Conniption, Chapter One

“The most painless way to kill a man…or a girl,” he said with a professional, calculated smile, “is to place your fingers beneath their jaw and with a quick…” he clicked his wrist up in a swift, smooth movement and the apparition of gold and green slumped to the floor – its neck broken – before dissipating into nothing.

“Why are you showing me this, Magellan?” Rennoc asked, his finger lightly tracing the embroidered title on the book before him.

“Because you may well float around this castle with not a jot of air or grace about you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job to do. A job that may…and don’t you look at me like that…may, or may not, involve killing someone. I’m trying to stop you from making someone’s last seconds on this earth like that stone over there.”

It was cracked in two, each half only an inch away from one another. All he’d had to do was raise it up and place it in the battlements above them. Simple. But nothing with Rennoc was ever simple. Nothing. It had cracked in half like the splitting open of Pandora’s Canyon and now each dead half lay by its brother in cold silence.

“I’d never kill someone,” he lied.

“Look, m’boy, you can read all you want on the reformation of magical practices against “wicked witches” and their encumbered stereotypes, but that doesn’t change who you are,” Magellan said as his milky grey eyes darted covetously towards the glass pendant hanging by the boy’s heart. “You’re the Sahrail. And sooner or later, that’s going to bring trouble.”

“It’s already brought trouble,” Rennoc was on his feet, his hands clenched furiously by his side. “Are you too old or too blinded by the pendant that you can’t see that? Liza is going to lose everything, everything, because I am the Sahrail. I live in fear of the day Herthallin brings his armies here and…,” he broke off. “Don’t dare talk to me about consequences.”

“Peace, m’boy. Peace. Let the guards down,” the old man’s hand was outstretched, his elongated fingers like five wands pointing at his heart.

He hadn’t even realized he’d done it, though now Magellan had said it, he could feel the life of each guard in his grasp. They were engulfed in panic, their power useless in their chests, their magic a futile wind against the mountain.

“Sorry,” Rennoc mumbled, letting them fall back down to the ground, the stone walls behind them, the ones that lined the little courtyard high above Torrdunaigh, scuffed with metal scratches. Magellan nodded, dismissing them. Reno kept his eyes trained shamefully on the ground.

“It’s OK, lad. It’s OK. Sit,” Magellan gestured to the stone table Rennoc’s book sat on. “At least you didn’t split them in two.”

It was meant as a joke, but it made the boy’s blood run cold.

He’d been drunk only once before. He and Her Royal Highness Elizarine Lucaelic, had celebrated the Sepermeru festival of Set – though they were hundreds of miles away and neither of them religious. Glass after glass of chilled TeMor had burned both their throats, filling them with laughter and joy and a frivolity that did not, if ever, frequent Draothair’s Queen and the Saviour of all Thair often. He’d woken the next morning, his head against the soft feather pillow that was all his own, in his rookery, atop one of Torrdunaigh’s tallest spires, remembering nothing. His tongue was thick and dry, clicking as he pulled it from the top of his mouth. His room looked the same, though he could feel at least ten guards in the reception chamber beneath – eight more than usual. He couldn’t remember much after they’d taken a shot and dedicated it to Seth, the devourer of the sandy cities, and laughed at how ridiculous it all sounded. He remembered crying. Blood. Raised voices and…nothing else.

He’d gotten out of bed, the drink still in his system making it impossible for him to return to sleep, and before he’d even reached the window, dread swamped him with the terrible understanding that he’d done something awful. Beyond awful. Terrific.

The smell of fire and burning came leisurely through the little archway that peered out onto the city below, a sign that the kitchens were preparing breakfast. His stomach rumbled and then changed its mind, threatening to fill his mouth with bile if he didn’t step away. But that dread, along with its companion, guilt, wouldn’t let him walk back to bed where he could pretend that nothing had happened and the world was good.

He flicked open the little curtain and immediately looked to the sea, for, surely an armada had arrived in the night and attacked the city. The Palace of Spires was aflame. Scorch marks beneath the Queen’s Tower told him that it had been worse earlier, this was the dying days of the fire, shrinking under the approaching dawn, a hundred Thair all weaving their spells to quell the flames. That in itself was odd to Rennoc, who knew that every one of them was capable of snuffing out a bonfire twice the size of the little puddles of flickering fires they were each combatting. That was the moment dread and its friend guilt stepped aside and let clarity crash down on Rennoc with the force of a thousand horse’s hooves. The bile came then.

“I don’t remember doing that,” he said as he stepped out of his memory, talking about both the fire and his assault on the guards.

“I know you don’t,” Magellan’s smile was kind, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“What if I…” he couldn’t finish the thought.

“That’s why I’m teaching you,” the old man smiled at the broken boy and prayed the tears building behind his eyes wouldn’t show. “Because maybe the part of you that takes over will remember and then your guilt won’t be quite so unbearable when it comes.”

And that was that. That was his choice, his life in a nutshell.

Kill them kindly or kill them terribly.

But kill them all the same.

Possible opening scene of Conniption, Book One in the Veins of Power Series

The opening line of a book is so important to the success of a novel that I lack the words to convince you. The opening scene is what decides whether an agent will read on. They receive tens – if not hundreds – of submissions a day, so I need to make my own stand out. This is a sample excerpt from Chapter One of Conniption, a flash forward that the rest of the book works back from. Please, leave a comment below and tell me if this scene would make you read on, or, more importantly, pick this book off a shelf and purchase it. 

All your critiques are welcome.

Enjoy.

Chapter One (Scene One)

“Bring her back.”

The old man stayed silent.

“Do you not hear me you stupid lunatic. Bring. Her. Back.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Codswallop you can’t. I know you can. I know it. You have some spell. Some trick. You must do,” the boy’s arms waved frantically as if he could flap hard enough he’d fly away. Or at least hover and not fall further into despair. “Please, Magellan, I’ve never asked you for a thing. But I am now. Please bring her back. Please,” the tears burst over his red raw eyelids and ran down his muddy cheek, carving crooked runes on his face.

“I can’t do that that,” he said again, calmly, though the wind came bursting through the bushes and ruffled his green robes, sending a chill through his body.

“You can. Please. Please, I didn’t mean it. She was in so much pain.”

“You killed her.”

Rennoc looked at him as if he’d just started singing and banging on a tambourine. He saw the old man’s lips move and heard the words but couldn’t understand what he’d said.

“She was hurting. She couldn’t go on like…like that. She was becoming a monster.”

“I can’t bring her back.”

“I had to – you believe me, don’t you? I had to. I couldn’t let her become like me, I couldn’t let her lose her innocence like that. I had to save her from herself. I had to save us all. You believe me, right?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Magellan could barely contain the bile that burned his throat from spilling from his lips and spitting at the boy. “I can’t bring her back.”

“Then I will. Tell me the spell. Tell me. I command you, do you hear me? I command you to tell me the spell that will bring her back. Now.”

“There is no spell.”

“There MUST BE,” a flock of pigeons, watching nervously yet nosily, nearby, flocked into the sky at the sound of the Sahrail’s raised voice, at the force of the power that pulsed from him. “Look at her.”

But the old man couldn’t and refused to move his head. The boy was stalking back and forth, pacing, magic at his fingertips. The power crackled like lightning and sent smoke wafting through the air like flame.

“I said LOOK AT HER,” he was more demon than boy now, his voice deep and darker than the magic that was flowing through his veins. “There’s no power there now. She can come back. She can come back and be safe. I’ll protect her. Bring her back. BRING HER BACK.”

More tears carved more runes and twisted his face in unadulterated grief.

He was ugly and more broken now than he’d ever been before.

“Rennoc, I can’t. You can’t. No one can. Magic can’t bring back the dead – it shouldn’t.”

“Maybe your magic,” Rennoc said coldly, all emotion draining from him like the life that had drained from his dead adversary as he snapped her soul in two. “But I am more than you, more than anyone, more than anything that’s ever been. And that means I can do whatever I damn well like.

“Good bye,” the boy – now a man – said as he flicked his fingers and sent a spell fizzing like a hive of bees at his old friend. Wrapping itself around his frail body it threw him far away, the world becoming a blur. Only the horrid look of evil stamped across his young ward’s face glittered before his eyes.

The Polar King

The Polar King stood before his wounded hunting party, the empty throne by his side a stark reminder of what he had lost.

“And you let it go free?” his face was framed by the silver light of a harrowing moon that set the black of his eyes fiercely, the anger within them a furious glow.

“We did, sire,” Captain Cassanaida looked him square in the eye as she admitted her failure. “I take full responsibility.”

“But it wasn’t just you out there on the ice, was it?” the King’s teeth clacked together, his need for destruction could not be sated with just one victim, he had to hold them all responsible. “Where’s Carlyl?”

Cassanaida’s heart lurched in her chest. The memory of Carlyl stepping out into the frozen waters of the river, ‘just for a look’, was what he’d said, made her want to weep openly before the Polar Court, before the Queen’s sister. A tear welled in her eye but she wiped it away quickly. She couldn’t bare Lenore feeling sorry for her.

“I see,” the King didn’t have to ask again, the silence was all the answer he needed. “That idiot would have made Pandora’s of us all with his curiosity.”

Although his words were harsh, his hands left their perches on his hips and released from their clenched positions. The Polar King’s knuckles breathed a sigh of relief at the reduction in pressure he’d been putting on them.

“He was a good lad,” the King admitted, rubbing his now loose fingers along his weary forehead. “But that doesn’t mean you’re all forgiven. You know what the monster took from me – from US,” he shouted the last word, sending a ripple of nervous twitches throughout his court. He hadn’t slept in the week since they’d left and each one of the hunting party could see it in the madness that tinged his eyes and jerked his movements. But still, six nights of insomnia was nothing compared to what they endured.

Black scales threw arrowheads uselessly from its slithering body. Green skin, or blood or whatever it was – no one who’d gotten close enough to check remained alive – had whispered to them through the bloodlust haze they’d all been consumed with. Whispered terrible things to them all. Things that no other man should know of another. It had came barreling down the icy river, Carlyl didn’t even have time to draw his sword, though Aurora knows he tried, before its spiny teeth, dripping with translucent venom, had split him front from back and stained the snow of the riverbank red.

“We got this,” Cassanaida delicately pulled a soft, white handkerchief from the pocket of her leather riding gear.

The Darfunal, a monstrous white rhino with the eyes of an owl and a spiral horn lodged in its nose, sniffed gingerly at the offering. The Polar King, who only came to the Darfunal’s muscular shoulder, stretched a hand up to rest on the beasts soft, white fur – though it did little to console the animal’s sadness. He’d lost Queen Tifftish too. And he felt the loss like no human could. That was the burden most animals bore and yet still their masters viewed them as little more than savage dolts. How wrong the smart can be.

“What is it?” the Polar King thought he could smell her again, the way he used to with every pass and twirl she made around him as she danced. She’d loved to dance almost as much as she’d loved him and her Darfunal. Barren and broken, her own child’s laugh just a wish in her heart, she’d made do with her frozen prince and ugly pet and still found the courage to dance. That had made him love her all the more. And made it hurt all the more too when she was taken.

“We think it might be…” she couldn’t dare say ‘hers’ without raising his hopes and if she was wrong… well, that didn’t bare thinking about. Despite his grief and the anger it conjured in him, he was a kind man, an honest man, a decent man. He’d brought prosperity to the frozen wastes above Draothair, and peace. His family had carved a kingdom at the top of the world, where the outcasts of others lands could come and find sanctuary, maybe even salvation, amongst the crisp, pure fields of snow. Innocence made reality.

The Glass Palace sat like a glittering tooth in the heart of the greatest city on the ice, Farzia. Carved entirely from enchanted glass, its high towers and steadfast walls transmuted magic better than any ice ever could. The wind could whistle down the grand promenades and narrow marketways and revel in its own voice, as its unheard song rang proud like bell tones across the Farzian streets. “A marvel of the new world,” Lenore had called it, “a more ingenious city the Athburgians could not have devised.” And Cassanaida believed her. For Lenore had seen the Painted Pyramids of Sepermeru that danced under the sunlight before it was stolen; she’d eaten in the homeless kitchen of the majestic Grand Rah Mashal in Kadladur, whose marble curves and ample gardens were the envy of every Kindred in Draothair. Andoit, Seven Hills, Solcolo, the City of Tri’th, the Queen’s sister had seen them all and still she was humbled by Farzia.

“Might be?” the King snapped his fingers impatiently as he strode down the glass steps beneath his feet and snatched the handkerchief from his captain’s hand.

But he’d done it too harshly. The handkerchief opened and a small vile, recognizable to everyone in the main hall of the Glass Palace, tumbled carelessly, glitteringly, to the hard, glass floor.

It shrieked as it cracked, the water within turning to a fine mist in the air. The Polar King’s mouth hung agape, the sheer stupidity of what he’d just done rendering him an idiot before his people.

Cassanaida had tried to jump for the vile, its significance too great to contemplate, but had been a fraction of a second too slow in her grip and the vile had slithered through her fingers like the monster had done as it sailed through the icy river’s waters.

“You did that,” the Polar King’s face had woken up and hatred for himself burned hotly in his royal eyes. The Darfunal made a goat’s noise at the king, warning him to be merciful, but all his dulcet tones did was awaken a wave of nostalgia in the Polar King’s heart, which made him even crueler. “You did that on purpose.”

“No, I, I… I didn’t. I swear!” Cassanaida backed away from the King who came stalking towards her, his teeth sparkling in the moonlight.

“You did! I saw it! You did it so you could break me! You think destroying my wife’s treasures will make me love you?” the king’s voice reverberated off the glass walls as he drew his silver sword from the sheath by his side. His cape was tattered with holes and stains from the very little food he ate, marked its perfect sky blue and Cassanaida thought how curious it was that she noticed such ridiculous things in these moments before she died. Surely she was supposed to see her life? Or maybe she could steal a look at…

“Grab her,” Lenore was standing from the ceremonial throne she was given out of respect for her station. The wounded and bloody hunting party that had stood side by side with Cassanaida only last night, turned on their captain and held her in place. The Polar King’s sword came singing through the air, whistling a merry tune as it did its duty, and Cassanaida prayed to the Titan that her death would not hurt.

But nothing happened.

She was in blackness, perfect dark haunted all around her. She didn’t remember closing her eyes but as she opened them she saw the entire court was staring at the Queen’s sister. Her perfect, silky hand outstretched, the room could sense her power gripping the King’s blade – a capital offence for all but her – holding it in place and inch from Cassanaida’s neck.

“Take her to the ice pits,” Lenore’s sentence was final, even the King knew that.

The madness and blood lust had left him now anyway and so, as her friends eagerly marched her off to incarceration, the Polar King broke down by his dead wife’s last gift to him and filled the Glass Palace and all of Farzia with his animalistic, savagely poignant howls of visceral, terrible anguish.

The Last Merchants of Righport

He could see the moment you would die with just a touch.

“Only two points in our lives are fixed beyond reason,” Tomshin’s mother used to tell him, “the moment we are born, and the seconds in which we die – everything else is entirely up to us.”

Those words had hung heavy round his shoulders since he was a small boy of four and his unusual talent had manifested itself when he placed his hands on the Dock Keeper’s daughter, Sandraelle.

The icy wind from the Sea of Heirs made him shudder as he thought of that first vision. The streets were empty but for a few stragglers, too proud or stupid to leave this horrid little town, in search of riches where riches truly lay. And that was not by the Docks of Righport. Once a mighty and prosperous trading hub, the Third door To the Kingdom – as some had once called it – now stood as nothing more than an impoverished fishing town. Clutching desperately onto the coast of Hailreim, afraid that it would slip into the sea of obscurity.

Dark, olive hands wrapped themselves around her fragile neck.

Tomshin shook his head.

Crushing they squeezed until here eyes popped with bloodshot and wept tears of crimson.

He slapped his temple, trying to drive the vision from his mind’s eye.

A primal rutting was shaking her body as she tried to cry out one word of true love.

Laughter jolted him from his nightmare.

Three golden haired girls were gigging uncontrollably, while staring at the poor market son turning crazy in the streets. Their gowns of fine blue silk and jeweled clasps that kept their hair off of the cream of their perfect skin, all hinted at wealth.

Draymen bayed at them as the sauntered by, arses wiggling in the dying light that was setting behind the blanket of grey clouds that covered the sky. Thick copper bands rung the dark blue crates they heaved down the gangplank of the Pylian beer cog, bobbing restlessly in the growing tide. Oar men clustered around the docks, eager to stretch their legs after the hard ride against the unpredictable Great Solent.

“Captain’s daughters,” the grim face of Kinto Peeling muttered behind yellow teeth. His eyes were stained red with grief and he stank of TeMor and week old sweat. His clothes had become ragged and filthy, large yellow stains spreading outward from his armpits and deep blues raining down from his collar. “They shouldn’t be without guard.”

And with that, he strode off to follow the girls down the pier.

Peeling strode off towards the docks, his arms like jelly, wiggling by his side. He barely seemed to notice the cold, even though he had only that thin tatty shirt to warm him. The Draymen seemed to know him and immediately ceased their rambunctious flattery of the captain’s daughters.

The guilt poured through him like piss through snow.

He knew where Sandraelle was.

The clip-clop thunder of a dozen horses echoed down the tight cobbles that hinted at Righport’s former wealth. Tomshin turned, with lead in his stomach, towards the Highwaymen barreling angrily towards him.

A Babe alone in the Dungeons: An introduction to the Pale Bloods of Draothair

It was dark down here in the dungeons, but my eyes were bright. The eyes of a hunter. My prey didn’t roam the fields or hide beneath the waves. No. My prey was bred behind iron bars and culled in great droves – such was the law. I could see the scratches on the brickwork, the small pools of congealed blood and rusted flakes sprinkles from the rotting bars of their cages, and their dank, terrible eyes, just watching the air above them. Or the floor beneath them. But never me. No, never me. They knew better.

I was a prince … of sorts.

Son and heir to Her Secret Highness, Emelia Envoy, Mistress of the Pale Bloods and Keeper of the Shore, Commander of the White Shadows and Centre of the Web. The last being most important of all.

I hated doing these tours of the castles. Skirting around the haunting reminders of our forgotten power. We had been a kingdom once, a proud and prosperous nation along the Atafuil Coast but now? Whipped spies, no better than bloodbitches, for the Child Queen and her filthy race of magic throwers. Revolting Thair. It made my fangs clatter as I snapped my jaw shut in irritation. I would bring us back to prominence. In these cracked castles, stretched along a vulnerable coastline, amongst the ruins of our greatness I would birth a new kingdom. My Kingdom. But that wasn’t for today. And until I sat on the Webbed Throne I would have to do as Mother says. And she wanted me to see the farms.

Arhnkill, a great muscled man, with leather straps straining around his biceps and a square jaw that, had his nose not been so obviously broken a hundred more times or so, could have made him quite handsome, guarded me. I only needed on guard; Pale Bloods were not allowed to show fear. He was here only as a torchbearer, for show at least. My mother worried. She shouldn’t have. I was almost fifteen now. Much too old to be watched by this bumbling oaf. He may be strong, but I knew I was quicker. Even with our senses so increased, he couldn’t catch me if he tried. So what chance did a Finite have?

“You must look into the cages, sire,” Arhnkill spoke in a voice that could make glass shatter if he held a note for too long. Luckily, he didn’t know a word long enough and so he had never tried. A relief to us all.

“Yes, yes,” I said quietly as I realized I hadn’t been shying away from my responsibilities. My neck didn’t want to comply. Their eyes, that’s what it was. They looked like ghosts. I didn’t like it. “I’m not scared,” I said to the oaf.

“No one said you were,” he looked at me knowingly, with large dull eyes that would be dangerous, were they in the head of a man with more wits.

A hand grasped beyond the iron bars. It took Arhnkill not a second to react. With a squelch that meant dinner time under normal circumstances, and a sickening wail, Arhnkill began to chew happily on the snack he never knew he would get.

The Finites all moved. I had almost thought of them as deaf, dumb and mute statutes, just hovering between the line of life and death, but such a brutal response to such a simple action, had them all scurrying for the side of the cage we were not strolling along beside.

I’m scared, I thought to myself. I had tried not to admit it, but I was. I didn’t like these dungeons. These farms as they were called. They were horrible places of terrible acts. A genocide against a race that did nothing other than taste good. We were hunters, and yet because of that bitch, the Child Queen, and her ilk, we were forced to grow Finites like corn in a field, instead of hunt them through the forests.

We had been revered once, legends like any other monster. Now the Finites beyond The Limit’s Gate only feared the Thair, and their great magic. Barely any remembered us. Forgotten parasites amongst our ruined castles.

“You, boy,” I had to get out of my own head, “Why are you in there alone?”

His cage was as large as any other, yet only his wiry body sat within the bars, framed with the moonlight that poured through a hole in the tower this dungeon sat beneath, a hundred stories up. He looked like an angel.

“This one was killing his own kind,” Arhnkill said deeply.

“I wasn’t, they were trying to kill me,” the boy spat back. Arhnkill’s meaty fist was about to fire through the bars and break the boy before my hands grasped his own and his reflexes took over. You never disobeyed a royal.

“Have we so much food that you can waste this one?” I asked the oaf as he tossed aside the arm he had been devouring lazily. “You aren’t scared of us?” I asked the boy who looked no older than me.

“I can’t be scared of monsters that can’t see I’m not in here alone,” was his smart alec reply. But he was right. I hadn’t noticed because of the pillar of light, but a woman sat hunched over her small child, barely a babe, and let it suckle at her exposed breast.

“You know he would have killed you had I not been here?”

“He will kill me whether you are here or not, one day, at least. We aren’t in these cells because we have done anything wrong.”

“Tell me, why were your own kind trying to kill you?” I asked, my voice a snake amongst the flickering light.

“The same reason your body guard there was,” he grinned a grin that made my brow furrow. Here he was, a lamb amongst the wolves, and yet he laughed at our fur and sniggered at our teeth.

“A smart tongue?”

“A loose tongue and a smart mind,” he wagged his tongue cheekily and I had to hold Arhnkill back once again.

“Have you no concern for your own well-being? What made you so bold?”

“What made you hate us, so?” he asked back, his tone suddenly serious.

“We don’t hate you, no more than the owl hates the mice he hunts,” I said back. Hoping to my voice came across as smart arsey as his.

“The owls don’t talk to the mice either, yet here you are.” He won.

Just then, the babe at his mother’s breast began to cry. A loud wailing that made the stone throw the sound back twice as hard.

“Shut him up,” Arhnkill ran his icy fingers along the bars. “Now woman!”

He pulled open the gate and began to walk in. I knew he would kill it if it didn’t stop crying and I found myself conflicted, why did I not want him too? The wiry boy. The stupid, brave wiry boy leapt from the damp floor he sat on with grace and tried to stop my torchbearer. With a backhand, the oaf smacked the boy back down and shattered his left arm in the process.

I let out a few moans and sighs as I tried to think, in my mind that could think a hundred poems all at once, of an excuse to stop this murdering fool from killing a baby for doing no more than all babies do.

“I SAID SHUT HIM UP!” he bellowed at the woman, who didn’t move an inch.

“Arhnkill,” I reached out, not wanting to step inside the cage, but the dawning realization was sickening and made my frozen heart bleed for the poor mite.

For only he was still alive.