Friday, April 24, 2015

New Contract Signed + More to Come!

I've been sitting on this project for some time, hoping I'd have good news to share. Today is that day! I'm happy to announce that Harmony Ink Press has offered me a contract for my YA novel, The Night Screams.

The first burst of inspiration for the book came in the form of a mental image of a terrified boy running naked through the woods. I knew, in the same way one knows things that they have no way of knowing in a dream, that his name was Cal. I didn't know anything else about him. But I wanted to. At the time, I was working on a sci-fi novel that was so much fun to write and just needed a few more chapters before it would be complete. Being a disciplined and fairly responsible writer, I said to myself, as I do occasionally when these sorts of bursts of inspiration hijack my imagination, "Thou shall finish the project you are working on!" I pushed through my sci-fi novel, but something about this simple image of the boy kept calling me, demanding my attention. In an effort to vanquish it from my thoughts, I decided to write a few pages. Surely, such a simple image wasn't enough to become a novel. That was clearly just a fantasy, because some tens of thousands of words later, I realized I was mistaken.

Cal's story is about his recovery after he escapes a sadistic man who tortured and raped him. When I was finished the first draft, I thought, What have I done? No one's going to publish this! I loved the characters and story, but I feared regardless of how tastefully I'd handled the dark themes, it would be quite a risk for a YA publisher to take on the manuscript. That said, I was relieved when an email from Harmony Ink assured me that The Night Screams had a home. Thank you so much Elizabeth North and Anne Regan for giving me the opportunity to share Cal and Jake with the world.

With that back story aside, I give you the working synopsis for The Night Screams:

Sweating. Panting. Running.

Cal runs naked through the woods, fleeing the sadistic man who abducted and tortured him. When he breaks into a convenience store to steal food and clothes, he encounters a young clerk who knocks him unconscious. He wakes in the home of the clerk's uncle Gary, the owner of the store he tried to rob. Realizing Cal needs help, Gary tries to communicate with him. But Cal's trauma has left him unable to speak. He writes down his experiences. Horrified by the perversion Cal endured, Gary takes him to the police, who track down his tormentor.

Gary and his wife take Cal in. But Jake, the clerk who attacked him, doesn't trust him and let's his concern be known through his harsh criticisms and insults. However, as Cal comes to know Jake, he realizes he might be the very person who can heal the deep wounds left by his horrifying experience. Can he move forward from his trauma or will he be haunted by the painful memories for the rest of his life?

I'm so excited about sharing this project with you guys, and thanks again to Harmony Ink Press for helping me do just that!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chapter One of Bound: The Clipped Saga, Book 2

Stealing George R.R. Martin's idea of releasing a chapter from his next book, I decided to release the first chapter for my upcoming sequel to Clipped, Bound. Just to give you a head's up: this is an unedited version, so please forgive any glaring errors or issues that may make you go, "This guy doesn't know what the fuck he's doing!"

The following excerpt contains rough sex, massive guilt, and a new character that I adore!


Chapter One

Kinzer brushed his teeth at the bathroom sink, his biceps shaking before his tense, dome-shaped pec. Black locks fell across his forehead, covering his bushy eyebrows, drenched from the shower he’d taken just a few minutes earlier.
The deep ridges in his v-lines descended into a white towel around his waist.
As he contemplated what he would be doing in just a few minutes, he brushed harder, drawing blood. He spit the reddened, foamy toothpaste into the faucet’s running water. He’d never bled like that when he’d had his wings...when his flesh was imbibed with his immortal strength.
He retrieved a bottle of mouthwash from a bag at his feet and swished it about in his mouth before emptying it in the sink.
He imagined this was what Maggie’s life had been like before--preparing for tricks, exchanging her body for services.
He hadn’t planned this route. Initially, he figured some quick cash to a detective would get the job done, but after a few offers and no leads, one of the detectives recommended someone he was sure could do the job. Kinzer approached the guy, Lyle, but he refused money for his services and was only willing to assist Kinzer if he exchanged something he said was a little more worth his while.
He opened a black plastic case he’d set on the counter and retrieved a syringe, which contained a special serum. Before he’d had access to the substance, his location had been easily discovered by a Tracker--immortal equivalents to detection dogs. Their gift allowed them to sniff out immortals by their scent. After Kinzer had escaped the clutches of the Raze, a gang in league with the Almighty to destroy the world, he’d found it necessary to stay on the move until his friend Treycore, encountered a fallen who had access to the substance. Though Treycore was on his own quest, he’d provided Kinzer with the contact’s information and Kinzer purchased it in bulk so he could remain hidden and continue his mission.
After he injected the serum into his arm, his cell vibrated on the counter, behind the syringe’s case. He set the syringe back in the case, picked up his phone, and read the text: ‘I’m here.’
He texted his room number to Lyle, the guy who’d be meeting him, the guy who he’d have to show a good time.
But what did it matter what he did with his body? He didn’t care about it anymore. He just did what he had to do. He performed his duty as an immortal, and in the name of his love he’d lost to the cause.
A knock at the door assured Kinzer it was time.
He stepped barefoot across the motel carpet and opened the door.
Lyle stood outside, glancing around uncomfortably, as if he was too embarrassed to look at Kinzer’s naked torso.
Kinzer smirked. He found it amusing that a man who’d been so forward about what he wanted would act so coy when the moment had finally arrived.
Lyle’s short blonde hair was spiked. He wore a pair of glasses that glistened in the lamplight coming from the nightstand beside the queen-sized bed, which Kinzer had requested specifically.
Without a word, Kinzer turned and headed toward the bed.
Lyle stepped in and shut the door behind him.
“Wish you knew how hard I had to work to get this,” Lyle said.
Kinzer assumed he was stressing how hard he was going to have to work to get this intel from Lyle. But he wasn’t concerned. He knew his immortal girth would be perfectly satisfactory for any mortal.
Just pretend he’s someone you like.
Maggie had suggested this when she’d found out about his rendezvous. She hadn’t supported what he was doing. She’d warned him against it repeatedly, but this was the only way...or at least, the best way he could come up with quickly.
Someone I like?
That wouldn’t work. The images that came to mind would have only haunted him, made it impossible for him to complete his work.
Lyle removed a backpack from his shoulders and set it on the floor. He rubbed his hands together, as if trying to find something to do with them. “So…” he said.
Kinzer allowed the towel to pool at his ankles. He turned to Lyle, whose gaze went right to his dick. His mouth dropped open.
Kinzer didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Few immortals did.
His cock swayed slightly at his thighs.
He approached Lyle, wrapped his arms around him, and kissed him firmly.
Lyle returned wet, sloppy kisses.
Just like mortals, he thought, considering their brief lifetimes that allowed for little time to practice their kissing technique.
“Oh,” Lyle moaned.
Kinzer gripped onto his arms, more muscular than he’d imagined they’d be, and threw him back onto the bed.
He pressed his knees into the mattress, crawled on top of Lyle, and kissed him again, helping him remove his button-up while Lyle kicked off his shoes and pulled down his jeans.
After some uneasy trembling while removing his button-up, Kinzer tossed it beside the bed.
The lamp on the nightstand cast hard shadows across Lyle’s six pack. Specks of dirty-blond hairs trailed from his navel to his pubes.
He was a good looking guy. Kinzer figured he wouldn’t have had trouble picking up tricks at a bar, so he wondered why he’d wanted this sort of exchange with Kinzer.
It didn’t really matter.
Kinzer gripped under Lyle’s knees, leaned back, and flipped him on his stomach.
Lyle’s back was just as muscular as the front, with sharp, defined edges stretching down his shoulder blades.
Kinzer grasped on to Lyle’s hip with one hand and navigated his cock with the other.
“Whoa, whoa!” Lyle exclaimed. He tucked his knees close to his chest and flipped over quickly. He raised a hand. “I think I’m gonna need some lube.”
Kinzer spit in his hand and rubbed it across his thick shaft.
“No, seriously, dude.”
He started to get up, but Kinzer snatched his shoulder and threw him back onto the mattress. If they were going to do this, they were going to do it his way.
Kinzer smiled a wicked smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll like it.”
He grabbed his trick’s arms, pulled him up, and shoved him back on the bed, their torsos touching so their abs rubbed together. He kissed him, working to improve Lyle’s abilities by guiding him, slowly, carefully. Lyle started to follow his lead, but slipped up occasionally, opening his mouth too wide or not enough. As Kinzer leaned back, he gazed into Lyle’s eyes. They didn’t appear as nervous, as apprehensive as they had moments earlier. They looked to Kinzer’s dick, staring, as if hypnotized by it.
Kinzer lifted Lyle’s legs and pressed the head against his hole.
He spit on the shaft. The fluid slid down his vein-covered flesh. He offered another spit and wiped it across the surface, which even Kinzer had to admit was particularly dry. But that made him happy. He wanted it to hurt Lyle. He would have been pissed to know Lyle had walked away without a few wounds.
Lyle’s chest rose and fell as he breathed heavily, preparing for the intense intrusion. He held on to his legs, as if he knew he would need the support.
Kinzer thrust his pelvis forward, his fingers guiding the head inside his trick’s hole, which was trembling as much as Lyle was.
Kinzer rubbed Lyle’s abs to assure him that he would take care of him, but it was a rouse—a lie to give him a false sense of security.
Lyle pursed his lips and breathed in and out, grinding his teeth as Kinzer pressed deeper into him.
“Ah, ah, ah!” he whimpered.
Kinzer slid out slightly, to give the impression he was being courtesy.
“You okay?” he asked, his fingers outlining the top muscles in Lyle’s six-pack.
Lyle grimaced, but nodded.
Kinzer took that as his invitation to proceed and slid further in.
Lyle's face reddened as he squirmed beneath him.
When Kinzer had forced his entry halfway inside, he began pulling back out and pushing back in, offering him a taste of what would become a far more painful encounter.
When Lyle settled into the rhythm, relaxing as his hole seemed to have adjusted to his sadistic top, Kinzer thrust much farther in.
Lyle opened his mouth to scream. Kinzer leaned down and covered his mouth.
He donned a concerned look. “Sorry...sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said…though he wasn’t.
This was what a guy like Lyle deserved.
He released Lyle’s mouth and rubbed his thumb across his cheek. He slid his hand around his head and grasped the back of his neck. “You okay?”
Lyle wasn’t, as indicated by his grimace and twitching torso, but he ground his teeth and nodded again.
Kinzer pushed in and pulled out. With each attack, he evoked a more pained reaction from his victim.
It delighted him, excited him. And as much as Lyle writhed about, it was clear by his rock hard erection he was enjoying the encounter just as much.
Kinzer squeezed the back of Lyle’s neck and used the leverage to permit him to drive into Lyle’s hole as deeply as possible.
“Oh, oh!” Lyle cried. “Ah!”
It made Kinzer even harder, which in turn evoked another groan from Lyle.
Kinzer liked making him pay. Having power over him made him feel as if he had power of something...which at this time, felt so distant. He’d lost his own power so long ago.
Lyle looked into his eyes.
It was unsettling. It reminded him too much of the loving looks he’d once received from Dedrus and Janka, two higherlings he didn’t want to think of right then.
He pulled out.
“Get up,” he snapped.
He grabbed Lyle’s shoulders and forced him off the bed. He spun him around and pinned him against the wall, forcing himself back inside.
“Ah!” Lyle screamed. “Oh, yeah. Fuck me, fuck me!”
Kinzer did. Hard. He shoved himself inside. Lyle’s hole tightened and occasionally forced Kinzer’s flesh back out slightly, but Kinzer effortlessly shoved it back in with deep, thoughtless thrusts.
Lyle tossed his head back, and Kinzer grabbed his face, massaging his fingers across Lyle's cheeks, his thumb into his mouth. He wanted complete control over him. He wanted to possess be totally in charge. And despite Lyle’s body’s efforts to resist, it was clear by the way he pushed his own ass back to accept Kinzer, that he wanted this pain as much as Kinzer wanted to give it to him.
It reminded him of how eager Dedrus had been to take his abuse, a thought that saddened him. He shook his head as he continued fucking Lyle, trying to shake the mental images from his thoughts. But he couldn’t. He was only reminded that he’d never have the chance to show Dedrus how much he’d cared for him, because he was gone...forever.
The rage that consumed him made him want to hurt Lyle even more. He seized locks of his hair and yanked them back forcefully as he shoved himself in violently, recklessly.
Lyle cried out, not like a man who was aroused, but like an animal that was being attacked.
Kinzer wrapped his arm around Lyle’s neck and clung tight...just enough to stifle the scream.
Come in me,” Lyle forced through the chokehold.
“You want it? Huh?”
Kinzer pulled out, grabbed Lyle’s arm, and tossed him back on the bed.
Lyle raised his legs, inviting Kinzer back in.
But Kinzer didn’t enter. He wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He jerked his cock before Lyle’s hole and squirted his load across the rim.
White rushed from the head of his dick, spilling across the pink flesh around Lyle’s hole.
 “Oh, shit,” Lyle said, his wide eyes, as if he was impressed with how much cum oozed from Kinzer.
Kinzer wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t gotten off in a while.
Kinzer smiled and pressed the head of his dick against his milky fluid, collecting it under the rim of his cock’s head before sliding it back into Lyle’s hole.
Lyle rolled his head back, grabbed his own cock, and stroked it.
He reeled in delight.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Kinzer said. He snatched his wrist and then seized the other, pressing them against the mattress.
Lyle looked at him in shock.
“You’re gonna come like this.” Spit tailed behind Kinzer’s words and collected on Lyle’s cheek.
Kinzer rocked his pelvis back and forth. Powerfully. Intensely, as if attempting to reach so deep inside his victim he would be able to cause a serious injury.
His lips met Lyle’s nipple. He tickled it with his tongue, ran it in circles, working to tease him. His expertise with mortals and immortals was too powerful for Lyle to fight. And soon, white streaked across his dirty-blonde happy trail, a wad settling in dips of his abs just above his navel.
He breathed hard, his body shivering as it surely struggled to enjoy the ecstasy while surviving the pain that was certainly a product of Kinzer being so deep within him.

“You more than earned this,” Lyle said. He rose from a crouching position on the floor, holding a sheet of paper he’d retrieved from his bag. He crawled onto the bed to Kinzer, who sat on the edge of the mattress, staring off.
He felt disgusting. He felt dirty.
Lyle wrapped his arms around Kinzer, handed him the sheet, and kissed his shoulder softly.
The kiss gave Kinzer goosebumps. It made him feel as if Lyle was going to ask if they could be boyfriends.
Kinzer glanced at the paper.
“You sure it’s him?”
“Positive. He worked under several different names. Real one’s Carl. He’s at a hospital in Houston. Been there for the past few weeks. I told you I could find anyone.”
Kinzer turned to him and smiled a wide, phony smile. He kissed him and pulled back quickly.
“Thanks,” he said curtly.
Lyle stroked Kinzer’s arms, as if working to stir another sexual encounter. He kissed the back of his neck softly.
It was too much for Kinzer. He hopped up, retrieved his jeans off the floor, and slid them on. His dick shook about, flapping against his legs until he tucked it in his jeans and pulled his pants the rest of the way up.
Lyle looked he was hoping for so much more.
Kinzer ignored him. He grabbed his shirt and headed into the bathroom.
“Hey,” Lyle said, jumping off the mattress and racing after him. “When will I see you again?”
Kinzer picked up his bag and tossed Lyle a disapproving glare. “Really?” he asked. “Grow up, kid.”
He regretted calling him kid, which evoked the memory of someone he respected, someone he cared about, someone whose life he’d destroyed.
He shook it off and abandoned the motel. As he walked through the parking lot, he pulled his cell from his pocket and dialed.
“Maggie,” he said. “Meet me on Cheshire and Piedmont.”


Maggie crossed under a bridge.
She’d been down the street at a small bookshop, having some coffee and relaxing into a fashion magazine, trying to forget what Kinzer was out doing. Then she’d received his call. The deed was done, and she hoped the information he’d received had been worth it.
She spotted Kinzer, his head hung low, his hands in his pocket, his duffle bag hanging from his shoulder.
She turned on her blinker, pulled alongside the road, and rolled down the car window.
“Need a lift?” she joked.
Kinzer’s gaze met hers, and the sadness in his eyes dissipated. His lips curled up, as if he was trying to force a smile. As he got in the car, he brushed his fingers through the front wave in his jet black hair. His shoulders and pecs were tense against the tee he wore.
“All good?” she asked.
He nodded.
As indifferent as Kinzer had seemed about using his body in exchange for information, Maggie could tell it bothered him. It bothered her, too. These sorts of transactions were the perfect representation of that part of humanity that was so disgusting, so heinous Maggie wondered how he was able to have faith in mankind.
“And you’re sure this guy will be able to help us get to Veylo?”
“It’s the closest thing I got to a lead, so I sure fucking hope so.”
She pulled onto the road.

“Home sweet home,” Kinzer said.
Maggie could sense the sarcasm, but with it came a bitter reminder of how much time they’d spent in this shitty loft.
Kinzer flipped on the fluorescent lights, approached an island in the kitchen, and set a sheet of paper from his pocket on it.
He glanced around the bare room that had been their living area since he and Maggie had started on the run--started searching for answers as to where the Christ was. He walked to the wall-length window on the opposite side of the loft and gazed out at the city lights.
Maggie couldn’t take her eyes off him.
He looked so lonely. She couldn’t say it was very different than when she’d first met him, but it saddened her. He was a compassionate, kind man--well, a fallen. She knew he’d cared deeply for Dedrus, the higherling that had initially held her captive. In nights when they would go to the local bar for drinks, he would tell her of their times together...and the times he’d had with Janka, the cruel ex-lover who he’d believed had died, but had been secretly conspiring with God to destroy the world.
Their sharing their drama-filled lives with one another birthed a deeper connection between them.
“You going to head to bed?” she asked.
He stared out the dust-covered window and shook his head.
“Nah. Think I’m gonna look this hospital up, figure out how we’re gonna get there, and then maybe workout.”
Working out. That’s all he seemed to do these days. He informed Maggie that, since he no longer had his wings, one of his myriad disadvantages was that his body didn’t keep itself up as it once had, as it did for most immortals, so he had to work extra hard to maintain his muscular physique. She gave him credit, because he did a very good job, though he never seemed to be satisfied with it.
“Well...’night then,” she said.
Kinzer nodded, lost in his daze. She wondered what he was thinking about--his lost of Dedrus, the betrayal of Janka, the horrible predicament they were in? There were so many things he could have been contemplating. Maybe it was all too much to think about, as it was for Maggie on occasion. Maybe, like her, he just stared off, trying to drown out all the noise that crowded his thoughts.
She headed into her room and flipped on a lamp, gazing down at the mattress, cotton pushing from tears in the fabric that had been her bed since they’d arrived here.
It wasn’t easy to sleep on. But it was just as good as any of the places she’d slept before she’d met Kinzer. She imagined some women wouldn’t have been caught dead in such a place. But after all the backs of cars she’d slept in, rough as this was, it was fine. Although, it was strange falling asleep without having passed out from a trip or drunken spell.
Nice, but strange.
She hadn’t touched crystal since it had all started, since she’d been kidnapped months earlier. She’d been dry, something she’d never thought she’d be able to say. It hadn’t been a deliberate choice as much as part of the natural sobriety that had seemed to follow the events of a few months prior.
She removed her shirt and pants and gazed in the mirror.
Her dirty blonde hair, once naturally straight, waved from her chin to her chest. It wasn’t smooth and soft, but dry and rife with split ends.
Her worn, cream panties and bra clung to odd patches of fat that had remained on her since the pregnancy. She figured some of it would never leave, but it wasn’t vanity that bothered her. It was the recognition that she would always be reminded of the beast she’d carried inside her--the monster that was to end mankind.
Initially, Kinzer and his crew of immortals had believed she was carrying the Antichrist, which would prevent God’s Christ from destroying the world. But they’d been deceived and she’d really been carrying the Christ all along. Veylo, the leader of a gang of fallens known as the Raze had taken the baby, and since that night, she and Kinzer had embarked on a quest to prepare to hunt the Christ...her child.
She’d never wanted a child before, but since the labor, since she’d had her child so cruelly ripped from her grasp, she couldn’t help but feel that she had been denied something...something she’d deserved. Though she didn’t deserve it. Maybe she had in another life, but nothing that she’d done in this one could have possibly permitted her to say she deserved anything.
She would never know what it was like to be a mother. And though she kept telling herself that was for the best, she wasn’t sure she believed it.
She removed her bra and panties, turned off the light, and situated herself in her bed.
An orange glow from a streetlamp outside spilled into the room, as it always did.
The only sound she could hear was the occasional revving of a motor as cars passed the street outside.
She and Kinzer lived a lonely life, though she couldn’t say it was any lonelier than the one she’d lived before she’d met him. Back then, it was she and her pimp, Kirk, who tricked her out. They’d eagerly accept the rewards of her labor and then spend the rest of the night enjoying crank. It’d been less than a year since she’d lived that life, but it seemed so far away now. So much had happened, so much had been revealed to her. And now she was stuck in this new sort of loneliness, without the aid of anything to relieve her.

Maggie woke with a start.
She heard something in the darkness, rolled off the makeshift bed, and grabbed the sword Kinzer had given her, which was tucked between the wall and her mattress.
A blade glistened in the light pouring in from the street. She struck before her and blocked it.
“Quick thinking,” Kinzer said.
She was pissed and relieved all at once.
It was just another of Kinzer’s tests.
After that dark day when Kinzer had rescued Maggie after she’d given birth, they’d returned to Dedrus and Treycore’s house, where Kinzer opened a secret compartment in the wall and looted supplies: swords, daggers, vials--an extensive assortment of weapons Dedrus had collected over the years. Kinzer had given her one of the swords, which he informed her had been Dedrus’s. He taught her how to use it, hoping that in the event of an emergency, she’d be able to take on an immortal in a fight. In their time together, he’d helped her become physically fit and prepare to battle immortals to get to the Christ. She knew she wouldn’t easily be able to take such superior creatures on, but she was willing to do whatever was necessary to set things right--to stop the monster she’d birthed from destroying the world.
Initially, Kinzer hadn’t come at her with swords in her sleep, but as she became more and more skilled, his attacks became abrupt, surprising. He’d told her this was the only way to train for a war. And while he was right, it was hardly the way she was used to living her life.
Her heart raced and sweat beaded across her forehead in an instant. She was wide awake, alert.
Kinzer’s movements were quick and powerful. In the dark, all she could see was Kinzer’s silhouette and the luminous sword, which she had to keep up with. Fortunately, Maggie could feel his movements and catch shifts in his position by the change in his silhouette, tricks he’d taught her early on.
As Kinzer pulled his sword back for another attack, Maggie jabbed at him.
He ducked and swung his sword, hitting the side of her legs.
The blow was powerful, and knocked her back onto her mattress.
Kinzer had hit her with the side of the sword, as he usually did to make a point that he could have easily severed off a leg or an arm.
He flipped on the overhead fluorescent lights.
“I’d say that was pretty good,” Maggie said, “considering I haven’t been doing this since before humanity even existed.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It was good. Not good enough, but good.”
He smirked. Maggie sighed.
“‘Night, Maggie.”
He flicked the light back off and headed out.
Maggie tried to catch her breath. She wiped the sweat that had collected on her palms against her sheets.
‘Night? Like I’m gonna be able to get back to sleep now. Fuck you.


A taxi curved through the lush green hills of the Irish countryside.
Treycore gazed at the baby blue sky over the hills, but he wasn’t thinking about his surroundings. He was thinking about a mortal--a very special mortal who’d sacrificed his life to save him.
For months, he’d hunted, scoured the world, searching for an immortal who would take him to the realm where his villainous ex had taken this mortal. But it was not easy to find those who knew the way through the realms, as there were many laws that prevented immortals from crossing into realms other than those they came from.
Though Treycore had acted as a spy for the Almighty, he had been granted a permit to enter the realm as a guard, to watch and ensure that the Leader did not attempt to usurp his authority on the planet. Of course, the Almighty had actually sent him to violate the Council’s restrictions regarding conspiring against the mortal realm. He wanted Treycore and those like him to assist in its demise. Little had the Almighty known, Treycore acted as double agent for the Leader, exchanging intel from the Almighty’s allies to His enemies.
A few months earlier, his cover had been blown when the Raze, one of the Almighty’s private gangs, discovered the moles in their midst and attempted to assassinate he and the other Leader’s allies.
It seemed such a long time since he’d set out on his quest, since he’d gone searching for his mortal lover.
He’d searched high and low for assistance to reach Hell, and though many wished they could assist him, none knew the way. Most of his allies were higherlings, who only had access to portals to Heaven. But he was informed of one higherling who could assist him. Though she was the last higherling anyone thought he would reach out to.
The taxi pulled up a winding pebble drive, which led to a castle in the distance.
This was where he was told she’d be. This is where his only hope dwelled.
When he’d learned of her residence, it had come as a great surprise. This higherling had been one of the Almighty’s greatest prizes. She’d practically reigned alongside the elite in Heaven, as Treycore once had. Now, to know she had been placed in isolation on earth, to be forgotten, saddened Treycore. It reminded him of how much things had changed from the early days, yet he couldn’t divorce himself from the fact that those days had not been so great for all.
The driver parked before a castle, its towers of cracking stone reaching as high as mortals of primitive times could build them. Treycore paid the driver, who said something indiscernible, perhaps a greeting or an insult. He was too focused on his mission to care.
As he headed to the main entrance, a cool wind rushed through the blond locks that dropped into his gaze. It pressed the tips against his eye so he had to brush his hair to the side.
He should have considered his appearance before heading out, especially before meeting with this particular higherling, but since he’d begun his mission, he’d given little thought to his appearance. He just had to save Kid, the mortal boy, whom he’d hardly known, but who had sold his life to Treycore’s villainous ex, Vera, to prevent her from hurting Treycore. Why he made that decision confounded Treycore. He knew how he felt about Kid. His feelings had been so strong--more intense than anything he’d felt over the course of his incredible history of love affairs. He hadn’t understood why he’d felt that way, and he’d cursed himself for feeling so blindly in love with this creature he barely knew. Despite his resentment of those sensations within him, he couldn’t deny that they existed. After Kid had given his own life to protect Treycore when Vera had threatened his life, he had to believe that Kid felt the same for him. Even if he didn’t, he still wouldn’t let Vera keep him in her vile clutches.
That meant he had to follow this path that led him to what seemed now a distant memory. Before his life with Vera, he’d had another lover, who through her work with the Council had access to portals between the realms. As much as he didn’t want to approach her, considering their tumultuous end, he knew if he was to rescue this incredible boy, he would have to sacrifice his pride and request her help.
As he approached the castle entrance, he wondered: Would she let him in? Would she attack him? Considering what he’d discovered about her reason for being locked in isolation, he feared the worst.
Two impressive metal doors with vines etched around their frame guarded the construction, which judging by the cracked and fallen stones around it, had not been kept up properly.
A higherling such as her deserves better.
He pushed on the door, which was unlocked, and allowed himself inside.
The entry was made him wonder if he’d been misled about his ex-lovers whereabouts. White light from overhanging chandeliers illuminated a long hallway. He followed it to a series of rooms, stuffed with piles of magazines and stacks of books, which seemed to be mini-mazes in each room. They were logical possessions of a higherling who had worked as peacekeeper for the Council, as she had been charged with understanding mortal culture. But now that she no longer worked for them, he wondered why she needed them or why they hadn’t been better organized.
As he came to a door at the end of the main hallway, he pressed it open.
Motionless doves were strung all about the room. Mounted on the walls. Laying in piles beside a table with needles and thread. Had she taken taxidermy up as a hobby?
A soft sound caught his attention--a tune he recognized. It took him back eons.
He abandoned the room of lifeless doves and followed the melody.
It led him through another hallway, to a large room. On the opposite wall, French doors opened onto a patio, and just beyond the patio, bright green grass filled the acres of land that went on and on. It was a lovely sight, but it certainly couldn’t rival the sights his ex-lover had been accustomed to in Heaven.
The melody he’d heard came from outside, which didn’t surprise Treycore, as this was where she’d spent most of her time in the golden days of Heaven.
When he stepped out of the castle, he saw, standing next to a large cage, the source of this pleasant sound. Her white gown pooled onto the grass, fanning out around her. As she poured feed from a brown paper bag into a tray in a cage before her, she continued humming.
Treycore descended a small set of stone steps onto the grass, keeping quiet so he wouldn’t alarm her.
His ex pulled the bag back and closed the cage, her baby-powder-white fingers slipping over a latch. Ducking until she was eye-level with a dove on a nearby wooden perch, she smiled, as if expecting it to give thanks for the meal.
Treycore wondered what it must’ve been like. Trapped out here, all alone, with only the company of these doves. In her days in Heaven, she had delighted in the attention of the higherlings--their appreciation of her flawlessness. Treycore recalled how she would wander the Heavenly cathedrals, endlessly laughing, chatting, and singing, just to bathe in the sort of awe the Almighty had intended for her to be surrounded by. How could a creature that had been designed to be praised live like this? Were her days only spent sifting through the magazines and books in the castle and feeding these disgusting creatures? After all that she’d done for the Council, surely the least they could have done was provide her with company.
She rolled the top of the bag shut. Turning toward Treycore, her eyes met his, and she froze.
She was, as she had always been, the embodiment of a living portrait. Swirls of cream locks hovered around her white face, just a few shades lighter than the ivory dress she wore, which vee-d beneath her neck, its cloth wrapping under her arms, shaping tightly against the edges of her chest and hips. Though she looked as if she was about to rush off to her own wedding, the vision was so stunning that, had she worn it to a strip club, Treycore was sure the only side remarks would have been attempts to identify the goddess in white.
But for Treycore, all this beauty was a blur next to those wide, perfectly symmetrical aquamarine eyes, framed by two perfectly-arced eyebrows, a few shades darker than her hair--certainly the Almighty’s way of drawing attention to the glistening pride of his creation.
The sight of those eyes made Treycore’s thoughts cease.
She was perfectly still, as if the picturesque state she found herself in had been permanently captured.
He didn’t speak. He wanted her to initiate the exchange. Considering their past, he felt he needed an invitation to interact with her. She might be reluctant, but their intense history, coupled with her generous heart, made him certain she would at least allow him to vocalize his request. Whether or not she would grant it was another issue.
She wasn’t quick to speak, and she didn’t appear unsettled by the silence. It was as if she was allowing a moment to adjust to the presence of this figure from her memory.
“Trey,” she finally said. Her high-pitched tone was like a symphony to Treycore’s ears--even more so than the one produced by her humming.
He waited for her to add a greeting or a remark, but she just stood there, staring.
Her gaze finally released him as she scanned her surroundings, as if trying to remember where she was.
“I should’ve cleaned.”
It was an odd comment, filled with innocence and lacking any mortal or immortal etiquette. It was the sort of oblivious comment Treycore would have expected from the higherling when they were together, when she felt safe to be at ease around him. It brought him relief. It was as if no time had passed since their last encounters.
He smirked. “It’s fine. It’s good to see you again.”
Her free hand rushed to her face and massaged her cheek. Her eyes widened, as if she’d seen something horrifying. “Oh, I--”
“You look flawless, Eilee.”
“Oh, no, no.”
She hurried up the steps and rushed across the patio, into the castle.
Treycore followed.
They passed through the magazine labyrinth and the stacks of books that Treycore had encountered when he’d first entered. Eilee didn’t comment or seem aware of them as she hurried along. Rushed as she appeared, she didn’t manage a pace faster than one that permitted her hips to shift ever-so slightly--in a way that Treycore remembered all too well. The way that kept all the higherlings, male and female, lusting after her physique.
Treycore followed her through a series of halls and stairwells to a room, which he assumed was where she slept. Like the other rooms, magazines and books littered the floor. These were open and ripped apart. Various scraps and pieces of articles and passages were collected in patterns on the floor.
Again, he wondered, if she was no longer with the Council, what need she had for this cultural hoarding.
Eilee paid equal attention to this mess as she had the ones downstairs. Approaching a vanity adjacent to a wall-sized window, she sat and riffled through boxes, perfume bottles, and makeup cases. She gazed at her reflection, her eyes searching it, as if scrutinizing every immortal pore, every crafted divot.
Treycore stepped beside a bed a few feet from her, waiting for her to finish her inspection.
She fiddled with various vials and cases, making small, precise adjustments, like an artist fine-tuning his masterpiece. Although, had the Almighty seen her adjustments, He would have surely been furious Eilee believed He had somehow erred with her creation.
Several minutes passed before she finally pulled her attention from the mirror. She shifted her body in the chair, arching her back slightly, stepping one foot from a knee-high slit in her seeming wedding gown.
She looked like a model, posing for her photographer. Even the smile that slowly spread across her face seemed to be little more than a performance to accentuate the most elegant parts of her well as make them appear effortless.
Treycore had been away from her beauty for so long, he had hardly been able to recall the magnitude of its brilliance. She was more aesthetically pleasing than Vera ever could have been, for the Almighty had done no one the service He had done his dear Eilee.
“Eilee--” he began.
She shook her head.
“No, no,” she said with a playful smirk. “Not here.”
He followed her back downstairs, to the patio. They walked through the yard, into a garden.
White, cream, and yellow flowers lined the green of tree-high bushes and eye-level shrubs. Cages were weaved into the arrangements, containing more white doves that perched quietly, as if biding time on the way to their inevitable end. In the center of this garden, a geyser spewed from the beaks of two dove statues. The water made an “M” as it arched out and splashed into a fountain, where two swans glided effortlessly about.
As Eilee sat on the edge of the fountain, the swans’ gazes turned to her, as if even in their lowly state, they could detect the elegant presence of their creator through her.
Treycore understood why she had brought him here, for nowhere in the castle had she looked as picturesque and flawless as she did in that very spot.
Her gaze lifted to the clear blue sky. Her eyes filled with ease, though Treycore knew it was an artificial ease Eilee had managed to capture through long, meditative moments before her reflection.
She turned to Treycore, pressing either hand against the marble stone. Glancing him up and down, a vengeful look glistened in her pupils. Treycore knew that look. It was condescending, judgmental. It was the one he deserved.
“Well, Trey, what brings you all the way out here?” The way she said it, it seemed as if he’d just stumbled upon her--as if the past half an hour hadn’t been filled with the most awkward of introductory exchanges. It was a part of Eilee’s existence, as Treycore recalled: this belief that moments didn’t occur until Eilee decided they should. Perhaps it was the result of all the formative years she’d spent side-by-side with the Almighty. Or perhaps it was simply an exaggerated imprint from Him. Regardless of its origins, it was clear to Treycore that for all intents and purposes, this was the beginning of their encounter.
Treycore was about to speak his motive, when Eilee interrupted with, “No, no. Don’t tell me. Shall I guess?” She giggled. “We could make it a game. Hmmm...”
Her eyes scanned about, as they had before. This time, they were filled with amusement, like she was halfway through charades, trying to piece together clues.
She smiled broadly, tossing her head around as she considered the possibilities. “I can’t imagine that this is a visit to check on my well-being. No. Surely, you wouldn’t have bothered to trek this far simply to see if I was doing well.”
She bit her lip. “I would speculate on the Council sending you to retrieve me from my isolation, but I don’t believe they would consider sending you, unless they’ve developed a cruel sense of humor. No, no. Something worse. Something darker. Something more serious. Has the little parasite abandoned her host?”
She smirked. “As if anyone leaves Treycore. No, no. That can’t be it either.”
She stood, tilting her head as she made her way to one of the cages, the branches of a nearby rose bush weaved into its bars. Eilee rested her hand against the bars, which white rosebuds blossomed around. She gazed at two of the trapped doves that rested on a nearby perch.
It was another picturesque moment, one that seemed as manipulated as all the others, as if she had practiced this performance a thousand times before his arrival.
“Have you little ones any thoughts?” she asked. “Can you speculate on why my Treycore has come so far out of his way to call upon me? Treycore, they don’t seem to know either.”
Her dialogue with the little creatures disturbed him. She had clearly been left on her own for too long.
She laughed again, turned to Treycore, and leaned against the bars of their cage.
“I don’t expect them to reply,” she said. “It’s a joke--a play to mock the news I’m sure you’ve heard about my situation.”
Despite her acknowledgement of the bizarre nature of her words with the doves, Treycore wasn’t positive she’d been entirely insincere.
She released a few more high-pitched giggles.
“I can only imagine the sorts of things you’ve heard. I wish I could say they weren’t true, but they are. At least, some of them, I’m sure.”
“Eilee, we don’t have to--”
“I insist. I don’t want you to rely on the stories. You know how stories make everything so awful. Everything is so distant, so out of context. Just ask the Leader about the power of stories to twist and deceive. They aren’t the real thing. Although, I suppose the only access to the real thing is for one to be witness of it, and it’s a shame you couldn’t have been present to see my side of all this.
“As you know, as peacemaker with the Council, my primary objective was peace. This was all of our objectives. We were to find a way that all the realms could peacefully co-exist. We spent decades dwelling on the subject, reading literature, philosophizing on the nature of peace. Tekker and Dissapha were my colleagues. And after much debate and dispute, we came to the consensus that two important factors were required to create pace. The first, a supreme authority, and second, obedience to laws under this authority. I don’t just mean following reasonable laws. Any law must be followed, even those that are unjust. For instance, let us say that there is a law to not speak out against the authority. Well, anyone who speaks out must be punished, regardless of whether or not their claim is warranted. This is because, in knowing the law and keeping it official and certain, creatures are able to behave accordingly and stay within these parameters, and eventually, it leads to order, which in turn leads to peaceful co-existence.
“Obviously, when establishing this, we gave little thought to the emotional bondage that this necessarily entails. Our work was not to satisfy this, but simply to create the absence of violence and war. I’m sure you’re thinking of all sorts of problems with my simplified version of this philosophy, but I assure you it was well conceived and has far more complex roots than a mind such as yours will be able to work through. And we felt very confident about taking it before the Council. We knew the Council representatives wouldn’t be eager to embrace our philosophy, because there would be debate about what authority should be supreme. The Almighty? The Council? Would this peace not immediately necessitate war to take control over the population? So many factors had to be considered. But this is just the prologue to a greater struggle that I came upon.
“Before we managed to present our case, I became deeply troubled. It seemed strange that my logic had winded me around to existing under the Almighty’s supreme control. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was some sort of universal law or if the Almighty had designed us to think this way? Was it just that He had placed this philosophy in our minds so that we would not transgress against him? But if that was so, how was the Leader able to leave Him? Or were we able to transgress, but still know that the only right way was under His control? For years, I contemplated this idea in the privacy of Heaven’s Jara Library, created specifically for our committee. How in control of our thoughts were we? Could we, could I, be trusted to be the one to decide how peace could come about? I determined I wasn’t. We must’ve been wrong. There must’ve been more. But try as I did, I couldn’t see another way, and I started to perceive my very existence as flawed.”
She looked to Treycore as if she’d just realized something very important. “I know that must be hard to consider, but I felt disgusting. We were wrong. Everything was wrong. As I met with Tekerr and Dissiphia, I just kept seeing error and imperfection. I even started questioning their forms, our forms. They just seemed wrong. Did their legs and arms need to go there? Or was that just where the Almighty had decided they should go? It seems like an odd question to ask now, but at the time, it made perfect sense. And I hardly had any question about my approach as I was severing Dissipha’s arms and legs off. Surely, by taking them apart, I could find the answer. Isn’t that the heart of logic and reason? Taking this apart?
“I was certain this would help me reach my conclusion...and ultimately, reach our conclusion about peace. This was certainly more important than sparing Dissipha’s life...or Tekker’s. Shouldn’t he have felt thrilled to be a part of my great revelation...rather than horrified about the end of his existence? Unfortunately, my experiment didn’t bring me to any solid conclusions, and the Council ended our committee...or what was left of it.”
Her eyes lit up and she put her hand to her face, as if she was about to stifle a giggle. “It sounds insane when I tell it now, but it made so much sense then. I must’ve forgotten some important part of it.”
Her version of the story had concerned Treycore far more than brought him relief...if only because it hadn’t been so different from the story he’d heard before his arrival. She was, as all accounts had assured him, insane. And yet, so much of her seemed as it had before the moment she recounted. So much seemed to be like the creature he’d been so in love with--that he’d been so enchanted by for so long. Still, little besides her beauty captivated his attention now.
“That’s the story of why I’m here, which brings us back to our real question: why are you here? Since I saw you, I’ve been pillaging my memory and thoughts for an answer, but I can’t seem to come up with anything that makes sense. I suppose the wisest decision would be to turn the floor back to you, yet I feel I should find a way to keep speaking, if only to keep you wanting a moment to vocalize your own request. I feel I have the right to keep you in such miserable suspense. But I won’t. I’m hoping whatever tragedy you’ve come here to tell me about is enough to sate my vengeful spirit.”
Since he feared she might not give him another opportunity to speak, he was quick to reveal his mission. “I’m looking for a way to Hell.”
“And so you came to one of the finest creations of the Almighty to get to His divine wastebasket?” She said that, not as a compliment to herself, but an acknowledgment of the absurdity of such a proposition.
“I know, as peacemaker, you were given free reign to move through all the realms while working on your propositions, so I imagine you can help me get there.”
Her expression shifted wildly as she chuckled, her eyes alight with an enthusiasm Treycore thought may have been present when she’d confronted Dissipha and Tekker in all her confusion.
She rested her palm on her ample chest, settling her outburst. She raised it again to remove a tear from just beneath her eye. As she relaxed, she turned and sauntered toward the fountain. “It’s true,” she said, beginning a stroll around it, her dress tailing behind her. “I was granted access to all the realms, and I do know how to reach Hell, but there are so many issues with me assisting you...the first, of course, being that I have no reason to help you. What reason could I possibly have for assisting my deserting lover with reaching his desired destination?”
She sat on the other side of the fountain and leaned back, looking over her shoulder, peering around the wing of one of the dove statues, one of her fine eyebrows arched far higher than the other.
Treycore shrugged. “Because there was a time when the Eilee I knew would have done anything for me, and I’m hoping a part of that creature still exists.”
Eilee’s playful expression transformed to something serious, something cold.
She turned away from him, to a wall of shrubbery before her.
“She did exist, yes. But something terrible happened to her at the hands of her love. He abandoned her, and hurt her in ways she could never recover from.”
She sat in silence. He imagined the sort of sad, pathetic expression she was likely making away from him, fearing he may see her in a most unpleasant, uncontrolled moment.
She cocked her head and rose to her feet, continuing around the fountain. “But let’s set her desire aside for a moment. Why does the great Treycore need to venture to Hell? What business does he have there? Was I right about him needing to meet with the temptress?”
“I guess you’ve been disconnected from immortal gossip for some time.”
“How so?”
“I left Vera.”
The light reentered her gaze.
“Really?” she asked.
She approached him swiftly, frighteningly so. He backed away until his shoulder blades hit a shrub behind him.
“You don’t need to be frightened of me, Trey. How have I ever hurt you? If anyone should be afraid, it’s me, because you have hurt me so much...far more than any other creature is capable of inflicting pain on me.”
She set her hands on his arms and caressed them. Her gaze transformed to something familiar, like the gaze he’d once seen. For a moment, they transported him to the early days, when all was well in Heaven, and he and Eilee were in love.
“Come, Treycore. There’s been too much war as it is. We can end all this. We can make peace where the rest of the realms have created strife.”
“No, we can’t,” Treycore said, snapping out of her spell.
She tilted her head, as if confused by his words.
“Because I don’t love you, Eilee. And the reason I came here is because I have to get to someone I do love.”
Her white face flashed scarlet. Her features trembled. She turned away from him sharply, then turned back and slapped him across his face. As her hand made contact with his cheek, she curled her fingers, digging her nails into his face.
“And I’m supposed to assist you?” she asked.
Treycore grabbed his wound and took a breath, regaining his composure.
“Who is it now? Another fallen? Do you even know what the higherlings say about the beauty who was left for the mud-faced tramp? Did you even consider how mocked I would become because you found something so marvelous in that vile, wicked maggot?”
“Please. I need to get to Vera’s.”
Her face grew even redder. She struck him again. He pulled away so not to catch her claws as he had before.
“Do you mock me, Treycore? Do you think I’m so beyond my reason that I can’t see your little trick. You think I don’t see what’s happening? You and your slut have fought and now you ask me to carry you to Hell so you may win her back. The gall it must have taken for you to decide to approach me with such a selfish request. How dare you? You would have better luck asking the Leader to reconcile with the Almighty.”
“It’s not Vera I’m after. She has the one I love.”
The red on Eilee’s face dissipated. Her lips made an o-shape, as if the news genuinely surprised her. A wicked gleam entered her eyes.
“You left her?”
“Yes,” Treycore said, thinking it unfortunate Eilee was surely reveling in Vera’s discontent.
Bowing over, she clapped her hands together and rose back to her ex-love.
“So you don’t love her? You love another? And in her rage, she has taken your new love from you?”
She appeared sober, as if she’d shaken from whatever madness she’d been trapped within. She beamed, wearing a smile greater than most Treycore had ever seen her face entertain.
“That’s right.”
She pursed her lips, gazing off as she thought on this. “Well, Treycore. I can’t say I want to reunite you with any lover. I can’t say that makes me even a little happy.”
Treycore figured as much, but he was glad that he had tried. It was all he could do.
“Then thank you, Eilee,” he said. He turned and headed back to the castle. If she was not going to oblige his request, he had no reason to entertain Eilee another moment, especially considering the fragile state she was in. He needed to let her be and work on finding other arrangements.
She ran up beside him, skipping like a child.
“Wait, wait.” She snatched his arm, which concerned him, as they reminded him of her tales of mutilations. “You must stay. I’ve changed my mind completely. I do want to help.”
Treycore stopped, turned to her. “You do?”
“Of course! I would love to help you get back to you love. But I have some conditions.”
Treycore nodded, encouraging her to express them.
“One, you are to take me with you.”
“Out of the question.”
Her face grew stern. “Treycore, unlike you, I have ventured into Hell. I understand the layout. I understand how to get around. Whether you like it or not, without a Teleporter, you are left in need of a guide, and I am the only one who can assist you with that.”
Treycore had to admit she was right, but he wasn’t comfortable with the idea for a number of reasons: Eilee’s safety for one, his own for another.
“Two,” she continued. “I want to be present when you meet with her. I want to see the look on her face when we come to retrieve your love.”
“No! You know Vera. She’s on guard, awaiting my arrival. Who knows what traps she may set?”
“I fought in the war, same as you, so I expect you to treat me as if I can offer something to this quest. What? You don’t think I can handle Vera? I may lose when desire chooses victor, but I doubt I will when we leave the decision to the sword.”
“She’s a Teleporter,” Treycore said, stressing her clear advantage.
“Vera has that, yes. But the greatest power she’s ever created was the fire she stirred in me, and it is with that I wish to destroy her.”
“I’m not letting you turn this into a game of vengeance.”
“Then you will find a new way of reaching your destination.”
Treycore stormed off.
“Trey!” Eilee shouted behind him. “When you finally make your way to Hell, by whatever means you choose, I hope you remember your love had to stay with Vera just a little longer simply because you were unwilling to bargain with selfish, but understandable requests.”
Treycore’s pace slowed. She had a good point. He couldn’t just leave Kid down there, waiting. Who knew what Vera was doing to him?
He turned back to his ex-lover, who sported a wicked grin, as if she knew the power of the words she’d used against him.
“I should warn you, though,” she said. “I don’t know the most luxurious of ways through the darkness. We will have to venture through the outerlands and break through the border in order to reach her. If you’re up for the challenge, I of course, will be more than happy to help, but it will be dangerous.”
“I have nothing to live for if I can’t save him. Are you so eager to rush to your own potential death?”
“I already lost the thing I lived for, so it seems we’re in the same boat.”
He sighed, frustrated. Surely, she shouldn’t go. And yet, he knew he needed her. She was his only way to Kid.

“Shall I pack my things?” she asked with a wink.