Brida Anderson

Urban Fantasy

Category: Writing/Blogging (page 1 of 3)

NaNoWriMo across the World

In prep for NaNoWriMo 2015, over at NaNo-Headquarters they blog about The NaNoWriMo Writers’ Heritage, “Road Trip to NaNo”. A great idea. The lateset blog post is the one I stumbled on first and was written by Eve Shi (@Eve_Shi on Twitter), Municipal Liason for the Indonesian Writers.

The Road Trip to NaNo posts so far have been about:

It’s always a good idea to “look over the edge of our own plate”, as the German saying goes. So I’m looking forward to future installments of the “NaNo Road Trip” series.

On a different note, it makes me CRAZY and sad that I can’t take part in NaNoWriMo this year.

Robin isn't too keen on November

Robin isn’t too keen on November

I have too many unfinished books that have to be finished first. The kids’ long summer vacation and closing of schools again for 2 weeks for autumn break really put a dent in my schedule. “Poison Patch” was supposed to be reworked with the editors’ comments until the end of August, then the German translation of “Hedge Games” edited in September. I had planned to use October to finally work on our Kickstarter project (non-book related) and to prep for the NaNo book.

When I see the happy NaNo anticipation that sends ripples through the internet right now, I really, really want to take part!

I love the crazy-busy atmosphere of writing a NaNo book in November, the cameraderie with my Nano buddies and Facebook friends who also crank out 5-10-15 pages or more each day, the sleepy urgency of having to get up one hour earlier than usual (so at 5 am) to get in writing time before the kids wake … Magical times. Sigh.

Maybe I won’t be able to stay away. ;-)

Maybe it’s also time to hunt down some fellow Wrimos in Qatar this November. We can’t be many  — there isn’t even a region Qatar at Nano, only “Elsewhere: Middle East”.

The sounds of Urban Fantasy

Research on the Poison Patch front: What is the sound a sword makes that is pushed back into the scabbard? It’s not slid back, it’s shoved in with a decisive push and that makes a nice, short…clattering sound, for lack of a better word.

Googling for possible words brought me to TV Tropes. Love their entry “Audible Sharpness“, with such highlights as:

When weapons with sharp and cutting edges are brandished, a vaguely metallic sound effect will be inserted (along with a bit of Lens Flare) to signify just how lethally sharp the weapon is.The tone of the sharpness, as with musical instruments, is dependent on size.

(…)
Common in animated works, sometimes as a trope, and sometimes as a humorous subversion. Sometimes even non-metal objects make a metallic scraping sound, like a predator’s row upon row of pointed teeth.
(…)

Keep in mind, the creators know that sharp things don’t make noise.

Right at the top of the page I came across a quote from one of my favorite novels. I fell in love all over again and just had to stop work on revising Poison Patch to make a picture out of the Terry Pratchett quote. Hope you like! Here it is to share:

 

Claws make no noise Quote Terry Pratchett
I totally agree. Swords should make a fat ringing sound when pulled from any scabbard, even stealthy leather ones, and claws need a ZING to show their sharpness. ;-) Don’t you agree?
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The spam trolls try to eat this blog for breakfast if I leave comments open. I’d love to hear what you think, though, so talk to me on Facebook or through Twitter instead.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson writes Urban Fantasy and Steampunk. Hedge Games released in December 2013 and she’s hard at work on its sequel, Poison Patch. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Be a good writer and eat your showdown

A glass of water. A handful of dried tart cherries. Two dates stuffed with cardamom and ground nuts. A small piece of parmesan. A few more cherries …

Still not right. I needed something else to nibble on while the water for my tea heated. But what? I was raiding the shelves and the fridge for the second time when I realized what I was doing.

I’ve been reading a lot about Mindful Eating last month. I found triggers and habits that keep me snacking even when I’m not hungry. Or rather: some emotions maskerade as hunger, but eating will never be enough. Because you’re not actually hungry. Go figure.

Brida_Anderson_Blogpost Mindful Eating Writing Showdown

 

What I was trying to eat in the kitchen just now wasn’t food. I am working on the showdown of POISON PATCH (sequel to HEDGE GAMES). Have been working on it for several days now. As most showdowns in Urban Fantasy, it’s a dance between several characters that runs across three chapters. A dance of magic, violence, trust, betrayal — with three main characters and twelve minor characters. An ebbing and swelling and ebbing and swelling of intensity. I keep thinking “now I’ve nailed it”, then read it again the next day and it’s not flowing. So I go in again.

I’ve read it first in Celia Bradfield’s book “Bestseller”. Can’t give you the verbatim quote now because the book is in storage back in Europe with the rest of our belongings. Celia says something like: You’d be a very productive (and slim) writer, if only you kept writing instead of giving in to the urges your inner saboteur throws at you. Every time you reach a critical point in your writing, he’ll make you thirsty for coffee, then hungry. And if everything else fails, he’ll make you sleepy.

It’s true.

The coffee’s always empty when the writing gets tough, isn’t it? “I’ll just get one more cup and then –“ ;-) Snap. Just like that, our focus on that scene is broken. Self-sabotage at its best.

Strange how the need to snack on “just the right thing” disappeared the second I decided to blog about this — instead of working on the showdown. *blush*

But now I am butt in chair and will only get up when it’s done or when I have to pick up my kids. We all know when the going gets really tough in writing: when you’re almost there.

What’s your experience with this?

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I’d love to talk to you, either here on the blog or on Facebook and Twitter.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Character Agency and what else to learn from Dragon Age as a writer

If you love games and fantasy books, read Chuck Wendig’s post:  “Dragon Age Inquisition. A writer’s perspective”.

Screenshot Dragon Age Chuck Wendig

 

Chuck’s current (or maybe all-time) bone to pick is character agency. In this and follow-up posts, he had a lot of very interesting things to say about agency which aren’t just interesting to writers.

Also interesting how he takes apart a whole game from a writer’s and a player’s perspective.

Also check out his other recent post on character agency, looking at female characters, HOW “STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS” STILL END UP WEAK AND POWERLESS (OR, “DO THEY PASS THE ACTION FIGURE TEST?”).

It’s especially great to read if you like to read (or write!) kick-ass heroines with a lot of oomph.

Over to you. What do you think? How come so many “strong” heroines end up weak when it counts?

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I’d love to talk to you. Due to an avalanche of spam, I had to close comments on the blog. If you’d like to comment on this blogpost, please talk to me on Facebook or on Twitter instead.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Reading live from Staub und Aether in Secondlife

The lovely Kueperpunk made it possible: Anja Bagus and I are reading LIVE from our stories on Valentine’s Day. You can tune in from wherever you are, because the reading will be held inside Secondlife, at Kueper’s author hub Brennende Buchstaben. :-)

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I’m sooo excited!

squeee :-)

I’ve been to past readings at Brennende Buchstaben and was always blown away by the attention to detail these guys invest, be it creating a unique set for every reading, fitting to the book’s theme. Some very creative stuff! Or Kueper helping out the author reading parts of the book — and he has a great voice and presentation style. He could also read a phonebook and make that thrilling ;-)

Sooo, anyway: The reading will be in German; Q&A in German or English — whatever you prefer. I’ll tune in from Qatar. Hold your fingers crossed that I’ll battle the crappy internet here successfully with voice. If not, we’ll resort to text chat and Kueper will play a lag-free prerecording I’ll send in of my short story.

See you there!

Edit:

“Staub und Aether”‘s ebook is available now.  4 short stories, over 100 pages total. Stories are in GERMAN.

Staub und Aether on Amazon.com

Staub und Aether on Amazon.de

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<p class=”p1″>If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/bridaanderson”><span class=”s1″>Facebook page</span></a> or through <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/bridaanderson”><span class=”s1″>Twitter</span></a> instead. I’d love to talk to you.</p>

<p class=”p2″><a href=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/tendril_small.png”><img class=”aligncenter wp-image-415″ src=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/tendril_small-150×150.png” alt=”tendril_small” width=”50″ height=”54″ /></a></p>

<p class=”p1″><a href=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb.jpg”><img class=”alignleft wp-image-413″ src=”http://brida-anderson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb-150×150.jpg” alt=”brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb” width=”100″ height=”102″ /></a> Brida Anderson’s novel, <a href=”http://bit.ly/hedgegames”>Hedge Games</a>, released in December. You can find her at <a href=”http://www.brida-anderson.com”>www.brida-anderson.com</a>, <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/BridaAnderson”>Facebook</a>, and <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/bridaanderson”>Twitter</a>. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.</p>

After NaNoWriMo is before NaNoWriMo … or is that Christmas?

My loves,  what’s been going on here? Beside life in this little desert town that has been as chaotic as ever ;-)

50.000 words — one of them must be right

I’ve written a novel for NaNoWriMo that wasn’t planned at all. I switched it at the last minute because the short story I wrote for Witches in Fiction 2014 just wouldn’t leave my thoughts. So I dove into world building, character building and motivation for a week for “Witches of Riverdale” , then set out. Ended up writing 60.000 words in 3 weeks in November. I’m still stunned by that. My highest wordcount in the shortest time so far. And some days of writing more than 6.000 words in one day — that hasn’t happened ever since I became a mom.  :-D *happy dance*

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NaNoWriMo is always a great teacher, to any novel writer. What I take away this year? That it’s possible at all to write so much for a novel in such a short time. That I can create about 10-15 pages per day, even with kids. What helped me immensely was Reverse NaNo WriMo. (Here’s a suggestion how that goes.) I didn’t do it by the letter, but I started out using their wordcount goals. Then kept going with the high goals until our visitors arrived. Didn’t write at all for a few days. Visitors left — I picked up using the 1st week of Reverse NaNo WriMo once more. Caught up, then kept going to write a padding for the next 4 days of visitors.

If you do NaNoWriMo, give the Reverse idea a try. :-)

Elves or witches? Tough call

For December, I’m at the crossroads of two projects I love very much. Should I use December to turn the Zero Draft of NaNoWriMo into a real first draft? Or sit down to complete the 1st draft of Rule of Thorns, book 2? Gah, choices.

 

Adventures of the Fae Cat

On the non-writing side, we had our kitten spayed. There were complications and I spent a lot of November in and out of the vet’s with her. She kept taking off her cone, worried at the wound and they had to redo surgery. Poor cat.  :-( Now things are looking up; hopefully we can remove the cone in four days so she can go back to her normal slinky, playful life.

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Before the cat surgery we also had visitors here in Qatar. It was huge fun to see the country from a tourist’s point of view and to take tours we hadn’t because as an expat you get so caught up in managing the move, then the day-to-day.

I’ve also started (a few months ago, actually) to volunteer for an hour per week in the German school. In German the work’s called “Lesepatin”. Sort of like a “reading fairy” or “reading godmother”. Someone unrelated to the kids and not a teacher coming in once per week to practise reading with the children who can’t do that at home. Because their parents don’t speak German, or because the parents don’t have time or can’t be bothered. Can’t say a lot of moms get into it, maybe because you can’t phantasize yourself as this great storyteller who reads to the kids but instead  you keep very much in the background, just listening to the kid struggle through the text, only gently correcting when the right word doesn’t come fourth, even after several attempts. It takes a lot of focus — you have to imagine someone who needs ten minutes for half a page of text. But it’s very rewarding to see the children improve — and their joy, when with the improvement, they start to enjoy reading. And hey, what better use of my time than to create future readers? ;-)
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If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the Facebook page or through Twitter instead. I’d love to talk to you.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Witches in Fiction: Part 2

Here’s the second part of my short story for Witches in Fiction 2014.

Enjoy! :-)

All Hallow’s Morning Part 2

A Robin Armstrong story

> All Hallow’s Morning, Part 1

“So I hang out with you until the culprit is found or my memory returns?” He laid his hands over Robin’s. His gaze was still haunted but there was something else moving in the blue depths. A flicker of passion.

“Uh …” Robin licked suddenly dry lips. “Yes, we …” She cleared her throat. “I’ll ask the weres to bunk together and you can have the room to get some rest …”

Sky bent closer, his gaze focusing on her lips. “You know, I’ve never kissed a witch before.”

allhallows_cover_brida_anderson_oct17_medium

“Or you don’t remember …” Robin whispered. He was so smooth and warm under her fingers, the sparks in his eyes so bright.

The stink of burning bacon cut straight through her arousal.

“Oh my God!” She tore out of Sky’s grasp. He tried to hold her back, but dropped his arms when the pan on the stove ignited with merry flames.

“Shit, shit, shit …” Robin hurriedly turned off the gas. With a teatowel, she beat at the flames. It caught fire and she managed to smack Sky with the burning towel when he tried to help her.

“Ah, sorry!” She dropped the towel with a curse and stomped on it.

Sky pushed her aside and plunged his hands into the flames.

“Are you nuts?!” Robin tugged at his arms.

The flames died. Sky raised his hands, wriggling his slender fingers. They were unscathed. He looked mesmerized at his own hands. His voice was still deeper than before when he muttered: “Interesting. Downright intriguing.”

Robin’s breath stuttered. “Do … Do you feel odd?” Had he been impervious to flames before, or had some side-effect of the spell been time-triggered?

Sky spun around, seeking her. “You may serve me, little witch.”

“What?!” Robin scampered backward. “I don’t serve anyone.” He was off his rocker. Did she know how to pick ‘em, or what?

“You will serve me when I COMMAND it, little witch.” Sky’s voice didn’t sound like him anymore. It was so deep and slick, Robin could almost taste it on her tongue.

“I simply HATE when people call me that!” Faintly, she heard her phone ring in the hall. It was still in her jacket. Her jacket which hung right over her spellbag … Robin fell back another step. The kitchen wasn’t large. Only a few more steps …

The reddish light of the hallway enclosed her like a soothing embrace. She had made it and he hadn’t followed her. Yet.

She pounced her jacket on the chair, digging for her phone, while she kicked open her bag with a foot. Was there anything useful left inside?

Micah’s ID flashed across the screen.

“Micah!” she panted. “Something’s wrong with Sky.”

“Who’s Sky?”

“The human I took home. Only, I don’t think he’s human anymore.” Robin looked toward the kitchen. Sky had ignited the gas again and was playing with the flames. While she watched, he pushed his whole face into the flames, as if he was gobbling them up. “He’s like …” Dare she say it? “Like possessed. Fire doesn’t hurt him.” They both knew there was no such thing as real possession. A very skilled witch could ride your mind or transmorph you into something else, but the traces of that spell would scream loudly at anyone checking you. This wasn’t what had happened to Sky.

Micah swore. “Look. The Taumathurgists found some weird traces around the site. Whoever did that spell didn’t use witchcraft.”

“So, what then?” Robin’s gaze was still glued to Sky. He was done playing with the stove and looking around the kitchen. For her?

“One of the theories is that somehow the spellcaster merged with the human in the ritual. If we take out the man, we probably take out the caster as well.”

“How do you mean, take out?”

Micah’s next words were drowned out by a shrill ringing. Instinctively, Robin cowered, covering her ears. But it didn’t do any good. The sound was coming from her wards, beamed straight into her head. Their gentle background hum had been replaced by a shrill warning to their Ward Witch.

A large shadow loomed in the doorway. Sky! And he was holding a candle, a feather and a small bowl in his hands. All broken. “Thanks for telling him about those, earlier.” He dropped them on top of the pile of stones and stomped on the whole ensemble with his boot. With a last desperate clamour, half of her protection died.

He hadn’t known anything about magic when he arrived. He was either a gifted actor or someone else was driving Sky.

“I’m in trouble,” Robin blurted out. “Sky, he’s …”

Sky cocked his head. “He’s what?” One hand lazily stroked up his chest. “Irresistible?”

“He has broken my ward,” Robin blurted into the phone.

Sky advanced on her. The smile on his face looked sick. “Come, witch, we have better use for our time.”

“A team of Roses is on their way to neutralize him.” Micah was speaking quickly. “They said to keep him contained if you can. But, Robin, get the hell out of there! They might torch your house –”

Sky plucked the phone from her grasp and dropped it. He stepped on it, the crack of the casing as loud as a gunshot in Robin’s ears.

“I require more nourishment to maintain my form.”

Robin blinked at Sky. “You what now?”

“The pale fire in your kitchen isn’t enough.” He grabbed both her arms and frogmarched her into the living room. “Light a fire.” He let go of her and waved his arms. Armchairs, sofa and couch table slid, groaning and creaking, to the sides, clearing the space in front of the fireplace. Last night, she had celebrated Halloween here with her room-mates and some friends, and hadn’t cleared the table yet. Now thanks to Sky, half-finished drinks, pumpkin pie and cupcake icing oozed into one big mess.

Robin’s gaze roved over the small room, frantically searching for a weapon. Unless she strangled him with fairy lights until he dropped unconscious, there was nothing here. Maybe she could throw the candleholders? But her aim was lousy and her powers of telekinesis non-existent. She had dropped that class as soon as she could.

Contain him … Like any witch, Robin had a pre-echted circle in her house. Hers was in the living room, spelled to be hidden unless needed. Maybe she could lure Sky inside the circle and activate it?

“A fire? By all means.” She moved past him to the wood. She needed her matches. They always sat on top of the fireplace, but were now hidden somewhere between all the little pumpkins, cats and ghosts.

“He likes handling your riffraff,” Sky said, touching his fingertips to the pointy ears of one cat. “It gives him a sense of home, of safety.”

Ice formed at Robin’s spine. She pulled out a log, threw it on the fireplace. “Who’s ‘he’?”

“The were you call Sky,” Sky said.

“You’re not a were, you’re human.” Robin tossed another log onto the first. She touched the logs, bespelling them to not catch fire. She dropped a bit of kindling on top and went hunting for the matches, using that excuse to touch her foot to the circle, calling it. It was filled with ash, ready to use. Sky didn’t notice the shallow groove in the hardwood floor or didn’t care.

“He was a were when we turned him. Delicious.” Sky smacked his lips.

“What’s his name?” Robin tried to keep the disgust out of her voice. Her hand closed around the box of matches.

Sky waved it off. “He has no name anymore. He’s a vessel.”

“So who am I talking to?” Magic was flickering around Robin’s fingers, using her nervous sweat as conduit. It was biting her with sharp little teeth, as if begging to be used.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Sky tugged her closer. “Light the fire.”

“Coward,” Robin spat. “Say your name.”

Sky made a move as if to strike her but then recoiled. He let go of her and looked as if he was grappling with himself. “Ah, this form is weak yet. More nourishment!”

She lit a match. Sky’s silent struggle ceased. His gaze was drawn to the small flame as if it was magnetic.

“Here, catch,“ Robin tossed the match onto the logs. The kindling ignited and burned bright. Sky eagerly turned to the fireplace.

Taking the matches with her, Robin ran to the couch table. She gathered up an arm full of leftovers from the night before — candles, food, cups — then jumped into the circle. She dropped her loot in the center and sunk to her knees. She pressed her fingertips into the ash. There wouldn’t be enough time to properly raise a circle and anchor it.

Magic licked at her fingers from the left. She had filled the groove in the floor. She set one candle in the center and one in a corner. A glass with water and a ripped streamer she placed in two other corners. The dish with pumpkin pie had to stand in for earth. She lit the candles, then sat in the center. She raised her arms. “Guardians of the circle, hear me! We call to you this day to join us. Lend us your help. May you be blessed and smile upon this rite!”

Panic slammed in her chest when Sky jumped next to her in a blast of hot wind. This was what she had planned but he was so close! Her living room was small and so was the circle. Sky and her were filling it completely. Sky’s eyes were shining bright red. The heat he was giving off stole her breath.

She dipped her fingertips back into the ash of the circle and visualized  a white sphere growing from the floor, keeping them safe on all sides. Tingling through Robin’s awareness, it rose around them like a semi-opaque wall. Pumpkins and fairy lights threw orange spots of light on the barrier from outside. The air tasted cooler and Robin felt calm settle over her nerves.

She closed her eyes, her concentration focussed. “Guardians, hear me! Elementals, hear me!”

“That fire was a meagre offering, witch. But your puny circle won’t contain me.” When Robin looked up, the Black Sabbath t-shirt was peeling away in shreds. The jeans followed. Sky’s chest was covered in runes that were glowing like embers.

She had never seen anything like it. Panic was firing like shots inside Robin’s brain. How could she fight against that thing and leave Sky unharmed?  She needed to separate him from whatever was possessing him. At university, she’d only ever learned to reverse transmorphing spells gone wrong. They had never dealt with a being that consisted of two separate entities. True possession …

Inspiration struck. “I call the element of fire. May you bless and smile upon this rite.” Her voice was strained. She wouldn’t scream. It was never smart to yell at the elementals. “Salamanders, help me. Hold and hallow this space.”

Sky’s head fell back and he screamed, a sound so deep and anguished it couldn’t come from a human’s throat. In the center of the circle, Robin was mere inches from Sky’s feet. He was writhing, fighting powers unseen. It meant he was a threat – to the circle or to herself, or the elementals would have ignored him. The struggle was harsh but silent. As elementals of fire, salamanders knew no restraint, no caution. They hallowed this circle and consumed what was soiling it, a threat to it. It was working. Robin felt giddy with relief — and worried for Sky.

“Guardians of fire, I call you on this night. Lend me your passion, creativity, your inspiration. Bless and smile upon this rite.” She waited, breath held. Nothing happened. Sky’s silent struggle continued. The scent of the pumpkin pie tickled her nose and Robin wrinkled it. To be distracted by food at a time like this! No, wait. She was never hungry inside her circle. This was something else. She slid on her knees to the dish and scooped out filling with two fingers. “Guardians of Earth,” she whispered, “I call you on this night.” She asked for help, then closed her eyes and touched her lips to the pie filling. Its creamy, spicy scent transported her back a year, to the last Samhain celebration with her family. “You think this will work?” she whispered. There was no reply, only the soothing calm of sitting in her circle.

“Welcome Goddess and God on Samhain night …” Tears were hot on her face when Robin intoned the words of her family’s Halloween ritual. She had planned to celebrate with her roommates and Sky tonight, after dark had fallen. Not like this!

The words came haltingly at first, then quicker.

“… This time marks the death of old ways,

we cling no more to what came before.

We open our eyes and see

that darkness surrounds us and mystery …” Her voice cracked but she pushed on.

The words fell from her tongue even while her thoughts raced. They had been imprinted on her with every Samhain celebration since she was old enough to hold a candle and take part in her family’s ritual.

The deeper she traveled into the ritual, the more Sky changed. First the light blazing from his eyes changed color. From glowing embers to blazing blue and back. So Sky was still in there. And whoever was riding shotgun had lost some foothold, apparently. He hadn’t lashed out at her yet, either. Maybe he was too weak? Over the next minutes, he turned white as a sheet and his skin looked like brittle parchment. When she continued, Sky started moaning and  thrashed slowly. He rose off the floor, still struggling.

Nearing the final words, Robin pushed to her feet.

The exterior ward of her house screeched for her attention, then died abruptly. Red laserdots scittered over the carnage in her living room. Glass shattered and men and women in black uniforms stormed her living room. Roses! The agents were armed to the teeth and their guns were trained on them. Her circle wouldn’t hold bullets for long but maybe just long enough.

More people hurried into the room, this time from the hallway. They were clad in white overalls with a blue waxing moon stitched over the chest. The Tauma Squad. The cavalry had arrived. They’d know better than to interrupt a ritual near its peak.

Fetching the candle, Robin stood face to face with Sky. He was hanging suspended in her circle, eyes still burning red, then blue. He had stopped struggling.

She raised her hands, palms forward, holding his gaze.

I let go.

I embrace the coming dark.

As I let go,

he lets go.

He doesn’t cling. His time to leave is nigh,

he becomes breath and shadow and thought.

As I loosen my grip on what must depart,

he departs.

She hurled the last words at him.

Sky gasped from pain. His eyes were brilliant blue in his ghostly face. “Help me,” he wheezed, “help me.”

Robin blew out the candle and sat it under Sky’s feet, in the middle of the circle. She took his hands in hers. They were so cold.

In darkness we see the light within.

In darkness we trust the light within.

In darkness we are the light within.

Gathering the magic of the circle in their entwined hands, she laid them over Sky’s heart. “Blessed be.”

A chime like a gong made her head hurt. Sky’s eyes rolled up in his head and he crashed to the ground.

A wind rose in the circle. It spun the streamer and the scraps of Sky’s clothing around her in dizzying circles. Out of the air fell … something. For a second, Robin’s brain refused to make sense of the scrabbling legs and hideous flesh-colored carapace. It looked like a lovechild between a scorpion and a facehugger from Alien. A stinger rose high over its back. Two eyes stared at her, sunk deep into the carapace of its back. The stinger quivered when the critter hesitated between Robin and Sky.

“You are one ugly motherfucker,” Robin whispered.

The scorpion scuttled in her direction. It accelerated, stinger held high, and stabbed. The stinger narrowly missed Robin’s legs, piercing the barrier of her circle instead. With a violent tug at Robin, the circle shattered, robbing her breath.

While Robin panted, trying to get her bearings, the critter escaped the circle – and with it, the wind. Her big ficus shivered and rustled, its thin branches straining to move with the air current. Flurries of green leaves were circling the scorpion like snow while it headed for the hall. Objects tore away from the walls, the windows. Paper pumpkins, cardboard bats, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton whooshed past Robin and slammed into the agents and taumathurgists. Robin’s hair kept blowing in her face, robbing her of sight. Orange fairy lights ripped away from the window and whistled past her. The agents batted at the plastic strings threatening to slide around their necks, their guns lowering.

Breathing heavily, Robin quickly dismissed the guardians, elementals and quarters. She felt for Sky’s pulse. Weak, but there. She was about to get up, when it hit her: When she sensed Sky, he read as a were now. And his scent was clear. He smelled of the faint musky scent of weres and of his own bewitching mix of sea salt and sage. Nothing else.

Six laserdots focused on the critter. It stood still in the whirling typhoon, apparently mesmerized by the lights. Maybe it thought they were fire?

Robin threw herself to the floor next to Sky just before six high-velocity spellguns barked at the same time.

With a screech, the scorpion fell on its back, its stinger stabbing the air. The wind died down abruptly and the tornado of Halloween decorations clattered to the floor in a series of crashes. Pottery shards pelted everyone in the living room. Robin threw herself over Sky to keep him safe. When she looked up again, the Tauma Squad had gathered around the writhing scorpion. Their spells and light show were too intense for Robin’s tired brain to make sense of.

One of the Roses stepped forward, a man in his thirties with dark-blonde hair. Agent Grey, no doubt. “Armstrong, hand over the human!” He sounded strangely amused.

“He’s not human. That … thing over there took over a were. It only read as human to us.”

“You took out a demon. Sure.” Grey chuckled.

“I didn’t say that.” A demon? Her blood ran like ice. “They don’t exist.” No-one had ever managed to summon one with a spell.

“Well, it’s only an educated guess so far,” Grey drawled, jerking a thumb in the direction of the Tauma Squad.

A cage made of light rose between the members of the Squad. The scorpion inside it wasn’t moving, but Robin was pretty sure it wasn’t dead or they wouldn’t go to all this trouble.

“They take the thing, we take the human. Up!” Grey reached for Sky’s arm.

“He’s not human!” Robin yelling, clinging to Sky’s arm. “And he’s badly hurt.”

Grey dropped Sky’s arm. “What did you do to the guy? He was a human this morning.”

“Nothing!” Robin yelled. “I cooked bacon, that’s all.”

Grey chuckled. “May be you witches make a hell of a bacon, but that guy’s still human. Abducting a human’s a crime, Armstrong.”

Robin groaned. “I didn’t abduct him. He was –“

More Roses gathered around them, their guns trained on Robin and Sky.

Anna Moray, the head of the Tauma Squad stepped through their ranks. “Agent Grey, stand down your men!”

They didn’t. Of course not. Not without Anna and Grey slapping procedure and jurisdiction at each other. The taumathurgist won. They could all sense that — whatever Sky had been this morning — he was now a were. Not Grey’s mess anymore. When Anna put it that way, the Roses reluctantly trotted out. Robin had a feeling she hadn’t seen the last of Grey.

She slid her fingers into Sky’s hand. “Don’t patch him up. He’s had four already today.”

Anna nodded. “We were briefed.”

Too tired to even get up, Robin stayed at Sky’s side when the taumathurgists probed and sensed him for over an hour.

“You know he needs to be checked more thoroughly, Robin.” Anna’s voice was gentle but Robin knew there was steel underneath. Anna Moray always got the job done. “We can all sense he’s a were. He won’t be killed and you’re not in trouble for harboring a human. But he needs to stay in a secure facility.”  At her nod, three witches in white robes bent to pick up Sky.

“I’ll go with him.” Robin tried to get to her feet but she was wiped out. The spell had drained her. She should have found sustenance while they checked Sky. Now it was too late. She’d be out for hours if she dropped unconscious now.

“You won’t. But he’s coming to, so I give you five minutes to say goodbye. For now.” Anna nodded at her team and they gathered in the kitchen.

Sky stirred behind her. His warm hand brushed away Robin’s hair and stroked her shoulder.

She turned to him, letting her gaze run fondly over his face. Now that the demon was gone, the eyes twinkling at her through the curtain of his hair showed their true were colors: bright sky blue with shifting golden flecks. She stroked the hair from his face. It was silky against her fingers.

Too-blue eyes caught her, widened in alarm. His hand closed around her wrist. Sky struggled to sit up, frowning with confusion. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“Not again,” Robin whispered, horrified. His memory had been wiped again? Regret tasted metallic on her tongue when she leaned toward him. She’d have to bespell him. He had too much shit ahead to go through the whole angst of amnesia right now. “Don’t fret, all is well.” Slowly, she raised her hands.

“Yes, I know.” He caught her hands, his lips twitching into a smile.

Robin blinked, confused.

“I was just kidding.” Sky pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I don’t really remember a lot but I know who you are.”

His face faded in and out. Damn, not now! Robin clung to him but blackness pulled her under.

*         *       *

“Robin?”

Pumpkin Marshmallows by Sugarthesky on Etsy

Pumpkin Marshmallows by Sugarthesky on Etsy

She struggled awake when her room-mate called her name.

Matthew’s black hair was standing straight up, displaying the off-white streak along the middle. “You know the living room’s totally trashed?”

Robin sunk back against the couch. “Yep. We’ll sort it tomorrow. Don’t get all worked up, I can’t deal with a skunk attack.” Unseeing, too tired to even lift her head, she felt along the couch table, through the debris of last night’s party. She almost wept with relief when her fingers landed in a smushed cupcake. She scooped off the sweet cream and pulled apart the spicy cake, eating morsel by morsel, letting the spices revive her.

“Don’t worry.” Matthew knelt down next to her. “You’re okay?”

Robin licked the cupcake from her fingers and leaned against his chest. “You won’t guess what kind of day it’s been.”

“It looks bad.” The were closed his arms around her in a brotherly hug.

Ryan sat on the couch behind Robin and lowered a cellophane bag into her lap. It was filled with orange marshmallows, lightly dusted with sugar. “We came past Karen’s stall and brought you back something. Happy Halloween.”

Her favorite. Robin opened the bag and slid out one of the little fluffy marvels. “Thank you!” She nibbled at a corner of the pumpkin marshmallow. “Did you have something planned for tomorrow?”

Ryan scratched at his stomach. “Not really. Hanging out. Getting some sleep.”

“I have to break someone out of the containment ward. You two game?”

The men grinned, showing pointy eye-teeth.

Matthew ruffled her hair. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

+++

Happy Halloween, guys! :-)

I hope you enjoyed “All Hallow’s Morning”. Check out my Urban Fantasy HEDGE GAMES if you did. :-) And subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases.

tendril_small

brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

All Hallow’s Morning – for Witches in Fiction 2014

Good evening, my loves.

Counting down the days to Halloween. And one juicy in-between stop is “Witches in Fiction” where this year it was all about “Crafting Blooming Howls”.

Thank you, Magaly, for creating such a fun event and such a ton of inspiration! :-)

meet Sky ... (Rights not mine)

meet Sky … (Rights not mine)

Once I got started writing my short story about Ward Witch Robin Armstrong, I somehow couldn’t stop. (Might have had something to do with the male lead, Sky. The photo I modeled him on is on the right side ;-)

30 pages later, I was done, but couldn’t polish all of the story in time for the deadline. So you can read not the whole story here yet, but  a lot of it.

I promise to upload the ending (the showdown) once I am finished polishing it.

I hope you enjoy! Let me know. It’s a new world for me, but one I love playing in.

Once it’s all complete, I’ll upload it at Smashwords for more easily digestible formats.

 

All Hallow’s Morning. A Robin Armstrong story

(dedicated to Julia, Queen of magical Halloween mornings)

“Cinnamon latte? You know how to spoil a girl, Professor.” Robin took the paper cup. The Dean had called her in for the assignment, but of course it was Micah Young who was waiting for her at the gates in the freezing cold instead. Despite his thick down jacket, he looked frozen through. The streets were almost deserted, and still it had taken Robin nearly an hour to navigate the circuitous route from Greencrest to the university.

“It’s a selfish act. I need you in top form.” Micah gave her a tight-lipped smile. Robin never knew where she stood with him. Micah wasn’t that much older than her and tended to treat her like a buddy – until he suddenly didn’t. He was the university’s youngest Professor of Metamagic and the Dean’s right hand. If she ever got on his bad side, her funds would dry up quicker than she could wave a smudgestick.

Robin suppressed a yawn. “Why aren’t you tired and hungover?”

“I didn’t go out. I was working on a paper.” Micah pushed up his glasses a tad embarrassed.allhallows_cover_brida_anderson_oct17_medium

“Can’t say I’m that thrilled to be called in for a job on All Hallow’s morning.” Robin popped the lid of the coffee. The scent of pumpkin-spice wafted out. “Everyone else gets to sleep in.” If they had even found their beds yet after last nights’ parties. When she got up, her two room-mates were still out.

Robin lifted a small dollop of the fragrant foam with the tip of her finger and licked it off. So good. Micah had probably bought it at Sean’s place, across the road. She took a first sip, grimacing when the coffee burned her tongue. Never mind, caffeine was what she badly needed.

“Where do you think you’re going?” The man had appeared out of nowhere and was now leaning against the guardhouse, beefy arms crossed over his broad chest. He had “obstacle” written all over him, from his buzz cut to his familiar uniform. Padded top with sleek pants, all in black. Two red stripes sat on each shoulder.

“Oach no,” Robin groaned. “You didn’t tell me the Roses were here. I’m not getting in there if they are.”

“You’ll do what you’re paid to do and if it’s dance the tango with that guy,” Micah said sharply.

The agent’s brows drew together. “I don’t dance.”

“And the world’s a safer place for it,” Robin muttered.

Micah elbowed her side.

The Red Roses were the agency called in on any Gaian-Evan infractions. They were ex-elite soldiers, former profilers, ex-FBI and ex-NSA. Lots of special talent who had lost their place among the humans when they were bitten by a were, spelled by a witch or changed by a vamp. Which made for a lot of grumpy people just waiting to get back at either humans or Gaians, preferably at both.

“They just arrived and they’re here for something else. Someone set fire to the library last night.” Micah kept walking until he was almost toe to toe with the agent.

“Oh no!” Robin felt devastated. Like every student, she practically lived in the Library of Spells. Without its resources, one-of-a-kind grimoires and scrolls no student would ever advance enough to pass the Bar.

“They caught it before it could spread far.”

Robin blew out a breath of relief. “Let’s go then.” She took a step forward.

The agent lifted his arm, barring her way. “No-one’s getting in or out until my boss clears them to enter the scene.”

Micah stepped right into his face. “Robin was hired by Dean Robertson. Let us pass.” He pulled out his phone.

“She’s on a squad?” The agent let his gaze rove over Robin. She knew what he saw. A witch with short legs and a big bust who was too young to have graduated yet, cutting her off from her family’s spells and magic assistance.

Her fists balled. “I joined the roster of the Ward Team six months ago.”

“Here, talk to the Dean.” Micah held out his phone to the agent. “We’re done here.”

*                   *                    *

Robin was still stewing when they were already deep inside the windowless, frigid basement of Riverdale University.

Micah was talking on the phone to someone about the fire. Apparently, the Roses had found remnants of a spell in the library but no traces of humans. So it was debatable whether they had jurisdiction at all.

Tim and Pete, the two guards leading them to the incident site, cussed when the box of tools they were carrying clanked to the ground for the third time. One of the handles was broken and they kept dropping it. It didn’t help that the two also looked half-asleep on their feet.

No word had been lost on why they needed any tools. At least they weren’t bringing guns with tranq spells. Then she’d be really worried.

The guards ducked under a low arch to the left and Robin sighed. She should have known. When the Dean had called her about a ward-breaking earlier, he hadn’t specified where in Riverdale University. Now they had just left the human part of the basement behind, going deeper and deeper into the maze of old cellars and dungeons.

Micah ended the call.

“So, what’s the incident?” Robin glanced at him. “I’m assuming another prank?”

The university’s dungeon was part of Riverdale’s history tours, so rusty tools of torture were displayed in some of the rooms. Every few months, some student had the bright idea to pull off a prank and Robin’s job was to undo whatever crap they had wreaked with their spell. The worst so far had been a transmorphed frog.

“Not quite,” Tim, the thick-set guard, muttered.

“We were just getting off our night shift. We saw him and called the Dean right away,” Pete added.

“What do you mean, him?” Robin asked.

“You’ll see.” Micah’s clenched jaw didn’t bode well and dread bounced in her stomach. A bad mix with the coffee. She had been prepared to deal with smudged chalk outlines of some malign spell, maybe a neat little cauldron and atame arrangement. “I’m here about a ward, right?” Wards and living beings never were a good mix.

They ducked through another archway, past a sagging door made of heavy wood.

The guards’ witchlights bounced off dank stones, then crossed to illuminate the far wall.

“This is new,” Robin whispered.

A nude man was shackled spreadeagled to the wall. He hung slumped over in his restraints, his face hidden by a glossy curtain of black hair.

Probably a were, Robin thought. The coloring was way too normal for a vamp and he looked too ripped to be a witch. His impressive chest muscles and biceps were stretched holding his body weight in suspension.

“Is the were dead?” Robin gripped her heavy leather bag tighter.

Tim shook his head. “He’s breathing. But we couldn’t get closer because of the wards.”

The poor guy. How long had he hung there until he passed out from pain? She had to hurry. Robin set her coffee and her bag down and advanced carefully forward, sensing for the invisible barrier around the man.

“You think he’s a were?” Pete asked.

“With that build and coloring?” Robin nodded to the pale skin and black hair. “I bet his eyes are sky-blue.” Usually, any Gaian could tell another’s race – if they were witch, vampire or were, and what kind of were. The ward must be extremely thick that it could block out their senses completely.

“A husky?” Pete frowned. “No. A wolf, perhaps?”

Robin squinted at the man again. “Hard to say as long as his eyes are closed.”

“Cat?” Tim suggested.

Pete and Robin both shook their heads.

“Too bulky for a cat.” Robin stopped in her tracks. The ward was straight ahead. Strange – it wasn’t drawn around the man but bisected the room from wall to wall. It meant that anyone trying to break it couldn’t draw a circle of protection that included the ward. She raised her hands, palms facing forward. The others retreated a few steps when her palms started to glow. It was the ward-breaker’s blessing and curse that they weren’t just attuned to their own wards like the other witches. They could sense wards, much like bloodhounds, analyze their make-up and, hopefully, find a way to crack them without dying in the attempt. Because of the high mortality rate, ward-breaking jobs payed nicely. She was the youngest on the Ward Team and the least experienced. A dangerous combination, but ward-breaking was the only way she could pay the steep tuition fees at Riverdale University.

The ward didn’t give up its secrets when she probed it. Any kind of witch could raise a ward and each kind left their own subtle pattern behind. This ward was blank. Almost as if had been wiped clean of any residue. Weird.

The shrill ringing of Micah’s phone disrupted the stillness of the dungeon. Robin startled and the ward bit her. With a curse, she whisked back her fingers.

“Sorry.” Micah turned away from her, accepting the call.

Robin got busy laying out the tools and spell ingredients she’d need. No sense in prolonging the inevitable. She drank the rest of the coffee. It had quickly cooled in the dungeon, but the spices and coffeine were still a blessed combination. Literally, in this case.

When the spices had dispelled some of her fatigue, Robin bowed to all four directions, calling the quarters. Chanting under her breath, she reached right into the ward and worked her spell. When the wall started bubbling, becoming visible, she grabbed at the substance with both hands. Realizing her intent, the ward bit her again, but she held fast. Goodness, it was strong. Stronger than any Robin had encountered yet. The drain of the spell made her vision turn gray and she swayed.

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Micah’s voice came from behind her. “I can call in someone else.” Someone more experienced hung unspoken in the air.

He was much too close to the ward. If it lashed out at him, there was no telling what it would do to him.

“Micah, I can do this,” Robin cried. “Go!”

The ward gave. With a subsonic boom, the freed energy slammed into her. It cut her with a hundred knives. Whimpering softly, Robin crashed to her knees, cradling her hurting body with her arms.

Heavy boots clomped past her. The box of tools rattled when it was dropped. Metal banged on metal – they were trying to break the shackles.

“He’s human!” Pete called.

“Mid twenties,” Tim added. “Maybe one of the professors?”

Their voices were filtering to Robin through a fog. She blinked but her vision was  still filled with swirling white and red spots. Man, to break a ward like that before breakfast …

“I’ve never seen him before.” Micah sounded puzzled. His voice was very close. He must be crouching next to her.

Her leather jacket was pushed back from her shoulder. Cold fingers slid aside her t-shirt, baring her skin. Robin knew what was coming and braced for it. With the sensation of sharp teeth the trauma patch pierced her skin. They’d deduct the patch from her fee, but Robin wasn’t going to argue. Normally, she healed herself after a ward-breaking, but after this mother of a ward, she didn’t have it in her.

Micah’s face slowly came into focus, his almond-shaped eyes wide and worried. Not about her, Robin was sure. If a human was contained with Gaian magic, it only left one conclusion. “A vamp? Here?!”

Micah nodded, looking disgusted. “He must have brought the human down here. He chained him up – ”

“– and you guys,” Robin nodded at Tim and Pete, “interrupted him before he or she could finish their meal.”

The guards looked uneasy at the idea of a vampire hunting on university grounds. Humans were strictly forbidden to vampires, but Robin had yet to meet a vamp who played by the rules. Humans were simply too easy to prey on.

“But where are his clothes?” Tim asked. “His ID?”

“Maybe the vamp took them when he fled?” Pete suggested. He ran his witchlight scampering over the walls, as if the vamp could jump out at any second. Robin shivered when she realized it was a very real possibility. Four against one wasn’t bad odds for a vamp.

Nobody was talking about the elephant in the room. Oh well, then she would. “The ward could only be created by a witch. Even if he was attacked by a vamp, that vamp must have been working together with a witch.” She caught Micah’s gaze. “A very skilled witch.”

He was rubbing the bridge of his nose, as if his glasses were suddenly too heavy. “Yes, you’re right.”

“I’ll check his vitals and then for vamp or were activity.” Robin tried to push to her feet. Micah had to help her up. Embarrassed, she dug around in her bag for the spell she’d need.

Micah let go. “Are you fit enough for it?”

“Of course.” Robin forced her voice to sound much more chipper than she felt. Never let the boss see you’re in over your head. Her fingertips grazed the symbol she was looking for. Omnis Oculus, the all-seeing eye.

She crossed the room to where Tim and Pete were still working on freeing the human. He swung in his restraints with every attack of their tools. His wrists would be rubbed raw. A shame she couldn’t get him out of the shackles first. But the spell might scatter all traces of what had happened before they arrived.

“Are you sure he’s human?” Robin frowned. Now that the ward was down, they could all sense clearly that he was. But something was off about him. Time to find out what. She breathed on her fingertips then placed them under the mystery man’s chin to test his life energy. As a Ward Witch, she wasn’t too good at healing or sensing, but good enough to tell that the man wasn’t physically hurt, apart from the strain on his muscles. And boy, he had muscles. The guy was extremely fit. His hair fell back behind his shoulders when she lifted his head. A silky mane, cut in a shaggy style. The better to seduce you with, no doubt. With that figure, he wasn’t going home alone, ever.

Gaaah, focus! She’d blame it on the lack of sleep that the gorgeous stranger could rattle her so. She gently released his face.

Pricking her finger, she invoked the charm. When the small muslin bag began to smoke, she rubbed it over her closed eyelids. Tim and Pete turned away. Robin didn’t blame them. It was never a pretty sight to see someone’s eyeballs through their closed eyelids, even less seeing them through a film of salve. She checked the man thoroughly.

“And?” Micah asked, impatience thick in his voice.

“No vamp traces on him. No were traces either. No-one even so much as licked him.” Robin used a cloth handkerchief to wipe the salve residue off her eyes. So all this had been the handiwork of a witch or a group of witches. A chilling thought.

“Ugh, thanks for that image,” Micah groaned. While he called the Dean with the news, Robin rummaged in her bag for a dissolution charm. She had a feeling they could be here all day if they waited for regular tools to break the shackles.

“Robertson says the Roses have just left the library. They’re headed our way. I’ll keep them busy and you do your thing and get this guy out. Pronto!” Micah snapped a photo of the man and turned to go. “I’ll check if he’s in the staff database, but I doubt it.”

Robin quickly fetched her travel cauldron and liquified the contents of another muslin bag in it. Time to get out of here if the Roses were getting involved.

Tim and Pete held up the Evan when she poured the thick broth over the restraints. The shackles bubbled and frothed, turning into a stinking grey mess. It splattered to the floor in fat drops. The dissolution charm added a couple hundred bucks to the total of the bill. Robin smiled. She had just recouped the cost of the trauma patch.

Pete slapped a trauma patch on the guy. No reaction. He ended up using four patches. Any more, and there was the very real danger they would do more harm than good. Why wasn’t he waking up? The human was tall, with a lot of muscle mass, but still. Whatever had knocked him out had done a number on him.

Robin pushed to her feet. “We can’t do anything else. Let’s get him out.”

They had lugged the man almost to the stairs when he cracked open his eyes. They weren’t sky-blue but as close as human eyes got to the startling were-color. He looked groggy and he blinked in confusion at Robin and the guards.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was a deep baritone, stroking Robin’s ears. Hell, this guy could read her a phonebook any day.

“You’re at Riverdale Univer–“ Robin began.

“What the hell!” The guy had looked down. He wrenched his arms from their grasp and covered his groin, smacking Robin’s heavy bag into her side in the process.

“No time to be shy, buddy.” Robin grabbed his arm again, tugging him forward. “We have to go.”

The guy dug in his heels. “What the hell’s going on?”

She motioned for the guards to get him moving. “An excellent question and one you should get to the bottom of once we’ve left the building.”

He didn’t resist when the guards pushed him to the stairs. He shuffled forward, studying Robin intently. A frown line was forming between his brows. Robin could almost see the pennies drop one by one. The sign on her clothes marked her as Gaian. They had to wear the insignia in places where Gaians and Evans met. Her violet eyes – in her case a violet so dark it almost passed for blue-black – and the small tattoo on her temple marked her a witch. Who knows if he had ever met a witch before? Some Evans lived pretty sheltered lives.

“Robin Armstrong, Ward Witch. I work for the university.” No need to tell him she was a student here.

The guy didn’t react to her introduction and his stare was making Robin uncomfortable. She quickened her steps. “What’s your name?”

“I’m …” He fell silent. Opened his mouth once more to say the name, then closed it. His frown deepened.

Step by step Robin tugged him up the stairs while he tried to piece together memories. She wanted to leave the dank dungeons behind and finally get some breakfast.

“Do you work at the university?” she prompted.

“Uh —“ The man looked even more bewildered now.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

He scrunched up his face in concentration. “I really don’t know. I —“ He looked at Robin with something like pain on his face. “Why can’t I remember? Did I have an accident?”

What could she tell him? Oh well, Robin never liked sugarcoating things. They came smacking you straight on the ass sooner or later anyway. “Someone used you in their spellwork. We found you chained in the dungeons with a strong ward around you. But you were lucky. There wasn’t a trace of were or vampire activity.”

He nodded, vaguely.

“You do know about Gaians and your own kind?” Robin asked. Apparently the spell had wiped his mind. The question was: how much of it? And was it a temporary wipe or permanent?

He gave another vague nod. The helpless puppy routine made him look even more scrumptious. Such a shame he wasn’t a Gaian.

“I’m an Evan, right? A Child of Eva. And you are …” His gaze slid from Robin to the guards, taking in their university-issued uniforms, the insignia on their lapels. “You lot are … the others?”

“What a polite way to put it,” Steve scoffed. “A nice change from the things that go bump in the night.”

The man gave him a bewildered look. Robin couldn’t bear confusing him even further. “You’re right. We’re Gaians. You must have met us at the university?” There weren’t a lot of other places where Evans’ and Gaians’ lives touched. Apart from Halloween, that was, the one day of the year when they freely mixed. Not always to the humans’ advantage, though.

“Where are you taking me?” The man was staring at the walls of the narrow corridor with dread. Goosebumps had formed all over his body and he hugged his arms around himself for warmth.

Tim gave him a sympathetic look. “We have some clothes for you in the Lost & Found. It’s not far. They’d have gone to the homeless shelter after the holidays anyway.”

“See, all settled.” Robin gave the human a bright reassuring smile.

“I’d feel better if I could carry your bag.”

“What?” She stared at him bewildered.

“Give me your bag.”

Reluctantly, Robin handed it over. The Evan held it in front of his groin. “Now I feel somewhat better.” He climbed the last steps all on his own. “Will you take me to a hospital?”

“Not before we know what spell caused your amnesia,” a man’s deep voice said before Robin could reply. Dean Robertson was holding open the doors at the exit from the dungeon. Robin smiled in relief at seeing his massive figure. This morning, the Dean was wearing a red checkered coat. With his white beard and big gut, it made him look like Santa Claus personified.

“Quickly!” He ushered them into a lecture hall and closed the door behind them. Tim and Steve hadn’t followed them in. Seconds later, voices rang out at the other side of the door. Micah was arguing with a bunch of guys.

Robin scowled. “The Roses.”

“What’s going on?” the Evan hissed.

“This way!” The Dean hurried through the hall and out the other side.

When they were well away from the entrance hall, he stopped to catch his breath.

The Evan glared at them both. “Why don’t you just turn me over to the Evan police?”

“And what do we tell the Evans exactly?” the Dean asked. “Sorry, but some witch messed him up. Bye-bye.’? No. You stay with us while I figure out what happened and how to revoke the spell.”

“The memory loss?”

The Dean nodded.

The Evan clutched Robin’s bag tighter. “Yeah, I’m all for that.”

“About that spell …” Robin filled in the Dean. She felt very aware of the Evan’s gaze on her while she sketched out the details of the ward.

“I don’t think he’s safe at the university,” she concluded. “Not while the Roses run around here.”

One of the Dean’s bushy eyebrows rose. “And you’re suggesting what? That you take him home with you?” His piercing gaze traveled from Robin to the shivering Evan. The very nude Evan …

“Well …” Robin hadn’t thought that far but the thought appealed to her. Show the lost and handsome man the nicest sights of the city while the Dean found out who had crafted that ward … “I think he’d be safe with me. I know enough defensive spells …”

The Dean scoffed. “Unless the witch who made that ward decides to target him again.”

“We don’t know who made that ward.”

“You said yourself that the ward was clean. Whoever made it masked his spellwork perfectly. We’re looking at a very skilled witch or wizard.”

“You don’t want to babysit a human all day,” Robin blurted out. “You need to find who did this. And how to fix it.”

“Armstrong …” The Dean’s voice held a touch of amusement. “He’s not some toy your parents got you for Hallow’s Morning.”

The Evan’s eyes lit up with a strange spark.

Robin blushed furiously. What if he was? She couldn’t explain the sudden urge to protect the guy. Alright: the sudden attraction.

The Dean winced, probably realizing belatedly what he had said. “I’m sorry, Robin. I didn’t want to –“

“It’s alright,” she quickly waved off his next words. They would have been a form of condolence, a show of compassion. She had gotten enough of both in the past year.

“Do I get a say in the matter?” the Evan asked.

The Dean threw up his hands. “What is this, kindergarten?”

The Evan moved closer to Robin. “I go with her for the day under the condition that you find a way to revoke my amnesia. If you don’t manage by tonight, she takes me back to the Evan side. Deal?”

The Dean stroked his beard. “I must be nuts. But: deal.” Stern gray eyes zeroed in on Robin. “You take him straight home and that’s where you’ll stay! If you get any whiff of being followed or if anything’s off at your house, call in the Roses.” He dug a business card from an inside pocket of his coat. The card was black with a red rose embossed in the upper right hand corner. Only a last name and a number. “This is the agent dealing with the library mess. John Grey.”

As if it would bite, Robin took the card with two fingers and quickly sank it out of sight in her bag. Tangling with the Roses was never good.

Twenty minutes later, she found herself back on the street, the mystery man in tow.

“And now?” He had shoved his hands into the pockets of his newly acquired jeans. They went with a grey, figurehugging Black Sabbath t-shirt. For a Lost & Found item, the pants fit him quite well, snug in the hips and with a straight leg.

They were at the university’s main gates on the Gaian side. They’d have to get away quickly or the Roses would swoop in. Robin set out across the street. “First order of the day is giving you a name.” She buttoned her jacket against the November cold.

He raised a brow. “You’ll give me a name? How about I pick one out for myself?”

“So which one do you want?”

He chewed his lip thoughtfully. “Don’t know yet.” He blew on his fingers, then shoved them back into his pockets. His nipples had puckered under the shirt.

Robin’s gaze lingered. Yummy and yummier. “I’ll use Sky until you find something you like.”

He grimaced. “Sky?”

“Come on. We’ll get some coffee to warm up. Some food.” She hurried to the corner diner and straight inside to the counter. Gosh, she was so hungry. Before Sean, the witch who owned this place, even made it from the back room, she had already grabbed one of the pumpkin muffins from the display. Flicking off the wriggling deco spider, she dug in. Mhmm, succulent heaven.

Sean nodded to the street. “You lost something en route.”

Robin turned to the door and saw Sky standing in the middle of the cobblestone street, motionless. He was gaping at the buildings and vehicles.

“What’s his deal? Straight from the farm?” Sean chuckled.

Robin groaned.

“Make that two extra-grande pumpkin-spice coffees with a triple-shot of espresso. To go.”

“Geez.” Sean grimaced. “You want a syringe with that?”

“No, just another muffin. One without enchantment.” Robin plunked six bucks on the counter and ran back to Sky.

She pulled him to the sidewalk just in time before an anti-grav sedan would have flattened him. The witch driving the vehicle shook his fist at Sky, his curses swallowed by the thick glass around the spell compartment.

She dropped Sky’s arm. “You have a death-wish?”

He shook his head. “It’s so crazy. Where are we?”

“Riverdale, where else?” Robin gazed around, trying to see what had rattled Sky. But there wasn’t anything remarkable about University Road at ten in the morning, especially on the morning of All Hallows. Some witches and weres swerved around them on the sidewalk, but since the three days of Halloween were bank holidays, the street was almost deserted. A few howdahs and sedans were weaving with skill between and over the pedestrians and regular cars. Perhaps he was intrigued by the flying cars?

“Stay put!” She fetched the coffees. Handing Sky his cup and the extra-muffin, she led him to the side street where she had parked her howdah. He kept falling behind, gazing at the buildings, remarking on the colors. Robin knew from her Halloween excursions that Riverdale on the human side ran to grey stone buildings and mirrored skyscrapers. The Gaian side was much prettier, with smaller and older houses, each one a different color of the rainbow. It looked deceivingly friendly and cheerful.

“Here we are.” She stopped at her car, pleased she hadn’t gotten a ticket yet. There was virtually no legal parking on University Road and she had been in a hurry.

“What is it?”

“A car.”

“A car?” Sky parroted weakly. “Robin, it has no wheels. And it freakin’ hovers!”

She grinned. “You’re cute when you’re fretting. – Hold this.” She pressed her coffee cup in his hands and dropped her bag to the pavement so she’d have both hands free to unlock the wards of the vehicle.

“It’s your car?!” Horror was written over Sky’s features.

She gazed over the howdah, wondering what made him sound so criticial. The paint job was still looking fairly decent, only the yellows and oranges had started to fade a bit. Maybe the pentagram on the door put him off? “That’s only a decal. For Halloween, you know?”

Sky grimaced. “I don’t mind the decal so much. It’s the whole –“ He made a motion that encompassed the car. “Ugh … design?”

Robin shrugged. She liked howdahs, the gaudier the better. She took back her coffee and drained the cup. She pulled open the back door with a flourish. “Slide in.” The howdah was small but he should fit.

Sky looked horrified. “No way.”

“Hey, it was only pre-owned like five or six times. It’s in fine condition.” Robin took off her jacket and tossed it in the driver’s cabin with her bag.

Sky still wasn’t getting in. She gave him a shove. “It’s only a howdah. Totally safe. Now get in!”

She slammed the door behind him and settled in the spell cabin up front. The howdah buckled when she seized control of the steering rods. It was a bit temperamental and her magic wasn’t up to speed after this exhausting morning. In the rearview mirror, Robin saw Sky grip the red railing in the passenger compartment with a death grip. Perhaps she took off from the curb a little too sharply, enjoying his reaction. Sky held on, cussing a blue streak.

Robin’s grin widenend. This promised to be an interesting ride home.

By the time they reached Greencrest, Sky looked decidedly green. Robin parked the howdah in the drive. No need to freak the poor man even more by bantering with the gargoyle who protected their garage. She had tossed Lump his daily pigeon before setting out this morning and the gargoyle would be sleepy and grumpy if she woke him now.

She helped Sky out of the vehicle. He inhaled deeply and leaned against the howdah’s side. “Phew. Man. What a ride. You always drive crazy like that or were you trying to impress me?”

Robin blushed under the intense gaze of his too-blue eyes. “Course not. Just having some fun at your expense.”

“U-hum.” Sky didn’t look convinced.

Robin pressed her hand to the spellbox next to the door. The door swung inward. “This is my home. Houserules: Don’t snack on any of the herbs, put the toilet seat down and try not to get eaten by my room-mates.”

Sky’s brows rose. “Witches eat people?”

“No, but weres do.”

“You bunk with werewolves?” Sky looked worried.

Robin pushed him into the hall and closed the door. The wards activated with a satisfying whoosh. “I bunk with two were-skunks. They’re out but will be home soon.” Their boots were not in the hall, but after the excesses of last night, Matthew and Ryan wouldn’t stray far.

Sky grinned. “Sure.”

“Disbelieve me at your own peril.” Robin tossed her jacket over the chair in the hall and shoved her bag underneath it.

Were-skunks were banned from the uni dormitories and nobody wanted to bunk with them off-campus. The guys paid her a premium for the two rooms and shared kitchen — the only way Robin could make rent, even in a run-down neighborhood like Greencrest. Matthew and Ryan had never sprayed inside the house yet, but it might happen one of these days if someone rattled them enough.

Sky sniffed the air. “I still think you’re just yanking my chain.”

Robin grinned. “I could have, this morning.” She headed to the kitchen. “I still wonder who did that spell on you. Has nothing come back?”

Sky didn’t follow her in. She returned to the hall and found him studying her Halloween decorations. The whole hall was filled with glowing ceramic pumpkins, little ghosts, red and purple glass jars with flickering fake tealights inside. She loved the combination of warm lights and biting cold outside, orange and black, so she went a little overboard each year.

“I’ve never been inside a witch’s house.” Sky was staring with some trepidation at the brain just to the left of the kitchen door. Ryan had carved it from a pumpkin last night and Robin had preserved it with a spell so it’d would keep for a few days longer.

She grinned. “But you do celebrate Halloween, don’t you? This is all just for Halloween.”

“Phew.” Sky’s smile was a little sheepish. He frowned. “Halloween’s over, right? That much I remember.”

“Well, it’s over if you’re Evan. But not for us. We celebrate it for three days.” Robin stroked the smooth head of a cat painted for Day of the Dead. “It’s good that you remember stuff like that, though. Probably the rest will come to you in a few hours.”

Sky nodded, leaning forward to check a photograph of Robin at highschool. A small pyramid of river stones sitting in that corner of the hall fell over.

“Oops! Sorry.” He knelt, quicker than Robin could intervene, and piled them up again.

“Uh.” Robin winced. He was messing with her ward and it felt as if someone was violently pulling her hair. “Better let me fix that. It’s one of the quarters, you know.”

“Quarters?” Sky looked around the hall with a puzzled expression.

“North, East, South, West. You know.” Her hands made quick work of the spell, aligning the stones.

“So this is …?”

“Earth. I warded my house with a protection spell. One circle inside, one outside.  So if you see a feather or a candle, don’t rearrange it.” Wow, it was weird having a non-Gaian in her house. She’d never had to explain any of this before.

Sky parked his pretty bottom on one of the bar stools in the kitchen.

Robin squeezed past him. “Would you like breakfast or leftover Halloween food? We’ve got pumpkin pie, soup, fiesta salad, crickets, cookies …”

“Breakfast,” Sky said hurriedly. Maybe it was the crickets. She moved around him,  gathering breakfast supplies. “You like cereal?”

“I don’t know.”  He picked at a a half-eaten Halloween cupcake sitting on the counter. “Do I like bacon or pancakes? Boxers or briefs? I have no clue.”

“You take it well.” Robin plonked a bowl and a spoon in front of him.

“No. It’s freaking me out.” Sky took the spoon, fiddled with it. “But there’s nothing we can do, right? If the ritual just happened last night, I might not be missing long enough for a missing person’s report at the Evan police. I’m sure this stupid spell will just wear off before then.” He lifted his gaze from the spoon, hitting her straight-on with those piercing blue eyes. “Right? Spells just stop working with time, don’t they?

Robin busied herself with slapping some bacon into the pan.

“Robin, look at me! This bloody spell will just wear off and I’ll remember who I am. Right?!”

She should make three eggs. No, five. He was a grown man after all.

With a growl of frustration, Sky jumped from the chair and was in her space, crowding her against the stove. “Robin, tell me if this thing wears off or not!”

His scent enveloped her. Sea salt, sage and something else that was shooting straight to her instincts. She found she had closed her arms around his waist without remembering raising them.

“I don’t know,” she told his chiseled chest.

Warm fingers pushed under her chin, lifting her head. His eyes were a darker blue now, filled with a storm. “You mean maybe I lost my memories for good? That someone just broke them?!”

Something was off. He was vibing strongly, much stronger than a human should have been able to. Time to call in the cavalry?

She slid her hands under his shirt, to probe him. His firm stomach was hot against her palms.

“What are you doing?” Sky’s voice had changed, become deeper.

“Just … uhm … Touching you?” she finished lamely. She needed to distract him so she could read him. She’d fill his ears with witch-lore. He had asked, after all, so he’d listen. “I can tell you this: It’s better for your brain if we let the spell evaporate by itself. Counteracting spells like this always carries a high risk. But there are spells with temporary effects and those with permanent effects. Until we know what the witch was trying to do with you, we don’t know what sort of spell they used and if it will wear off.” She nodded to the tomatoes in the fruit basket. “I can turn them into rubber balls for a time or for forever. To make that change permanent is the easier spell of the two.” Her sensing indicated he was human and he wasn’t under some spell. He was healthy. Dammit, if all was normal where did this feeling of unease come that was sitting like ice at her neck?

“So breaking my memories might have been the easier spell instead of just making them disappear?” Sky’s eyes looked haunted.

Maybe he was just under shock and that’s what she was reading wrong? Robin slid her hand up under his shirt, resting them on his chest. “Look, it might be temporary after all. The memory-loss was probably just a side-effect of the real spellwork. And side-effects like that are often temporary.”

“So I hang out with you until the culprit is found or my memory returns?” He laid his hands over Robin’s. His gaze was still haunted but there was something else moving in the blue depths. A flicker of passion.

“Uh …” Robin licked suddenly dry lips. “Yes, we …” She cleared her throat. “I’ll ask the weres to bunk together and you can have the room …”

Sky bent closer, his gaze focusing on her lips. “You know, I’ve never kissed a witch before.”

+++

I hope you enjoyed. Check out my Urban Fantasy HEDGE GAMES if you did. :-) And subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases.

> Read on: Part 2 of “All Hallow’s Morning”

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Western Aetherpunk – taking shape

By now you no doubt heard from me about the anthology that transplants Aetherpunk into the wild wild West – a project I was very excited about from the start. Still am. :-)

The cover and interior are taking shape and I wanted to share with you a peek at the work-in-progress.

The title of the first anthology will be “Staub und Aether” (Dust and Aether), combining four short stories by four different authors. (All stories are in German, sorry. If time permits, I’ll translate my story “A fist full of Feathers” for you here in the blog.)

 

Aetherpunk Western cover Staub und Aether

Cover created by Stefan Holzhauer based on a picture by Matthew Field, CC BY-SA license

A first draft of a website is up where later you’ll be able to buy the book and find out about upcoming installments in the series. All “books” in the series will be dime novels, actually.

That was one of the allures of the project. The idea to create dime stories for dime novels together, short guilty pleasures that you can inhale in one sitting. We’re having the books printed and will give them away or sell them at conventions. There will also be an ebook. I’ll keep you posted :-)

Starting over … Blogging humble beginnings

Shooting yourself in the foot, marketing-wise, isn’t exactly a smart idea.

But I bet the bloggers among you know that feeling when you realize that the platform you picked for your (new) blog  just drives you freaking nuts! Or that several blogs converged, stealthily. You started out in two very different places and topics, but now that you’re writing closer to your truth, you ended up with two similar blogs who could happily co-exist in one place.

Photo: Blog by Christian Schnettelker

“Blog” by Christian Schnettelker via Flickr/Creative Commons

I lost my good “web-fairy” two years ago when she got very sick and had her hands full with her young child. Not wanting to add any more pressure on her, I muddled through on my own, building up a website, a blog. I was starting to see a lot of visitors, page views climbed up every time I posted — but the platform was driving me nuts. I couldn’t schedule posts ahead of time. You had to post everything the exact moment you wanted it published! Waah. As a mom with a toddler, that was insane %-)

So I switched to WordPress.com, built up the blog for a second time. I got a lot of likes from fellow WordPressers — who read me through the WordPress app. Which doesn’t count into your stats. Meaning: you’re flying more or less blind because you cannot tell how many people read a post. The stats are quite depressing, especially since this time around, Google seemed to ignore me. Friends said that Google doesn’t like free blogs. Plus the blog was new.

After a few months of that, I was beyond frustrated.

Cue in a visit from my Web-Fairy (like a kind fairy godmother, only much younger and hipper, y’know? ;-) She took pity on me and spent several hours organizing my online-life. We couldn’t get my domain (www.bridaanderson.com) from Weebly, the contract still runs for a while. We couldn’t let the free Brida-wordpress blog point to a new domain.

So I took a deep breath and ordered a second domain,  brida-anderson.com,  and set up a new self-hosted WordPress blog.  From scratch. We also did that for my long-running blog for moms/parents.

In both cases, I could import the blogposts fine but not the images. Gah.

 

For the first time, everything is in one place and I can go happily forward. But … I keep getting messages on Facebook about the free WordPress blog, which I deleted to avoid confusion. People who follow old links get a “This blog doesn’t exist anymore” error. I took part in blog hops — and now all those links back to me get that error message. Ouch.

Such casualties aside, it feels good to be back with a self-hosted blog. And Google is sending me the first searchers, after only a couple of days. Most recently someone looking for a “fantasy mom”. Not sure they were looking for a writer, though ;-)

You know what, I love starting over like this. All casulties aside. When something’s not working on the blogging-side or the reader-side, ditch that platform and find something that’s a pleasure to read and a pleasure to write in. I think it travels over into the blogposts if you enjoy being on that site. So go for it. And ignore your stats — which will start at zero whenever you switch.

My good webfairy and I found a new agreement. She’s feeling better since she started eating Paleo and her son is out of the worst at 4 and a half. (4 … That magic age when you start to hear yourself think again as a mom!) I’ll supply her with books from her Amazon wishlist in exchange for hands-on help with the administration/programming of my websites. A dream came true. I looooove working with Julia again. :-)

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