Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Opening Lines of Our WIP, Faerie Rising

Our friend over at https://writingouttakes.wordpress.com/ showed up their fantastic first lines today, and after totally geeking out about them we thought that looked like a lot of fun.  So we have the first few (current) paragraphs of Faerie Rising.

The little bell above the shop door preceded the desperate cry of, “Winter, we need you!”  The urgency in her friend’s voice tore the wizard’s attention from her task.  She dropped the open box of sterile surgical instruments on the long counter and rushed across the back room clinic, passing the city map of Seahaven that took up one entire wall.  On the map were neat red dots and a note for every violent incident this year.  It was the end of October and the map was so covered in red that it looked like it was inflicted with a virulent rash.  Winter pushed her way through the thickly beaded curtain into the still-darkened storefront.

It was hours before the rest of the shops in the Historical District would open, the sun was just trembling on the mountain’s lips and the deep shadows cast by the century-old buildings left the streetlights still lit.  Through the doorway walked Giovanni and Katherine, though “walk” might have been too casual a description.  He leaned heavily on her smaller frame, but she bore his weight easily with her right arm about his slender waist, holding both his and her jackets in place against his back.  Katherine kicked the door closed behind her and showed Winter her face, pale beneath the thick spray of blood that glittered on her skin and hair.

Winter swallowed down the rising bile of panic as the meat smell of heavy bleeding reached her.  In her experience, that was the smell of a loved one’s violent death.

She had seen a great deal of death.

“What happened?” she asked even as she quelled her trembling belly with a wash of icy professionalism and shoved a half-empty box aside with her foot to make a clear path.  The shop was a disaster, thick with dust, boxes everywhere and the shelves half empty.  And there was precious little she could do about it anytime soon.

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The Characters of Faerie Rising – Jessie St. James

When Jessie St. James was twelve years-old she stumbled into Olde Curiosity’s Gift Shoppe, a little family-owned store full of herbal products. After taking a light-fingered look around she attempted to leave with some of the smaller merchandize and came face to face with one of the proprietors, the wizard Winter Mulcahy.  Winter had noticed that the girl was using magic to aid her shoplifting – but put a broom in her hand and had her do chores in the shop rather than calling the police.  At the end of the afternoon Winter rewarded Jessie’s good work with the items she had tried to steal.  Jessie has been Winter’s shadow ever since.

Jessie began training her magic with Winter’s twin cousins, Kelley and Martina, whose offensive abilities were more in keeping with Jessie’s flamboyant style than Winter’s tamer potion making. But that came to an end six months ago, when the twins were killed – the latest in the long line of Mulcahy wizards to die.  Winter has been forced to continue Jessie’s magical education as best she can, but with the crushing weight of her responsibilities Jessie is often left training on her own.  Most days she can be found at Curiosity’s after or, much to Winter’s eternal consternation, during school hours.

Sixteen year-old Jessie’s home life is a mess. Her parents, Joanie and Darryl St. James, are career alcoholics, controlling and verbally abusive towards their daughter and each other, and resent Jessie’s involvement with the Mulcahy family.  Not possessing any magic themselves, they are unaware of the preternatural world their daughter has whole heartedly joined and see Winter as a busybody.  Jessie in return does everything in her power to avoid her parents, taking advantage of their drunken forgetfulness to spend nights sleeping anywhere but at home.

Quick of wit, artistic, and unabashedly outspoken, Jessie has quickly made friends throughout the preternatural community, especially among the vampires of Seahaven. Many nights she can be found couch surfing at their Theatre in the Historical District when she isn’t hiding from her parents in the tiny apartment above Curiosity’s.

Winter is sick, falling apart from the strain of holding Seahaven together alone. Everyone in the preternatural community can see it, and they all talk to Jessie about it.  Jessie is desperate to help her friend and mentor, but Winter won’t let her.

But being told “no” won’t deter a young wizard like Jessie…

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Writing Diversity in Speculative Fiction

“Why is diversity important in speculative fiction?”  There are a few different answers to this, because it is not only important, it’s becoming increasingly important every year.

1) Diversity really is good.  I know this answer gets blown off, but it’s true.  However, it’s also a fast and easy answer, and doesn’t really get to the heart of the “why.”

2) Because readers want to see characters who reflect themselves and their lives.  This is the money answer, and readers vote with their entertainment dollars.  Readers, more and more, really are showing increasing interest in seeing a more diverse reflection of life in genre fiction – they want to see MC’s who are the single mother, the black dragon slayer, the space waitress, the gay squire.  The world, and the reading public, is not made up of straight white farm boys and princes, and they’re getting bored with reading about them.  So why not add richness, depth, and realism to our fiction while attracting readers who are clamoring for just such diversity, because they want to see characters they can identify with?

3) Because these are the stories that don’t get told. And here is the social justice answer – to be honest, it’s our answer.  Media has traditionally “white-washed” out most of the rest of society in favor of the perspective of the Straight White Male default.  Things are getting better, slowly, as eyes open and we realize a more inclusive media is a good thing, but the fact that we still wrangle in discussions like this shows that we are, indeed, still far off from where we need to be as a genre as far as recognition of social issues goes.  Within the umbrella terms of “diversity” and “equality” lie stories that until recently were only told in dark corners.  We, as writers, have the opportunity to bring them into the light.  Just think, we who so often bemoan the dearth of new stories, how many stories wait unheard?  Dark stories, many of them, but also stories of hope, perseverance, and determination.  And we don’t even need to make blatant social statements out of our plots or characters to tell them – in fact, it’s really better if we don’t.  All we need is for our characters to say, “Here I am.  I am a person, for better or worse.”  I think this is especially true for those who write YA, when young readers are desperately searching for characters who look like them, struggle like them, hurt like them.  They don’t need yet another heroic farm boy, they need an MC like them – be they awkward or brown or gay or gender-questioning.

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The Characters of Faerie Rising – Kian, the Glorious Dawn

Kian, the Glorious Dawn, earned his name in childhood when it became obvious that he had inherited his mother’s famous beauty.

Edaine of the Waters was the most beautiful sidhe woman of her age.  She was courted by all of the Sons of Dagda, among the richest and most powerful princes of Faerie, but at long last she gave her heart to Prince Eoin, the youngest son.  Eoin was neither particularly rich nor powerful, but he was kind and loving, and his gentleness won Edaine’s love.  They were married and in time Edaine gave birth to a son, Kian.  Soon after the boy’s birth, Eoin fell in battle and rather than live without her love, Edaine chose to fade into mist and memory.  Kian, now an orphan, was taken in by his uncle, King Anluan, who had been one of Edaine’s most ardent suitors, even though he already had a Queen.

Anluan made Kian companion to his own son, Prince Senan, but the boys were raised very differently.  Kian was taught dance, music, and poetry while Senan was taught swordplay and politics.  Rumors abounded that Anluan was grooming Kian to take Edaine’s place in his affections.

When Kian was twelve, Prince Midhir the Proud came to Anluan’s court.  Angry at a perceived slight, Midhir kidnapped both of the young princes.  Senan he took to raise as his own, but Kian was taken to strike at Anluan.  Midhir brutalized and violated young Kian, and then left him for dead in the wilds of Faerie. 

Kian was found by a wandering half-sidhe knight named Etienne.  Etienne, upon learning that Kian’s father was Prince Eoin, a kind figure from Etienne’s own past, swore to protect the young prince and nursed him back to health.  They travelled Faerie for many years together, and finally came to the Mortal Realm where they encountered a group of therian wolves who were members of a medieval recreation group.  The two sidhe were welcomed into this pack and lived among them for a year.

Etienne and Kendrick, the King of the wolf pack, taught Kian many of the things his royal uncle had omitted from his education.  Together, they taught him swordplay, horsemanship, strategy, and warfare.  Kian and Etienne were content among the wolves and would have happily stayed among them much longer if fate had not intervened in the form of a magazine article about a computer securities magnate who bore the face of Kian’s nightmares.  This was the man who had kidnapped him and at his side was Kian’s young friend Prince Senan, who Kian had thought was dead.  Kian convinced Etienne that they must rescue his childhood friend.

Upon reaching Seahaven, Washington, Kian and Etienne realize that they are going to need more help to get Senan out of the heavily guarded Moore Computer Securities.  They seek out the help of a wizard who Etienne had befriended during the Second World War, only to find that he and his extended family are almost all gone.  The only help left is one wizard girl, barely older than Kian, and she has problems of her own.  But even so, she offers help and place to rest, even as danger threatens from all sides…

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The Characters of Faerie Rising – Etienne Knight

Etienne is a faerie knight, half sidhe and half human – but he will be the first to say he is no hero.

His armor is as tarnished as his honor, and he has as little use for one as he does the other.  He has been called many things – half-breed filth, Summer’s Get, crazy.  He has wandered the realms as an outcast for centuries, hiring on as a mercenary or as a blacksmith wherever there was work to be found and often going hungry.  He finds companionship among others who lived on the fringes of society, sometimes for a day or even two, mostly only in the quiet of the night.  He usually prefers to be alone.

But he had not always been this way.  Once when he was young he accidentally wandered into the Mortal Realm for the first time, and there he met a peasant’s daughter named Bess at a harvest festival.  That night she came to him and told him she would be his wife if he would have her.  He stayed with her, loved her, walked through the nights with crying babies and worked the days at a blazing forge.  And when he lost her too soon to plague, when he was driven from the village by fear and superstition, he was forced to return to Faerie, to the place of his birth, lost and suffering from a broken heart.

Etienne’s mortal wife never knew his scars.

There was no welcome waiting for his return.  But there were enemies.  He was tortured over days as spell glyphs were carved over and over into his flesh, into every exposed inch of skin until his tormenters were certain they would scar irrevocably.  And then they discarded him without activating the magic in the glyphs, a display of their contempt.  Etienne had one single friend, a prince of little power but who had a reputation for making interesting friends.  This prince was able to smuggle Etienne away and to convince his friends the dwarves to lay runic brands over the new scars to negate their magic.  It was as excruciating as the original cutting, but it was pain Etienne accepted willingly.

He never went home again.

Instead he began wandering, sometimes through Faerie, sometimes through the Mortal Realm.  As a half-breed he was eternally at a disadvantage against full-blooded sidhe who were faster and stronger, harder to kill.  Even as the centuries passed and he gained experience in combat, when faced with equal skill those things could be the deciding factor that ended in his death.  It was known that he was friendless and relatively weak, and there were many among the sidhe who would welcome his passing.  Etienne mastered jumping between realms, living on the borders, staying out of sight and out of the way, but even then it seemed to be only a matter of time before his luck wore out.  He needed an advantage.

Finally he found it in mortal ingenuity.

His human blood had granted him immunity to Cold Iron, and Etienne had always held a love and fascination for blacksmithing and mechanics.  He had encountered early firearms during his various sojourns in the Mortal Realm, but while they had been interesting to him, as weapons against preternatural opponents they were useless – an opinion shared by the rest of the preternatural world.  They were simply not powerful enough.  But then the .45 revolver was invented, and Etienne knew he had finally found something with potential.  But as a mortal weapon it still was not enough.  A revolver could do much more damage than a flintlock pistol, but it still would not do enough to do more than anger a sidhe, the real threats to his survival.  He needed more – much more.

He turned again to the dwarves.

In exchange for service, the exact terms of which he does not speak of, they forged for Etienne a named weapon – the revolver Agmundr, The Gift of Terror.  They also created twelve enchanted bullets that would kill any sidhe dealt a fatal wound and a gun rig that would give him speed and strength as if he was full-blooded.  It gave him the ability to kill at range, to negate his relative mortal frailty.  Finally he could force those who hunted him for amusement to leave him in peace.  He killed the next three sidhe lords to face him.

The rest learned to give him a wide berth.

And Etienne was finally content to roam the worlds, to be left alone.  And that was what he did.  Until one day when Fate intervened in his life, and he found a young sidhe boy, little more than a child, who had been brutalized, violated, and left for dead.  Against his better judgment Etienne took the child away with him and nursed him back to health, even after discovering that the boy’s attacker had been one of the most powerful princes in all of Faerie.  The knowledge only made him run faster and further with the boy.   When the boy recovered enough to talk, he told Etienne a tale that changed his life.  His name was Kian and he was a prince’s companion.  He and that prince had been kidnapped, and the prince murdered before his eyes.  And then young Kian revealed that his own parents were dead and his guardian was the prince’s father – and his own father was the very same powerless prince who so long ago had been Etienne’s only friend.  Etienne knew then that he would do anything to protect this boy, and after years of wandering the lonely places finally took him to the Mortal Realm to ensure his safety.

The Mortal Realm has brought with it challenges and discoveries if its own.  As Etienne struggles to survive in the modern world and teach his friend’s son what it means to be a faerie prince in his own right, he discovers that the kidnapper – since turned fugitive – has resurfaced in the Mortal Realm.  This would be enough to drive Etienne back to Faerie, except that he and Kian discover Kian’s childhood friend is still alive and still being held by their attacker.  Now at Kian’s urging Etienne has traveled across North America to the city of Seahaven, Washington, in a quest to rescue the kidnapped prince.

Once in the city Etienne realizes he needs help and goes in search of an old friend, but instead finds a young wizard girl who herself needs rescuing…

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The Denizens of The Books of Binding (Part 4) The Fae

“Winter turned to face him.  ‘That’s the largest rift I’ve ever seen.’”

“Etienne shook his head.  ‘They’ve gotten smaller with the Age of Iron, but there was once a time when Faerie and the Mortal Realm actually overlapped in places.  This is nothing, just a rift filling a doorway.  The first one I passed through when I was very young filled a valley; I came to the Mortal Realm by accident in my wandering.’  He shrugged.  ‘Decided to stay a while.’”

~ Faerie Rising

“Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’”

~ The Eagles “Hotel California”

Once upon a time…

There was once a time when a knight hunting in the forest might catch sight of a pure white stag and give chase, responding to the challenge and call to adventure that, at some point during his wild ride, pulled him far from the mortal lands of his birth and into a realm ruled by magic, wonder, and terror.  There he might face dangers untold, his life and freedom hanging in the balance, and while there he might fall in love with a lady of this land and make her his own.  Should the knight survive his trials, he may choose to return to his own place with his lady at his side, or stay to live eternally young within the bounds of his new home – but no matter the challenges he faces or the choices he makes, he will be forever changed by his encounter with the Realm of Faerie.

While the fae exist in one form or another cross culturally around the globe, in our series, The Books of Binding, the majority tend to come from the Western European traditions.  Within the Faerie Realm there exist uncounted smaller realms, each ruled over by kings or queens who possess enough sheer magical power to forge their realms from the raw gray mist of infinite potential with their force of will alone.  Time flows at different rates from realm to realm.  Some realms exist in eternal summer.  Some in eternal night.  Some are covered in lush forests, and some are chains of islands on vast seas.  Borders fluctuate, and it is easy to accidentally wander from one realm to another – and then be unable to find the way home.

The realms, and the courts that rule them, are divided into two major factions.  The Seelie, the Shining Ones, claim to be the side of the light, while the Unseelie are the Darkling Throng, the courts of nightmares.  Some races of fae naturally align to one side or another – the bloodthirsty redcaps and jacks-in-irons swell the armies of the Unseelie, and hardworking brownies find places among the courts of the Seelie.  Other races cross the boundary, finding a place as personal inclination guides them.  The most notable of these races are the great sidhe, sometimes called the Tuatha de Danann.  They rule over all the other races… more or less.  The sidhe consider themselves to be superior to all other fae, and in many ways they are.  They are mighty warriors and powerful magicians, and the majority of those who have created realms and rule courts are counted among their number.  They forge legendary weapons out of sidhe steel, weapons which have armed heroes since time immemorial.  The musical skill of their great artists has no equal in any realm.  The sidhe are also tall, slender, and very graceful; considered, at least by mortals, to be the most beautiful of all the fae.  They have stolen many a mortal heart, and lured thousands away from their hearths and families.

Existing in hundreds of forms across diverse cultures around the world, faeries – or nan a push, or nymphs, or Aziza, or whichever of the many names they are known by – have become as elusive as they are endemic.  As the Industrial Revolution (or as the fae call it the Age of Iron) swept the Mortal Realm, bringing with it steel skyscrapers and railroads, the fae withdrew further and further away from mortal contact, further away from the poison of Cold Iron.  As time passed the Mortal Realm and Faerie drew further apart until it was no longer possible to accidentally cross from one to the other.

But Gateways still exist, hidden and well-guarded, and rifts still open from time to time…

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A Short Story – The Dragon Slayer

Let’s take a little break from “The Denizens” series, and have a little fun, shall we?

~He had found the large crevice with natural ease, considering his intense training, and delved into the deep, warm cave hidden within, into the cavern with the dragon’s hoard piled high with accumulated wealth to rival a small kingdom.  He was admiring suits of fine armor, with a mind to his reward, when he spotted her.  A hollow had been made in a pile of coins, and on the gold slept the maiden.

They had said that she was beautiful.  They had no idea when the dragon had taken her captive, but the blacksmith said she was sometimes seen, near to the mouth of the wyrm’s lair.  The young knight thought that if he had been the dragon, he would have never let such a fair creature out of his sight, but the villagers simply shrugged and left him to his opinion.  His young mind had conjured images of golden hair like a silken waterfall, blue sky eyes, cast down modestly, and her slim form dressed in damask silk, finery appropriate to her gentle birth.  His imaginings had left him unprepared for the woman sleeping before him.

Her hair was not gold, but tumbled about her face and body like a fire caught in the moment of catching.  Strings of small pearls and jewels were twined in her tresses, and draped about her long, strong limbs.  Her skin was not lily white, but copper, color lent by the fires burning on the walls, the knight was sure.  Instead of rich fabrics, she was dressed only in the jeweled strings and baubles from the trove.  And when her eyes snapped open and focused on him, they were the same color as new wheat in his noble father’s fields.

Her eyes immediately darted about the cavern, and he tried to follow her eyes, breaking from his rapture with alarm.  The dragon!  But his eyes found only the empty cavern.  When he looked back, she was regarding him with irritation and confusion.  “My lady, I have come to rescue you.”

She sat up slowly as a smile of delight spread across her face, and she stroked his embossed breastplate with dark fingers.  She seemed to have not heard him.  Of course!  The dragon had her enchanted.  Why else would a virtuous woman be in such an immodest state?  He caught her hand and scooped her up in his arms, a startled squeak springing from her.  “I beg your pardon my lady…” he trailed off, realizing that only his leather gauntlets separated his fingers from her warm, bare skin.  He was suddenly very grateful for the unyielding nature of his armor, because the maiden would not have been able to miss his shame.  Wrapping his cloak about her, he carried her from the cavern.

She had not moved in several long moments, and as they emerged from the cave, he swallowed his embarrassment long enough to look at her face.  His father had allowed a simpleton to work in the chicken house, and the man was prone to wild imaginings.  She looked at him with the same look that mad man would earn, her fiery green eyes fixed on him with tolerant bemusement, but none of the alarm he might have expected.  He stopped outside the cave and set her on her feet, unsettled by her steady regard.

Her eyes suddenly broke from his face, and she pointed to the sky as she gave a small cry of alarm.  He spun, sword drawn, and faced nothing but a summer day, a green meadow dotted with distant sheep.  Irritation drew his brows together.  “Now, my lady…” He heard the heavy sound of his cloak dropping to the grass behind him, and as he turned the bright jingling of jewels.  Heat sank into his armor, followed by an elemental growl that reverberated in his bones.  Copper scales writhed in the corner of his vision, and he raised his sword in an arc that never completed.

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The Denizens of The Books of Binding (Part 3) The Therian

the·ri·an·throp·ic

adjective

1. being partly bestial and partly human in form.

“Karen breathed her in, and Winter knew she felt hunger.  She saw herself, wounded and bleeding on the grass, and knew Karen smelled her weakness and found it good.  A human might have actually felt the concern Karen mimicked well, but the predator knew only eat, and being eaten.  Concern was for cubs and kin.  Karen was therian.  She had either never been human, or was human no longer.”

~ Faerie Rising

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

~ The Wizard of Oz

The step of a wolf falls even more silently on the asphalt of an alleyway than on the forest floor.

Eye shine reflects in the darkness, much too high to be a feral housecat.

A shape rises, the night itself taking form from the city’s shadows, rising impossibly tall, and steps forward just to the edge of the safety the streetlight promises.  Its body is covered with gleaming fur from the protruding muzzle and broad shoulders to the powerful curved legs and feet tipped with lethal claws.  Its eyes glitter with intelligence as it regards you taking refuge in the light, and it bears canines longer than your fingers as it says, “Lost?”  And then it is on you, teeth buried in your flesh as it shakes you effortlessly as rag doll.

The streetlight lied.

Our shape shifters, the therian of The Books of Binding, range the land, the air, and the seas.  Though many keep to the dwindling wilderness, as humans have spread more and more have been forced to settle down beside them in cities, and those who are predators find that humans living on the fringes of society are easy prey – or potential brethren.

Though they may come in many varieties, the one trait that binds all therian together is that they are all essentially animals that turn into people.  Make no mistake, born or made, it is with an animal’s instincts guided by a human intellect that they interact with the world around them.  They can cry and laugh, be your friend or lover, but they are not human and do not understand many human niceties and social cues, and can react with explosive aggression if they feel challenged.  The common therian lives very much in the now; only their leaders, those who are alphas or the most powerful, the kings and queens, are capable of thinking ahead, of strategizing.   It is for this reason that the majority of therian live on the fringes of society themselves, an underclass of criminals and dropouts who band together with others of their own kind for survival.

Several strains of therianthropy can only be passed down through family lines, the avian therian and the prey species in particular.  All others are either born or made via magical infection.  The disease is carried within a therian’s body fluids.  No tiny claw scratches will make anyone furry.  Only a wound severe enough to mingle the attacking therian’s body fluids with their victim’s blood stream will initiate the change – if the victim survives the initial shock.  Most made therian are attack survivors, and there are more horrible ways to become a therian than by being bitten.  Once begun the change is swift, happening over the course of several agonizing hours.  If they’re lucky the one who attacked them stays nearby, waiting until they are ready to be taken back to the group and their new life.  But if they are not, and many are not, they wake with healing wounds that should have killed them, in pain and alone in a world they never knew existed.

Once in this life, the new therian finds their body capable of incredible things.  They can change forms without pain, feeling more like a truly epic stretch, and if they are strong enough they have not only their human and animal forms, but the half form, the massive “wolf-man” made famous by movies.  They are much faster than a human, sight and scent are enhanced, they are capable of jumping well above their own height (higher if they are one of the great cats), and stronger than even a vampire, strong enough to crush a car door in their bare hands.  Wounds heal before their eyes, their bodies burn feverishly hot with the energy of their amazing metabolisms, and despite what folklore would say they are not slaves of the moon’s cycle.  These gifts come at cost, however.  To fuel their powerful bodies they must eat, and the metabolism that can heal like theirs requires massive amounts of food every day, much more than a human needs.  There is also a hidden cost, one that most therian are not capable of thinking too hard about, with their minds eternally in the now.  Their amped up metabolisms burn them out, shortening their lifespans.  Most therian, if they live to see old age, do not live past their sixties.  A therian who sees seventy is ancient, indeed.

However, an early death by accelerated old age is the least of a therian’s worries.  Life within the preternatural community is brutal and often short, especially for them.  Outside the various groups, therian prey on each other, predators hunting prey species for food and predators hunting other predators in competition for territory.  The prey species have few resources to protect them, and often turn to stronger groups, such as the vampires, for protection against predation.  Vampires will still feed on them, but a little bloodletting is far preferable to being eaten.  Within the groups violence determines the rule of law.  The predator groups are ruled by the strongest, the most dominant, and usually the males.  Males fight amongst themselves for dominance and the right to mate with females, and can move up and down the ladder of hierarchy depending on the outcome of the fights.  The higher up the ladder they get, the higher the stakes of the fights get.  At the top most levels, fights are to the death.  Females don’t dominance fight as often, preferring to sort themselves out in a more social fashion, but when they do it is almost always lethal.  The strongest female will then pair with the strongest male, and they will jointly rule the group.  It is she who decides who, if anyone, will bear children in the group.

A therian female, born or made, will go into heat every 6 months for the majority of her life.  The usual practice is for other females to isolate her, well away from the rest of the group, to prevent fighting among the males in their attempts to get to her.  The stronger the female, the more intense the fighting can be.  The most common forms of birth control are to either endure the seven day heat alone, which can be intensely frustrating for the female in question, or to enlist the company of a male of another species, as therian cannot crossbreed.  When a female does choose, or is selected by her alpha female to have cubs, she will carry one or two (twins being very common) for five and a half months to term.  This gives her the ability to have two litters a year, if the pressure to reproduce is high, though most therian females don’t.  In an ideal setting, the group will assist in raising the cubs, protecting and nurturing them until they are old enough to begin climbing the dominance ladder themselves.

If only all groups were ideal and stable.

Hours later you’re breathing in the metallic meat scent of your own blood where it soaks your clothes, the broken asphalt of the dark recess of the alley digging into your side.  The vicious wounds where the monster ripped into you with its teeth have long since healed, leaving you dressed in shredded, bloody rags, and the sunlight on the bricks above you head highlights colors you’ve never seen.

He watches you with those same cunning eyes, now a man dressed in jeans and an unbuttoned shirt as he ties his other boot.  Finally he nods as if convinced of something, and grabs you by your arm, dragging you to your unsteady feet.  “Come on,” he says in the same gruff voice, and pulls you out of the alleyway towards your new life.

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The Denizens of The Books of Binding (Part 2) The Vampires

“Katherine let her eyes close as Giovanni drew one of her bloody fingers into his mouth and began to suck it clean.  Her lips parted, upper and lower fangs extending much like a snake to show startling white against the natural crimson of her mouth.”

~ Faerie Rising

Immortal sensualists and ardent politicians, vampires are the power brokers of the preternatural world and the true inventors of the long game.  For centuries they have played, using both preternaturals and humans as living game pieces – first the election of a Pope, then a senator’s scandalous fall – with one ultimate goal in mind.

Survival.

For though some younger eyes may see the humans as placid sheep, mindlessly waiting to be culled, those vampires who have lived through darker centuries know that if the sheep see the wolves in their midst, the nature of the flock can change dangerously, and not all the sheep are blind.  So they play the game to ensure they live in a world where a human who claims his neighbor is a shape-shifter will be mocked, rather than rescued.  To ensure their kind can continue to hide in plain sight.

Our vampires are immortal in the sense that they will live indefinitely until they are killed, and yes, they are alive, not undead.  They are very difficult to kill – a wooden stake through the heart will only result in an angry vampire and a dead amateur Van Helsing.  They are not vulnerable to holy objects, or silver, or garlic, or any of the other superstitions and fictions that have been spread around over the centuries, often by vampires themselves, to help them hide.  They are nocturnal hunters but do not fear the sun, though they are admittedly not at their best in full sunlight.  Sunglasses are truly the vampire’s friend, and they only glitter under trance music and a club’s strobe lights while wearing the correct body products.

Indeed, the greatest threat to a vampire is another vampire.  Total destruction or removal of the head or the heart is the only way to ensure death.  So while vampires have not been slow to adopt firearms, they still adhere to the old ways of killing.  Within their Courts they gave the original meaning to “cutthroat” politics, as a single misstep can result in death.  At the top of these constantly shifting towers of factions and alliances rule the Vampire Kings.  Any vampire, regardless of gender, with enough power, cunning and ambition may rise to become a King and rule over a Court composed of not only vampires but also those shape-shifting “therian” and humans who serve them.  But at this level the only path to power is through the death of a sitting King – the vampire who would walk it does so at their dire peril, for the King they would murder has walked it before them, knows its twists and bends, and lays in wait for all who would so much as set a foot upon it.  There is no law among vampires against preemptive retaliation.

But, individually, the most powerful of the vampires are not the Kings at all.  They are the queens.  Of the many, many female vampires made in the world, only a tiny percentage rise as a powerful breeding queen – at the time of Faerie Rising they only number thirty-one.  Male vampires may on rare occasion father half-breed children on human women, but these Dhampyr are weak creatures to be pitied in the Courts, who share their fathers’ need for blood and their mothers’ mortalities.  A common female vampire is utterly sterile.  Queens, on the other hand, are not only extremely powerful vampires, they will also go into heat every few centuries during their lifetimes, attracting male vampires for miles around and only accepting the most powerful to mate.  These choices are political ones, made decades, sometimes centuries in advance.  Queens maintain their own small Courts autonomous from the Kings’ Courts, though they usually choose a King to support and maintain them on the understanding that when her heat comes on her the King of her choice will be the one to sire her prince, a huge mark of prestige for any vampire.  Attracting and keeping a queen is a great show of power among the Kings, as queens have full autonomy and can choose to leave for any reason, at any time.  Queens always bear sons.  No one knows why this is, though it is a common subject of debate among the queens themselves.  A prince is always powerful, and will eventually grow to become a King in his own right, should he survive long enough.  Again, Kings see nothing wrong with preemptive retaliation, and princes who are not their own sons are threats on the horizon.  So a queen will choose her prince’s father most carefully, with her son’s future survival in mind.

In a life of politics and pain, where death may find them around any corner if they chose the wrong friends, for vampires their basic survival is the ultimate pleasure.  A vampire must feed on living blood.  Since they can eat regular food, “dead” blood such as one might find in a fictional blood donation bag is not only of no more nutritional value than any bloody rare meat, the anti-coagulants that are added taste foul.  No vampire would drink blood from a plastic bag.  They are predators, as well as sensualists.  Their very nature desires warm flesh between their teeth, a writhing body trapped in the steel coils of their powerful arms.  They want the hunt.

But not the kill.

Vampires kill for politics, for survival, sometimes for pleasure, but generally they do not kill to eat.  While it is possible to kill by other means during a feed, a single, regular vampire cannot drink enough blood to drain a human body to the point of death.  The stomach is only so big.  A powerful vampire can get close – this is part of how vampires are made – but does not need to do so.  Vampires are above all things stealth hunters.  When they feed among the flock, they erase their tracks.  So the vampire who leaves a trail of bodies will soon be hunted themselves.

Vampires hunt the most dangerous of prey, but they have three powerful weapons at their disposal.  The first are their pheromones, designed to attract both potential mates and potential prey, for to vampires feeding and sex are intimately intertwined.  When they are attracted to someone, they will “scent,” and the more powerful the attraction, the more powerful the vampire, the more powerful the pheromones will become.  When vampires do this with each other it can cycle back and forth.  When it involves prey the pheromones are difficult to resist, and nearly impossible if they prey is not aware of them.  The second weapon is the nature of the adult vampire’s bite.  Nearly painless and highly erotic, an unsuspecting victim is usually unaware they have been bitten at all, lost in the waves of pleasure as the vampire feeds from them.  Again, the more powerful the vampire, the greater the effect they have.  For the vampire, the bite is a two-way street, and they receive just as much pleasure from biting as does their victim.  It is for this reason that even though vampires cannot gain from feeding on each other, they still bite during sex.  But, for the survival of the vampire’s secret, the third weapon is the most important.  Their tongues secrete a healing enzyme, so that when they stroke and lick a bite mark after feeding the small holes made by their fangs heal closed, leaving behind only a large hickey.  They only take a pint or less of blood from a victim, leaving them slightly light-headed perhaps, but no more so than would the sexual encounter they just had.  And the vampire leaves, fed and with a potential future meal left alive behind.

The vampire is truly the most urban of the preternaturals, the ultimate wolves among the sheep, needing to hide within a large prey population – and also a large population of potential recruits.  Those who they would choose to join their ranks are selected most carefully, for eternity is a very long time to regret.  They stalk their potentials, getting into their lives, their circles of friends, before making a final decision.  That choice is always the vampire’s – they will never open their world, part the veil for anyone not already among their ranks.  Most new vampires discover this hidden existence on the day they awaken to it, desperate for their first blood feed.

On that first morning of forever, what would you do?

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