Author Spotlight: Ellison Cooper

cgHey everybody I have been out of pocket for a minute but I do have an excuse. I have been editing the monster that is my new fantasy novel (Title Pending). Had no idea what I was getting into. The cultural research alone could have earned me a second master’s degree. BTW, now I know what to call medieval stuff…extremely useful knowledge in 2018.

Anyway, I have a book recommendation for you. “Caged” is Ellison Cooper’s debut thriller.

Here is some info about the book:

“FBI neuroscientist Sayer Altair hunts for evil in the deepest recesses of the human mind. Still reeling from the death of her fiance, she wants nothing more than to focus on her research into the brains of serial killers. But when the Washington D.C. police stumble upon a gruesome murder scene involving a girl who’d been slowly starved to death while held captive in a cage, Sayer is called in to lead the investigation. When the victim is identified as the daughter of a high profile senator, Sayer is thrust into the spotlight.

As public pressure mounts, she discovers that another girl has been taken and is teetering on the brink of death. With evidence unraveling around her, Sayer races to save the second victim but soon realizes that they are hunting a killer with a dangerous obsession…a killer who is closer than she thought.”

Praise for Caged:

“Dark and mesmerizing…channels equal parts KATHY REICHS and THOMAS HARRIS…You will read till the bitter end…then sleep with the lights on!”
Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author

“I started and couldn’t stop.”
—F. Paul Wilson, New York Times bestselling author

CAGED is a gripping thriller debut for fans of Kathy Reichs, Thomas Harris, and Patricia Cornwell.

Ellison’s Bio:

Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archaeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central , West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington DC, and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. She now lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son.

Social Media

web: http://ellisoncooper.com/

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EllisonCooperAuthor 

twitter: https://twitter.com/ECooperAuthor

instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ecooperauthor/

goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17392133.Ellison_Cooper

It’s always important to support new authors. Wishing the best of luck to Ellison Cooper! Here’s where to find Caged:

Amazon: http://hyperurl.co/CagedAmazon

IndieBound: http://hyperurl.co/CagedIndieBound

Book-A-Million: http://hyperurl.co/CagedBAM

iBooks: http://hyperurl.co/CagedApple

Don’t forget to check out my work on Amazon or any other bookstore. My newest novel Where Angels Sing is on sale now.

Author Spotlight: Michael Niemann

Nieman.jpgMichael Niemann is an author I like to follow. His popular Valentin Vermeulen series follows a UN investigator to exotic places around the world. His thrillers are well-plotted and crisp stories. His new book Illegal Holdings is the third in his Vermeulen series. Here is a synopsis of Illegal Holdings:

UN fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen is on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. His ho-hum task is to see if Global Alternatives is spending UN money the way they promised. The nonprofit was set up by hedge fund mogul Vincent Portallis to revolutionize development aid. The only upside for Vermeulen is the prospect of seeing his lover Tessa Bishonga, who is reporting on foreign land acquisitions in Africa.

When Vermeulen notices that a five-million-dollar transfer has gone missing, he is given the run-around. First he is told the files have been mislaid, then stolen, then he is assured that the money was never transferred to begin with. But the money was transferred, so where is it now? Vermeulen’s dogged pursuit of the missing transfer makes him the target of some ruthless operators. And once he meets up with Tessa, she is inevitably sucked in to the story as well, which turns out to be far more nefarious than either of them imagined.

Illegal Holdings is available in all formats. Here is an excerpt:

“An Uncanny Sense

It was just another Tuesday morning in late January, the warmest and rainiest month in Maputo. Acacia pods littered the streets of Mozambique’s capital, and its million-and-a-half residents were looking forward to winter.
The email, which arrived at the Nossa Terra office at eight thirty, hit Aisa Simango like a fist in the stomach.
She was looking out the window. That much she remembered afterwards. Looking at the Avenida Vladimir Lenine, thinking that the street seemed forlorn in the watery morning light. Why she was looking out of the window, she didn’t remember. She should have been printing the agenda for the nine o’clock staff meeting, steeling herself for the chaos that erupted when her staff barged into the office.
Instead, she was standing by the window, pensive. Maybe she’d stopped to straighten the picture of her children, Alima and João, on the windowsill. Sometimes the vibrations of a heavy truck driving by nudged it closer to the edge. Or perhaps she was thinking about the Sofala Project, wondering if it stood any chance of being completed on time.
In any case, her computer dinged, she sat down and opened the message.
It came from the Maputo office of Global Alternatives, the Swiss foundation set up by hedge-fund billionaire Vincent Portallis. The foundation was a newcomer to the development-aid field. It undertook big, flashy projects, lured famous actors to its causes, and dispensed a trickle of the millions of dollars it leveraged to local subcontractors like Nossa Terra.
The message itself started with the usual noncommittal niceties—Greetings, Aisa. How are things? It’s been a while—but got to the point quickly. We’ve emailed Helton  Paito repeatedly regarding a discrepancy in the disbursements. We’ve received no reply. Would you kindly review the numbers in the attached spreadsheet and supply the proper documentation, or alternatively, remit the specified amount to Global Alternatives?
She wasn’t worried yet. Not then. The message sounded more pro forma than anything. Just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Making sure all the numbers added up, accountability and efficacy being big buzzwords in the donor community. Most likely, Helton was already dealing with it. Her first glance at the spreadsheet also didn’t raise any suspicions. Yes, they had proposed to spend those sums for those purposes. She knew, because she had personally reviewed the project proposal before submitting it five months ago.
It was the last column that sent her reeling. She rubbed her eyes, focused on the street outside, then back on the screen. The numbers were still there, including the last one, bold and in bright red. Like dabs of blood left on the screen. The number was too large, too ghastly to imagine. Five million dollars. Unaccounted for, missing, not properly documented. No matter what phrase she came up with, it still meant trouble, serious trouble.
Of course, it was all wrong. Five months ago, when they’d been notified that the project in Sofala had been accepted, everybody had clapped. But so far, they’d only received a small disbursement. Enough to set up the infrastructure and hire personnel. Certainly not five million dollars.
She got up. Went to the window. And back to her desk. She grabbed her mobile. Call Global Alternatives, ask if there has been a mistake, if this is someone’s idea of a joke. She didn’t. Obviously, Global Alternatives wouldn’t make a mistake or a joke.
There were documents, receipts, invoices for the hundred thousand they’d received. They could account for all expenditures. She dialed Helton’s number. He would know where the mistake lay, which numbers had ended up in the wrong column, projected expenses instead of disbursements, or vice versa. He was her second in command and usually the second one through the door in the morning. He answered after four rings.
Bom dia, Helton,” she said. “Where are you?”
“Just got off the chapa at Julius Nyerere. Be there in fifteen.”
“I need you here now.”
The chapa stop, where the minibus taxis dropped and picked up passengers, was close enough, one of the reasons they had chosen an office so far from central Maputo. But Helton liked to check out the wares of the hawkers along the roundabout connecting Avenida Vladimir Lenine and Avenida Julius Nyerere.
“I still need breakfast. Why the hurry? Tudo bem?”
“No, everything isn’t okay. Where are we with the Sofala Project.”
“We completed the first phase. We rented a space, hired a local manager, did the registration and all that. Next phase is community meetings. Then comes the big stuff—land acquisition.”
“And we’ve spent what, a hundred thousand?” She hated the guessing game. A sheet of paper, better yet, an old-fashioned ledger with dated entries for every last centavo would have calmed her.
“Yes, about that much.”
“And you have documentation for every expenditure?” She held her breath without meaning to. Helton had been good for Nossa Terra, even if she didn’t always get along with him. He was the accountant who’d made it possible to land projects like the one with Global Alternatives.
“Of course. I’ll be there soon. Até já.”
He sounded both upset and defensive when he ended the call.
She went back to the window. The melancholy she felt when looking at the Avenida Vladimir Lenine in the rain was more bearable than the dejection evoked by the stark office. When Nossa Terra first moved here after their big expansion four years earlier, the soulless space had weighed on her. But the rent was cheap and Nossa Terra had no money. Since then, new employees had tried to spruce it up. They affixed posters to the walls and brought in all sorts of plants. In the end, they all surrendered to the futility of the makeover, giving in to the cement walls, impervious to any improvement.
Before the move, Nossa Terra had been a scrappy community organization fighting for land so its members could farm. It had taken Aisa in thirteen years earlier. She had just given birth to João sixteen months after having Alima. Their father up and left, unwilling to face raising children. She was desperate for food, shelter, companions. She wasn’t much of a farmer, but she had an uncanny sense of the limit beyond which the authorities would abandon any pretense of accommodation and just call the police. That skill helped her get concessions, then leases, and eventually, land titles.
By that time, the global aid complex had fully embraced Mozambique. Nossa Terra was noticed. Graduate students from Scandinavian universities came to study it. A documentary filmmaker from Brazil shot enough footage to put together an hour-long feature.
When the foundations came knocking, Aisa, the single mom, was ready. She hired three staff not knowing how she’d pay them at the end of the month and drew up a proposal to expand the work Nossa Terra had done near Maputo to the next province. After submitting the proposal, she landed her first project, worth a hundred thousand dollars, three days before payroll came due.
Helton barged into the office. He seemed to compress the air in any room he entered. The others called him “Hilton,” not because he was as refined as a luxury hotel, but as big as they imagined a Hilton to be. It wasn’t just his size. With his shiny face, wooly hair, spotty beard, and big smile, he exuded maleness, not in a primordial sense, more in a here’s-a-guy’s-guy sense. Men liked him automatically. Many women did, too. Even some who worked at Nossa Terra. Aisa wasn’t one of them.
“What’s the matter with the Sofala Project?” he said, stopping in the open door.
“Have they contacted you?”
“Yes. Routine stuff. Why?”
Closing the door, he walked to his desk, took off the blue suit coat, and hung it over the back of the chair. Helton always wore a suit, shirt, and tie. Since he only had the one suit, time had taken its toll on the garment. Aisa thought a simple shirt with tie would look far better, but the suit was part of Helton’s guyness.
“So far they’ve disbursed a hundred thousand?” she said.
“Yes, yes. I told you.”
“I received an email from Global Alternatives. They mentioned discrepancies. They say they have repeatedly sent you messages.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve gotten requests for documentation,” he said. “I sent them.”
“Well, the discrepancies are still there.”
“What discrepancies?”
“Five million dollars worth of discrepancies,” she said.
“Impossible.”
She turned to the computer, thinking that Helton’s protestation made him look like he knew more.
“Look at the spreadsheet.”
He plopped into Aisa’s chair, which squeaked under his weight. He jiggled the mouse. The picture of Maputo’s beachfront disappeared and the columns and numbers reappeared, the last one still a blood-red punctuation mark. Helton followed the numbers, his right index finger moving down the screen. He mouthed each number silently. As the finger approached the red number, he started shaking his head.
“No,” he said so quietly she barely heard it. “No, no, no.” His voice became louder with each “No.” Whatever defensiveness Aisa thought she’d noticed was gone. The Helton before her was a man utterly shocked.
“This can’t be,” he said. “They’re basically saying we’ve accepted five million and submitted no expenditure reports, no receipts, nothing. As if we took the money and socked it away in a secret account in Jo’burg.”
“But we didn’t, right?”
He gave her a withering look. “Do you have to ask?”
“I’m sorry, but I do. For the record.”

END.

Here is Niemann’s bio:

Nieman Author pic.jpg

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world.”

Find Michael online here:

http://michael-niemann.com

Twitter: @m_e_niemann

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelNiemannAuthor/

Amazon: (https://www.amazon.com/Illegal-Holdings-Valentin-Vemeulen-Thriller/dp/1603815910/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)

Barnes and Noble: (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/illegal-holdings-michael-niemann/1127477738?ean=9781603815918)

Kobo: (https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/illegal-holdings-1)

 

Author Inspiration: Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D

COVER Daily Writing Resilience[1666]I get a lot of questions from people who ask how I write. Not so much what methods I use or strategy but how do you get a one hundred thousand word story from your head to the page? My answer is always the same: I keep it simple. I see a movie in my head and I write what I see. I word vomit for the first draft hardly striking anything from the page then i print it out and slaughter the first draft with a blue pen (technically it should be a red pen I guess but I’ve had enough bosses bleed over my reports throughout the years that red ink gives me horrible flashbacks). A repeat that process to varying degrees before sending the manuscript to a couple of beta readers that I trust. Once their happy with it I send it away to the publisher to start amassing rejection letters.

Sometimes people are satisfied with that quick answer other times they are not. If that is you then I suggest some light reading on writing process. Part of that process is motivation and planning. In his new book, “Daily Writing Resilience,” Bryan Robinson lays out a path and a strategy for those of you who are on the fence about whether or not you could sit down and get a book done.

“Daily Writing Resilience” provides readers with daily guidance in the form of  quotes, inspiring advice, and writing techniques, helping readers to turn their writing roadblocks into helpful detours. Robinson also provides daily exercises like meditation, breath work, yoga, stress management, gratitude, de-cluttering, and mindful eating. Daily Writing Resilience can help a budding author navigate the daily pressures of meeting goals and sticking to it.

The hard part about writing books is simply sitting down and doing it. No one is there to push you, it is the most blue collar, self directed process one could take on. If you face the very common problem of blocking out time to sit down at the computer and type then the rest of the stuff like plot, character development, style, and voice are irrelevant. If this is you, like it is most of us, Robinson’s “Daily Writing Relience,” may be worth a shot. Here’s Bryan’s bio and where to find him online.

Bio:

Bryan Robinson_6691

Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of two novels and 37 self-help and psychology books that have been translated into 13 languages. His latest is DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS and CHAINED TO THE DESK: A GUIDEBOOK FOR WORKAHOLICS, THEIR PARTNERS AND CHILDREN, AND THE CLINICIANS WHO TREAT THEM. His novel, LIMESTONE GUMPTION, is a multi-award winner, and his latest thriller, BLOODY BONES, was a finalist for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award.

Links:

website: www.bryanrobinsonbooks.com

email: bryan@bryanrobinsonbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RobinsonBryanE

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BRTherapist

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Bryan-Robinson/e/B00DPT3UJ6

Google: https://plus.google.com/+bryanrobinsonnovels/posts

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show59849.Bryan_E_Robinson

Warg Part V

A piercing yowl broke the silent lapping of the lake shore and the night turned electric. The cry had come from the forest further back toward Welbourne. Slowly, other cries and howls joined the first until multiple voices broke the stillness of the lake shore. Wyatt and O’Hare sprinted for camp but before they’d even made it to the tree-line curses and crashing echoed from within.

    “They’re on us Wyatt!” O’Hare yelled, dashing into the wood.

    Wyatt ran on the heels of the older man. The icy, cool numbness came over him as it did two nights ago. Like an invisible suit of armor, the sudden dispassion signaled he was ready.

    They were running toward the sounds of fighting when Wyatt’s legs suddenly gave out and he crashed into a small stand of ferns. His shoulder dug a furrow out of the soft loam of the forest floor and Wyatt cursed. He tried to rise but a sharp jolt of sting like a pick ax driven through his gut dropped him back to the dirt. Curling into a ball he tried to scream but no sound came. His insides twisted and churned as if his belly were full of snakes. Flipping onto his stomach he vomited violently and lay curled in on himself unable to move. His head was pounding as strange sounds of buzzing, shouts from O’Hare, Fynn, and Lemn, pounded in his head.

    Slowly, a soft deep voice reached through the cacophony of pain, “It hurts?” the voice asked.

    The voice held a foreign accent and yet he knew it. Through blurry eyes he saw the black phantom studying him from a faceless cowl.

    “There is always pain at first. Your body has yet to accept itself. Your mind has yet to grasp its new gifts.” the figure seemed to kneel before him, “it will get easier with time.”

    “No,” Wyatt moaned, “No,”

    “No? There’s nothing to dispute. You are what you are. Your one of us now. You belong to the pack.”

    The pain was still there and his senses sizzled. New and sharp smells assaulted his nose but he now had a degree of control. Wyatt felt…different, new.

    “It’s getting easier now.” the black figure commented through his faceless hood. “But there is still pain, hunger.”

    Wyatt could swear the man was smiling in that blackness.

    “Tonight, you feed with us.”

    A sharp curse cracked through the forest. A vicious roar responded. Wyatt looked toward camp, and the bluffs beyond.

    “Though they fight mightily, we both know they are no match for us.”

    Wyatt issued a deep rumbling growl, his strength growing. The faces of his father, mother, little sister, appeared to him in the dark stranger’s hood. They pleaded with him, cried out for him.

    “I seemed to be able to handle you just fine,” his voice terrified him. His voice was a grinding, harsh mush of garbled utterings.

He sprang for the man and the dark figure dissipated like a mist. A rotten decaying smell swirled around him. Sounds of thrashing, grunts, yelps, and an angry snarl called to him. The greens and browns of the forest blurred as he dashed toward the battle.

***

    As O’Hare reached camp he realized Wyatt was not with him. The realization cooled him and his mind sprang with dark possibilities. The horses were gone, and the provisions lay strewn around the small clearing as if the camp had been hit by a tornado. Fynn and Lemn were gone, a quick curse in the distance pointed him toward the bluffs.

    A trail of broken brush, and torn forest floor lay before him. He ran, heart pumping, chest heaving. The trail angled upward toward a large slab of granite jutting out of the brown wall of trees and dirt. A glistening crimson patch smeared the gray stone.

    Sounds of the fighting had softened. O’Hare realized there were no sounds of the forest to speak of as he cautiously angled himself around the boulder. Lemn stared at him, the boy’s eyes were locked in horrid amazement. His head rested on his chest at a grotesque angle, held to his shoulders only by a thin strip of flesh. O’Hare paused a moment and noted the blood dripping from the boys old notched sword. He’d made a showing of himself. O’Hare darted up the steep incline, his moccasin clad feet slipping in places on the soft earth. Toward the top of the rise a lanky, brown beast with a head the size of an ox was draped across a perilously leaning trunk of an ash tree. It’s snout red, thick coarse fur covering its chest was matted and slick from where Lemn had struck it through the heart.

    O’Hare left the animal where it lay and found himself on a rocky outcropping. Small boulders rose from high brown grass like the humps of giant tortoises. A barking growl and yip alerted him to a large boulder toward the edge. Sword raised, he crept around the rock. Fynn reached for him, his words trapped in a red froth gushing from his chin. A Warg had its snout buried in his gut.

    O’Hare charged and was on the monster before it could move. It turned, shreds of flesh hanging from its chin, lips curled in a grotesque snarl as O’Hare sliced through the beast’s broad neck. Blood erupted from the monster and it spasmed. Powerful, kicking legs knocked O’Hare from his feet. His sword was sent twisting and flailing over the bluff toward the rocks below.

    The Warg quivered at his feet, O’Hare gasped for breath. He watched it until he was sure it was dead then went to his longtime friend. Fynn was propped against the boulder. O’Hare surveyed what remained.

    Shaking his head slowly O’Hare dropped to the grass next to his friend. Exhausted, his whole body trembled, but Wyatt was still out there. Gathering his strength, he rolled to his left just as the brush in front of his face exploded. Black fur, bright green eyes, and white fangs shot toward him. O’Hare fell to his back and the massive beast over shot him. Almost the size of a bear with the sharp ears, long snout, and build of a wolf. The beast was black as onyx; it’s fur shimmered as it turned toward him. His sword was gone, he reached for the dagger he kept at his waist; also gone. Scrambling backward he hit the same broad boulder Fynn had died on. The beast closed slowly. Too slowly, as if it wanted to savor the kill. O’Hare let out a roar of his own,

    “Come on ya bastard!” he swung at its jaw.

    The beast roared back, hot noxious breath blew over him like the winds from hell. Part of him wanted to cower, to cover up and bury his head, so he wouldn’t see what was coming. But a fury deep inside the man refused. His Anne demanded he fight to the end. He leaned forward and spit what he could scrounge from a barren mouth right across the beasts snout and shouted,

    “Ha!”

***

Wyatt sailed across the forest floor following the scent of battle. It lay out in front of him, so thick he could almost see it; a sickly, iron tang of blood mixed with earth, sweat and fear.

    He shot past the camp like a lightning bolt and was up the hill flying over the slick ground and rocks. At a bulbous gray boulder he caught Lemn’s scent, he was dead. Just as quickly he leaped over the limp form of the Warg that had taken him. Its musk trailed him like smoke when he broke through the trees onto the outcropping.

    There he caught sight of O’Hare, on his back close to the drop off. A black monster the size of an ox loomed over him. Its massive paw raised to slash him to pieces.

***

    O’Hare was staring into those great green eyes when they suddenly bulged outward. The warg’s long body buckled as a brown cannonball took it broadside.

    The monster shrieked and tried to lash out at the massive, shaggy missile but its slashing claws met only open air as it drifted over the cliff. Flailing like a cat falling from a roof the black form spun slowly four legs spasming until crunching against the rock fall below. O’Hare stared at the still mass of fur and blood for a long moment. Then a low, Wuff! Drew his attention to a huge Warg resting on its haunches before him.

    Afraid to move and too exhausted to care, he slowly shifted until the two of them were eye to eye. It snuffed toward the cliff then looked back at him. A glistening black ear dropped from its mouth. A self-satisfied rumbled echoed from the monster’s chest.

O’Hare’s jaw dropped.

    The Warg shook its head, jowls flapping, waves of thick fur coursed down it’s long, lean body. Beast and man shared a long examination of each other, a mix of fear, sadness, elation, and relief passing between them. O’Hare was transfixed by those wide dark eyes. He could swear the intelligence and spirit of the boy he knew burned within the depths. An instant later the beast was gone, leaving only swirling tall grass in its wake.

    O’Hare leaned against the boulder and let the sun warm his face, no way, he told himself, couldn’t be…

END

Don’t forget to check out my work on Amazon or any other bookstore.

My newest novel Where Angels Sing is on sale now.


Warg Part IV

The ride up the lake shore was quiet. Wyatt could swear the other three were watching him. He kept his eyes on the trail. The mood of the riding party seemed to have a chill.

    About midday, sun high over the lake, they noticed a column of smoke to the north. The thick black smoke struck upward into the sky like a dark tower.

    “Welbourne,” O’Hare muttered.

    It was dusk when they reached Welbourne. Wyatt was sore and his horse held its head low. The path had led them into the woods to the west of the village. At the top of a hill where the tree-line offered a striking view to the heart of the village the trail veered sharply downhill.

    The four men led their horses into a square. Wisps of smoke and the sharp stench of fire filled their nostrils and burned their eyes. In the center of the square was a fountain in the image of the water bearer. Its cherubic face blackened by soot a steady flow of water streamed from a flask it held in its pudgy hands to a pool. The water was dark and cloudy. On the other side of the square stood the charred framework of three buildings. The center looked to be an inn and the two to either side could have been the town hall or maybe a mercantile. Wyatt and the others walked their horses slowly toward the dozen or so villagers milling about. As they passed the fountain Wyatt saw a long row of bodies shrouded in white, men, women, and children. A soot covered figure walked among them. Wyatt flinched as the man used a hatchet to chop through the neck of what appeared to be a small child.

    “What the hell?” he blurted out. The man with the hatchet looked at him through red and watering eyes, they were dull, empty.

    “Leave it be Wyatt,” said O’Hare.

     Several of them were looking at them, hands on swords.

    O’Hare approached a large man in front of the burned-out inn, “What happened here?”

    “Wargs,” he spat. “three monstrous beasts attacked us las’ night just after dark. Tore through our town meetin’ like the dark one incarnate.” the man’s voice quivered.

    Wyatt felt Fynn staring at him. When he looked to the older man, there was an unveiled malevolence that made Wyatt’s spine tingle.

    “There was nothin we could do. They’re all claw and fang, they tore our people apart.”

    “Were they stopped?” O’Hare asked.

    The big man could only shake his head.

    “Which way did they flee?”

    He looked up at O’Hare, “Who cares.” he looked over the four of them, “They’re monsters straight out a hell.”

    “Yes,” O’Hare said, “but in what direction did they flee?”

    The big man kicked the debris at his feet and flicked a thumb up the main street, north, “Straight outta town near as we can tell. If yer chasin them yer outta yer mind.”

    O’Hare ignored the man. His face was sad as he thanked him, “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said quietly.

    Turning his horse North, the others followed. The villagers quickly formed to question the big man as they left.

    Looking for any sign of tracks in the well beaten street Wyatt’s eyes drifted to the row of bodies covered in white. His stomach dropped as he passed the body of a brown haired girl. Her face was pale and peaceful in death. A crimson stain covered the white cloth at her neck. He knew her throat had been ripped out. He didn’t realize he’d stopped until the man with the hatchet croaked,

    “Ya alright, boy.”

    Wyatt was shaking, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t tear his eyes away from that still, peaceful face. The face from his dream. Though in his memory her beautiful features were contorted in a in a primal terror.

    “No,” Wyatt whispered. Looking at the man Wyatt immediately keyed in on a dark figure over the man’s shoulder. The darkness seemed a hole, a void. He couldn’t see his face but he knew the dark man was leering at him.

    “Wyatt!” O’Hare shouted his iron hands wrapping around his bicep. Snapping too Wyatt noticed the man with the hatchet watching him.

    “It’s for her own good, lad.” he said, nodding to the red-brown stained hatchet. “Otherwise she would return as one of the cursed.” His voice was a barely controlled rasp.

    Wyatt was startled, he nodded, “Of course,” Looking over the man’s shoulder again there was nothing but a sapling growing in a small yard between two buildings. “I’m sorry,” he told the man and turned away. The others followed, Fynn mumbled something to O’Hare.

    An hour before the sun set they stopped for camp. They were near a bloated creek at the base of a cliff leading to high bluffs above the lake. Once camp was set Wyatt and Lemn went scrounging for firewood. Lemn had long finished and was helping his father with rations when O’Hare noticed Wyatt missing.

    Following the narrow path along the stream he broke through the wood line to see the younger man perched on a boulder staring out across the lake. The horizon a mix of orange, red, and violet. Wyatt didn’t move as he approached. O’Hare noted the teens vacant stare across the water.

    “What you saw in the village today bothers you doesn’t?”

    Wyatt sniffed hard and nodded.

    “They said wargs did it. That we are chasing wargs, shape-shifters. If they attacked our village is that what happened to my family. We’re their…” Wyatt choked back something deep within, “Did they…?”

    O’Hare kicked a loose stone, orange and gray and black into the small tide lapping at the shore. After a long moment he said, “I was the one ta do it. Theirs, my own, Annie, and others. That task fell to me.”

    Oh God, “I…” Wyatt tried to say but O’Hare waved him off.

    A long silence hung between the two men until Wyatt said in a low voice, “I saw them,”

    O’Hare didn’t understand, “Saw who?”

    “I saw them, the Wargs.” he said quietly. “They were in my dream. They were at the village. I saw…I ran with them in the woods and there was a man. He wore black, and hid his face, but I knew it was a man. He led us, the pack. Led us through the woods to the edge of the village then…” Wyatt’s voice was a quivering whisper. The rest wouldn’t come out. He could see her face, hear her scream cut off as he tore her throat out. He felt sick. “I saw them, the girl at the village. I saw her die.” Taking his eyes from the boulder, he stopped tracing the crack and looked up. “I think I killed her. I think I’m one of the cursed.” Wyatt wiped at his eyes.

    O’Hare stared grimly at the shoreline. To hear a boy, he’d known since birth say so rationally, that he was one of the cursed? Strangely, O’Hare couldn’t bring himself to be surprised. He was the one to pull the monster off him. The monster’s blood that had run over him like a fountain. It was a miracle he survived at all, much less to rise from the bed unscathed. O’Hare hated himself the minute he saw him on the stairs at the inn. He’d hoped for his own sake the boy would die. He’d known then what needed to be done yet he stopped Fynn and the others. The boy was touched by the beast. Shared blood with the beast. He closed his eyes and could see their faces, the whole crowd. He was squeezing the pommel of his sword.

    “What am I to do?”

    The simple question snapped him back. In the growing darkness the two men stared at each other. Finally, O’Hare opened his mouth to speak…

To be continued…

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