Its large white eyes and the red veins running under its skin formed a picture in her mind.

I can promise you… A voice. Its voice. It whispered around her, through her.

Sleep. The word was a scream she sensed more than understood.

She collapsed.


A sharp pain spiked through Idun’s shoulder, jolting her awake. She coughed, nearly gagging until she pulled the rag from her mouth. The edge of the door slammed against her shoulder again, and this time she cried out and scrambled backward on her hands and feet.

“What are you doing down there, stupid girl?” It was Grettna, the keeper, her head poking around the door.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Idun answered. She looked around her and saw that all the girls were starting to rise from slumber. One by one, they all looked at her.

“Come on then,” Grettna said, holding her hand out to Idun. “The rest of you, sod off.”

The air came to life with the rustling of scratchy wool blankets and the girls quickly shuffled out of bed and filed out of the room and headed next door to the wash stall. The last girl hesitated. Vera, short and thick of frame, if not of actual meat, looked down at Idun. Her eyebrows drew together, concern flashing across her black eyes before her short, black hair swept over them. Idun nodded, but Vera hesitated still.

“Get yourself gone now, girl,” Grettna said.

“I’m fine, Vera. Go on,” Idun said, and it was a good lie. Vera finally nodded and left Idun and Grettna alone.

Grettna set down the basket of clean blankets and sat down, her legs out to the side of her. Her hair was wrapped up on top of her head, bound by rope and mostly covered by a towel. A few black tendrils poked through. She took Idun’s hand.

“It’s happened again, hasn’t it?” Grettna said softly, gently, a doting mother now that none were there to see.

Einar, the Ungelīc: A Character Development Draft



Einar sat back on his haunches, elbows resting on his knees. The view from his perch on the scorched black hill showed him a valley of the dead. Heat rose in soft waves from open bodies, turning the cold air foggy. Even the rain took on a red glint as it crossed the warm front. His head swayed back and forth on his long neck.

“And for what was this done?” Einar asked the air.

“Blood feud,” the androgynous wind hissed behind him. “Wergild unpaid.”

Einar stood, his tall body stretching out. His limbs and neck were unnaturally long. Darkness pushed through nearly translucent skin, giving him an incandescent-ashen appearance. Dark red veining began at his narrow waist, wrapping undiscernible patterns up his broad back, over his shoulders and around his heart, up the sides of his neck and head. Smaller, more intricate veining wound up his jaw, over cheekbones, truncating at the outside of blank, white eyes.

Just as Idun, Einar was born into slavery. His was of a different kind. His ears were his branding, ears that were too long at the top and had chunks removed as if a rat had made a meal of them in the night. He could change form, and often did in the presence of humans, but he could never hide his demarcation.

“What has this to do with me?” Einar asked the air.

The air pressure changed sharply and Einar shivered.

“There are others,” said the wind.

The air in front of Einar moved, mini-cyclones distorting the scene before him to show him something new. The ice country. Ísigstān castle. Two figures.

“The king,” the wind whispered. “And the slave.”

Einar contemplated the scene before him. An old, haggard king, with white skin and whiter hair and eyes as black as coal, so insecure he wore his crown in his own bedchamber. He squirmed and thrashed atop a young, painfully thin woman. She stared out with dead eyes at nothing. Her muscles looked stiff with the attempt not to move, not to push the elderly king away. Her silver-white hair spread around her head like a fan, the ends dipped in black. A scar ran along her face, from cheek to cheek, right across the bridge of her nose.

Einar touched the ragged edge of one long ear, not even noticing the motion until the wind laughed from behind him. He brought his hand slowly around to the front of his neck, scratching just below his chin. He dropped his hand to his side and cocked his head.

“Let the feud end here,” Einar said, motioning to the valley below.

“It will not,” hissed the wind. “It cannot.”

“Then find another. This is beneath me.”

More laughter at this. Laughter that started at one shoulder and blew to the other. He felt the wind become solid enough to touch his face with threatening fingers. Then nothing.

“Nothing is beneath you. Go to the slave. Take her to the eard-stapa wiga.”

Einar looked over sharply, trying to pin the voice with his gaze. It was a useless movement. The wandering warrior. Einar spat at the thought.

“You’d have me run in circles. For what? Kill them both and be done with this.”

No!” the wind picked up to a whistling scream with the word, then almost as suddenly, it died. The quiet unnerved Einar. “The slave must kill the king. After, can the slave be killed.”

Einar’s chest tightened, the muscles in his mid back locking up in preparation for swift movement. He breathed deep, commanding his body to relax.

“Send another,” Einar said through a clenched jaw. His lips peeled back from his teeth, the upper right corner turning into a snarl.

The wind screamed. It howled. It spun down the hill, picking up the dead and throwing them aside. Einar watched this tantrum with a smile. In the end, he would do as he was bid. He would be given no reason. He was never given a reason. But defiance was irresistible. Even considering the punishment to follow. So, he watched and smiled and enjoyed the whirlwind of corpses.

He would go to the slave.

He would take her to the eard-stapa wiga.

And once she killed the king, he would wash his hands of her.