BLOG Tour: The End of the World Playlist – Dan O’Brien

Welcome to the seventh day of the The End of the World Playlist blog tour. It will run until August 1st and will feature excerpts and new author interviews each day. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dystopian world:

The world as we knew it had ended. Deep in the mountains of the west coast, six men survived. In the town of River’s Bend, these six friends continued on with their lives as zombies inherited the Earth. As they navigated the world that had been left behind, the soundtrack of life played on.

A few questions for the author:

Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things? 

I am generally more concerned about doing things right, though it really depends on the circumstances. If I set out to do something, then I am always trying to make the best possible product that I can. 

You’re having lunch with three people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do? 

Ask them to stop it immediately. Gossiping always has a way of coming back around and getting you. I would hope that someone who knows me would do the same for me.

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Learn as much as you can throughout your life, it will most certainly come in handy. 

Would you break the law to save a loved one? 

Yes, whatever I needed to do. The people I love make life worth living.

Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:

Track 7

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Music played in the store, softly, like a haunting hymn. Kenny walked slowly through the aisles, touching various items as he passed. He reached down and picked up a candle, smelling it. A soccer ball screamed past, slamming into the shelves that had held candles. 

“What the fuck, Short Stack?”

Will shrugged his shoulders and retrieved the ball, negotiating the aisles with relative ease as he ran deeper into the store. 

“Fucking idiot,” murmured the lumbering giant. Walking into another aisle, Kenny touched a huge pillow, pushing his hand into it to test its softness. “Fuckhead, grab a cart.”

The sound of Will kicking the soccer ball echoed again. He sent it spiraling into something that resulted in glass breaking, followed by the quick footsteps of him running. Kenny continued to look at the pillows, walking down the aisle inspecting them. Will returned, riding the cart and laughing hysterically when it crashed into the tall shelves, rocking the items there. 

“Are you in middle school or something? Grow the fuck up.”

“Coming from the guy who wanted Hello Kitty sheets, I’m not sure that means shit.”

“Hello Kitty is cool as shit.”

“You want some pink curtains to go with that, maybe some tampons?”

Kenny lunged forward, but Will slunk away easily. “Make yourself useful and grab cleaning supplies. You have about a shit-ton of zombie parts to clean out of my room.”

“The fuck if I do.”

Kenny pushed the smaller man and Will overdramatized, shrieking and covering his mouth as he bounded away. Will ran through the store, jumping off of things, touching damn near everything within touching distance. He, however, stopped in front of the paint counter upon seeing Bob the Paint Counter Zombie. 

“Greetings and salutations, Bob.”

Bob groaned. 

It was with much more vigor than any of the other zombies. Struggling against the bolts in its hands, black and red muck oozed all over the counter. “Looks like you are making quite the mess there.”

Bob tried to lunge forward, twisting its arms. 

An elbow cracked.

It drooled menacingly. 

“You really should be careful with your anger there, chief, could be bad for your heart.”

Bob lunged again, breaking another elbow. 

Its arms hung loose.

“You see, now you’ve really done it. Two broken arms can’t be good for meeting the ladies. Interferes with the night life, ya know?”

Bob merely drooled and gargled at this point. 

“I think perhaps my wisdom is lost on you there, Bob-o. I think I will be going about my business. You keep on keeping on, man.”

Will walked past Bob, who continued to struggle manically despite its broken arms. The youngest of the survivors grabbed a golf club from the counter and swung it about in wide arcs. Looking into the distance, he covered his hand over his eyes like he was out on the green. Reaching out with the golf club, he ran it over the counters, knocking various plastic-wrapped items off of the shelf. A tube of tennis balls fell to the ground, spreading out in a collage of green, yellow, and orange.

“Tiger Woods is set up for an eagle. He eyes the hole carefully, feeling the ground, testing his window of opportunity here on the 18th green.”

He drew the golf club up and then swung it with a grunt, launching a yellow tennis ball across the store. “He has done it. Again the green jacket will revert to the immortal Woods, further proving his dominance over a sport populated by overweight white men.”

Will raised his arms, making jeers and cheers as he danced about like Rocky Balboa. 

*

Allen carried two duffel bags full of various goodies and camping equipment. The butt of his assault rifle was pressed against his shoulder; his head moved back and forth as he swept the store. With a kick, he opened the back door into the store room. Swiveling his head left and then right, he moved into the storage unit. 

A groan echoed in the darkness. 

His eyes steeled as his grip on the weapon intensified. Stalking forward with precise, powerful movements, he squared himself as he stepped into the open space of the storage room. A zombie sprinted forward on all fours, running with its body nearly sideways. 

Blam. 

The shell discharged, and the round caught the scrambling zombie in the head. Angling to the side, Allen approached it carefully, barrel steady as he stood over it. There was nothing left except a mutilated corpse and bits of skull and brain matter. 

“Fucking deadheads.”

Turning, he moved into another portion of the storage room. Shuffling and scraping announced another denizen in the deeper shadows. A zombie screamed as two emerged running along stacks of goods like roaches along the walls of a dirty home. 

Allen followed them calmly with the rifle. 

Blam.

The first one fell, its body tumbling. The other one pivoted, moving from side to side on all fours. The barrel of the gun circled slowly, following the zombie’s approach.

Blam. 

The round tore through half of the zombie’s face, putting it down. Allen turned back into the darkness.

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.

Bitten (US) 

End of the World Playlist (US)

Cerulean Dreams (US)

The Journey (US)

The Path of the Fallen (US)

The Twins of Devonshire (US)

The End of the World Playlist (UK)

Bitten (UK)

Cerulean Dreams (UK)

The Journey (UK)

The Path of the Fallen (UK) 

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Would you like to win a copy of The End of the World Playlist?

All you have to do is comment on a post during the tour. Two randomly drawn commenters will be awarded either a physical or digital copy of The End of the World Playlist.

Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!

Book Tour: Cerulean Dreams by Dan O’Brien

Welcome to the sixth day of the Cerulean Dreams blog tour. It will run until July 24th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, and a video blog by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dystopian world:
Orion, the last city of men. Deep within the desert, a secret lay waiting. Young women found dead in the street. A corporation that controls the sleep of a populace that never sees the light of day. Alexander Marlowe seeks to unravel the mysteries of Orion as he helps a young girl, Dana, flee the city. The closer they come to the truth, the greater the danger that hunts them. Follow them as they search beyond the boundaries of everything they have ever known for answers. 
 
A few questions for the author:

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? 

I often couch characters in the sentiments and personalities of people who are in my life. I hover over speculative fiction, so most of the events are purely fictional. There are some amusing places in some of my novels that were inspired by real events though….

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? 

I love to write the very sad parts. I find these parts in movies tremendously interesting as well. Also, any time I get to spend time with my antagonist, I consider it time well spent. 

How did you come up with the title? 

My titles are born from the truncation of an entire idea into a single word, or something pithy I thought of. I have blank files of great titles that will probably never be turned into novels. This arises from a need to have a title for a book before I begin writing it. 

What project are you working on now? 

Some re-releases, sequels, serials, and even some all new titles. It will be a busy year.

Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:

Chapter VI

The out-of-commission tunnel was serene darkness except for dim running lights that traced a path along the exposed electrical work. They had stepped off the beaten path almost immediately, knowing that the dead body on the train and the carnage that had ensued would draw government attention soon enough. 

Marlowe shook his head as he walked, muttering to himself. “Can’t be real….” He watched all around him. Sometimes faces appeared, horrifying renditions of things resembling humanity. 

Often, he would look at the dark corners and see the scurrying forms that seemed to plague his every step. He felt like they were being followed every second they walked. There was something else, some slinking force that haunted their footsteps. 

“It’s the Lurking, isn’t it?” he queried out loud.

Dana did not bother to stop, her long strides like miniature leaps. “You believe me now, do you?”

Marlowe craned his neck. The air moved, swirling about as if there were something twisting in the wind. He watched the darkness, bore through it with his penetrating stare and he swore he saw it. 

“Something is here.”

He drew his firearm slowly, watching as the entity moved in the corner. The folds of its body were whipping like a flag in a gale: a bloated, blackened flag that was sentient. It catapulted itself forward, taking flight. It was a great raptor of shadow that descended from consciousness. 

“Down,” he roared. 

He pushed Dana, his body covering hers. The entity fluttered––ripples of its being undulated like waves upon a rocky shore. Marlowe fired; the discharge of his weapon smoky and the impact meaningless as the bullets passed through the creature.

Dana turned her head, pushing away from Marlowe. 

“What the hell are you shooting at?” she cried. 

Marlowe watched the creature recede. 

It did not possess eyes. Ripples formed a dome that seemed to bob from side to side, as if watching Marlowe. He swallowed hard with his weapon tight in his hand. His gaze firm upon its departure back into the shadow. 

“There was something crawling in the corner, some kind of weird thing that floated in the air.” He looked at the gaze of disbelief upon her face and shook his head. “I know what I saw. There was something there.”

Dana moved past him despite his silent, physical protests. “I don’t see anything.”

Marlowe re-holstered his weapon, clearing his throat. 

“It’s gone now.”

She raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. “Of course it is. The thing that you saw that was attacking us, that I didn’t see, is gone. Vanished just like that.”

“Right,” he answered, looking farther ahead into the tunnel. She crossed her arms as if thinking. Marlowe threw his hands into the air in frustration. “I know what I saw. You said something was following us, something called the Lurking. Maybe that’s what this thing was.”

All the mirth in her mockery dissipated. She moved closer to him, her eyes very serious. “You saw the Lurking? The Lurking was here: is that what you are telling me?”

He spoke slowly for emphasis. “I saw something.”

“The Lurking,” she stated.

Marlowe shifted uncomfortably, watching as the undead wandered back into focus. Their gaze no longer seemed steeped in harmful intent. Instead, it shone of ridicule now. 

They were mocking him. 

“Since you know what it looks like, you tell me. It was a giant shadow that rippled in the air and seemed very intent at getting to us. You know anything else that fits the description? Because if you do that would go miles in explaining what’s going on here.”

It was her turn to fidget. 

“I do not know what the Lurking looks like.”

Marlowe scoffed, his laughter soon rolling in the high ceilings of the empty rail path. “You don’t know what it looks like? You are telling me that I didn’t see anything, but you don’t even know what that thing looks like? That’s brilliant. That is amazingly transcendent, Dana. Thank you so much for that insight.”

He turned––his laughter dissipating. 

“Are you coming?”

*

After an hour they emerged from the abandoned tunnel into a vertical shaft that crawled toward the surface. Marlowe grabbed the iron rungs of an industrial wall ladder and pulled himself up with a huff, taking each in order. Dana waited before following, her small body easily climbing the fifteen-meter shaft. 

Marlowe stopped at its apex, feeling around above him for a handle. The shaft would lead them back onto the streets of Orion; back into the race against time for which they seemed so ill-equipped. He found the handle––the slime that surrounded it something of which Marlowe would rather not know the origin. 

“Where are we going?” Dana’s voice seemed small from beneath Marlowe. He wrenched on the handle, the old metal giving way to his leverage. As it finally moved free, he let out a loud breath of air from the exertion. 

Light shone from above; night was giving way to day. “We are going to get some answers, since I seem incapable of coaxing them from you,” he mumbled as he pulled himself through the manhole cover and onto the streets of Orion. 

The sun had begun to make its presence known. The sky was filled with reaching fingers and tendrils of its grasp, the power of the day expunging the night. He sat on the street as he looked down at her dirt-marred face. She had been quiet since their exchange in the tunnel. 

“Give me your hand,” he ordered. 

She did so without question and he pulled her through. As she stood, he replaced the cover with a grunt. Orion was a different creature during the day. The bright signs of the night had dissolved. The effulgent lights that spoke of necessary things were dwarfed by the golden power of the sun. 

Buildings seemed less majestic as the sun shone on them. Dirty on the outside, they were covered in ash and dust that could not and would not be witnessed at night. “Orion sleeps through the day. We will have to be careful,” warned Marlowe as he looked at the buildings. Their appearance seemed more like fossils rather than advanced works of art. 

“Sleeps?”

Marlowe felt for his weapon. 

He did not see the crawling creatures. 

Despite their general creepy nature, he had become accustomed to them; their absence did not bode well for his paranoia. “Orion is a city of the night. I am rarely awake at this hour. The visors regulate our sleep, make sure we are rested, watching our vitals and sleep patterns in an effort to make things more harmonious,” he spoke as he walked out into the empty streets of Orion, the lack of humanity disquieting. 

He looked back at her. 

The sun’s reach bounced from building to building, bringing ever-present light. “I am beginning to suspect that our sleep has something to do with all of this. I haven’t been able to piece together what has happened. That is why we are going to see a friend. To get some answers.”

Her tight-lipped stare revealed a woman who wanted to say more. “Where is your friend?”

Marlowe checked the buildings visually. Without access to the network, he would have to depend on knowing the city by sight. He pointed at a marble statue. Its beauty was disfigured by blackened lines of soot, marred by the inattention of the populace. 

“That is the Barren Maiden. It was placed there some time ago. It was a gift from an artist to the city to commemorate the destruction of the world as we knew it, the infertile landscape that gave birth to Orion.”

Dana ran a hand over it, stepping past Marlowe. 

“It’s beautiful,” she marveled. 

Several hundred meters tall, she was only able to touch the feet of the statue. The woman stood facing west, away from the rising sun. Her clothes windblown, her hair ravaged about her perfect face. Her eyes looked toward the future. “The great matriarch of Orion at its center, we are a stone’s throw from Cerulean Dreams and the Pearl District. A place we do not want to be.”

“Why?” Her mind was still absorbed by the statue. 

“Pearl District is home to OrionCorps main headquarters. My friend lives in the Portrait, just east of here. We should not linger,” he spoke. He started to walk east, past the statue and into a throng of smaller buildings that were painted mustard yellow. 

Dana looked high into the smoky red clouds of the rising sun, seeing that the morning light hid the face of the woman. “What will your friend be able to tell us?”

Marlowe watched the terrain. 

The ground seemed cracked, like it had hardened and split in places. He watched as the cracks crawled across the ground and up the side of the building, shattering the windows into broad webbed strokes. The running board of information that ran around the building did not glint in the morning light. Instead, its information seemed labored and slow.

He stepped closer to the running board, reading the information there. Normally it spoke of rising stocks, news and information that was pertinent to Orion. It was often nothing more than mindless advertising. 

This, however, was different. 

His lips moved as he read it, his neck pulsed: They are coming for you. They are right around the corner. They are going to get you, Marlowe. You can’t run from them. The Lurking is watching you. The board stopped and crackled, electricity arcing and leaping out at Marlowe. 

“Marlowe,” she shouted. 

He looked at her. 

She stood a meter from him. “What are you doing?”

Looking back at the board, he saw that it was simply spewing information about stocks, useless numbers running and cataloguing themselves. “I was looking at the board there. It said….” 

He struggled to find the words. 

“Sir, do you need assistance?” 

The voice was masculine 

Marlowe turned and groaned. 

The crisp OrionCorps uniform seemed unfettered by the morning. His face was clean-shaven, young. He hadn’t yet drawn his weapon. Dana looked from Marlowe to the youthful officer. 

Marlowe tried to shake the cobwebs from his mind. The things that he was seeing were confusing him. “No, we’re fine. We are on our way home,” mumbled Marlowe and then adding, “thank you for your concern.”

Dana’s fear only intensified; she felt like the exchange was slowed. The officer stared at her again, seeing her fearful face. The fact that Marlowe was twice her age and looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks gnawed at the officer. 

She was a pristine young woman. 

Alarms went off in his mind. He touched the side of his temple, his visor coming out only over his left eye. The blue was not as vibrant in the light of day. “What are you doing out at this hour? Aren’t you tired?”

Marlowe could hear the man’s heartbeat, the accelerated thud of fear and anticipation mixed in a dangerous concoction. “Long night, I’m just trying to get my daughter home, officer.”

“Why is your visor up?” 

His voice challenged Marlowe’s sensibilities. 

Marlowe’s arm itched. 

The sun brought the heat with it. The smell of the rail tunnels overpowered his nostrils and he couldn’t remember the last time he slept. The little man was getting on his nerves. “I must have shut it off early. I know the way home without it.”

The officer scrutinized Dana, his half-covered face smooth, as if oiled. “Is that your father? Are you in trouble? Your heart rate is too fast, your pupil dilations read as if you were in fear for your life. Is this man taking you somewhere you don’t want to go?”

Marlowe watched Dana. Before this night, he had only seen dead young girls, their once-perfect features distorted and mangled. 

He had gotten to one of them in time. 

She wasn’t dead. 

Dana looked at Marlowe. 

She was shaking now. 

Opening her mouth, no words came out. 

Her eyes were glassy and wide. 

“He’s….” 

The world snapped. 

Light became brighter. 

The night was gone and with it the madness that had impaired him. There were no longer denizens from some horrific dream. He had the girl and nothing was going to stop him from getting answers. “Not her father,” Marlowe finished. 

The officer turned, his weapon drawing with him. 

Marlowe was already in motion. He grasped the officer’s hand as he tried to pull his weapon free. His startled look brought a sad smile to Marlowe’s face. He pulled the trigger, the weapon exploding against the officer’s leg. 

Screaming out in pain, he fell back. 

As he did so, Marlowe pulled the officer’s weapon from the holster and steadied it on his prostrated frame. The man covered his face, though his lips moved. He was using the visor to communicate. 

The shot caught him along the left temple, shattering immediately any connection he had with the network and OrionCorps. The man twitched, the involuntary spasm drawing a panicked gasp from Dana as she hid behind Marlowe. 

“Sorry kid,” he whispered as he placed the young, dead officer’s weapon inside his long coat and turned without another word. 

Dana stood over the dead man, kneeling and touching his face where the round had impacted. She smoothed away the blood-soaked hair from his face. He had been handsome. She had not wanted him to perish like this, but he would have interfered. He would have undoubtedly complicated things. 

The sun was in full view in the east, proud and strong. She hoped that the day would be better for the two of them than it had been for the young officer that morning.

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
Would you like to win a copy of Cerulean Dreams?

All you have to do is comment on a post during the tour. Two randomly drawn commenters will be awarded either a physical or digital copy of Cerulean Dreams.

Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!


Bitten by Dan O’Brien – Blog Tour!

Welcome to the seventh day of the Bitten blog tour. It will run until July 16th and will feature excerpts and new author interviews each day. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dark world
A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined F.B.I Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.
A trailer for Bitten:
Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
Chapter VII

Lauren Westlake had not been this nervous about a date since she had been a teenager. To be completely fair, it had been some time since a man took interest in her, especially a man who had not been recently serving time or one who liked the idea of a forthcoming, commandeering woman. She felt a twist in her stomach that was akin to those first few moments right as intoxication took over.

It was a pleasant, but unsettled feeling.

The case file for Evelyn Marshall was spread out over the bed. There was a page here, a photograph there. She reached up with one hand to readjust the towel turban she had created to dry her hair. The small shirt she wore revealed her lithe body, though the muted print on the front was long since faded. Her slender fingers picked up a glossy picture of what Evelyn Marshall had looked like only days before.

Tall and statuesque, she had a sense of sadness behind the heavy strokes of mascara around her eyes. The shimmering dress she wore was a kind of mauve. Clearly the picture had been taken in late spring or even summer, for the sun was shining, casting glimmering rings across distant windows.

A man helped her from a long black car.

She pushed through the papers, idly rearranging them as if they possessed no clear order. With a slick sound, she pulled free another glossy picture, this one smaller than the rest. “Evan Marshall,” she mused, touching one of her unpainted fingers to her thin, pale lips.

The picture was not flattering.

There was a quality of irritation that oozed from his grim line of a smile. Dark circles enshrouded cold brown eyes that looked at the camera with indifference. A wide black coat hid his features, but the heaviness of his face was enough of an indicator for Lauren. There was something Orwellian about him, massive and powerful, but somber.

With a sigh, she pushed away the photograph and picked up the typewritten file once more. Clicking her fingers against another picture just below her hand, her eyes drifted to the bedside clock. The red lines of the digital clock revealed her procrastination: 7:30.

A half of an hour more and Dominic would be knocking on the door. Her chest was suddenly tight. With an uneven, spastic movement, she was off the bed and the file in her hand cast onto the ruffled blankets and comforter of the hotel bed set.

Lipstick was smeared with broad strokes of a red hue. Eyeliner skillfully applied while dressing. It was a tornado of movement and application. Getting ready for a date required a strange kind of theater act.

The knock at the door, though expected, was sooner than she had anticipated. Pulling a warm, yet tasteful sweater jacket around her shoulders, she grasped the door handle.

The outside air was chilly.

Winter’s bite was a piercing one.

Her body warmed as she saw Dominic. His hair was wild, blown from the frigid gales. Yet the haphazard manner in which it was situated was perfect. His blue eyes were intense. The darkness of the cold night made them appear more vibrant than when they had first met. As he opened his mouth to speak, the perfect line of his white teeth made her smile.

“You look wonderful, Lauren.”

His voice was smooth and confident.

She fidgeted with the door key in her hand. “Ah, thanks. Do I need to bring a warmer jacket? Do you think I might need it?”

He smiled again.

“It is quite cold, Agent Westlake. I imagine an additional coat would not be a bad idea, though we will not be gallivanting through the woods tonight.” He paused, his self-reflection making his eyes glow. “At least I hope not.”

For a moment, she considered bringing her weapon. It passed as she grabbed a heavy coat, imitation fur lining along the inside and around the neck. She pulled the door closed and locked it with a resounding click. Dominic held the coat for her, allowing her lithe figure to move inside it, seeking the warmth and protection.

He held out an arm, gesturing toward a dark sedan.

“Shall we?”

*

The room was quite dark and were there a casual observer it would have seemed quite odd. The computer screen provided the only light in the room. Drawn shades hid the partial moon that slid through lidless clouds in the night. Large headphones that enveloped his obscenely large head thumped rhythmically.

His eyes watched the screen with a strange intensity.

The door to his room was closed, the rust-colored handle locked as he reached his hands down into his pants. There was something perversely fascinating about the way he listened to Vivaldi and pornography of the most graphic nature as one intermingled symphony of sound and myriad imagery.

His placid face was accented by wide, cow eyes with near transparent irises. Bushy blonde hair, a testament to his Nordic heritage, violently expelled from around the firm grasp of the headphones.

His face twisted as he watched the perverse play of coordinated sexual movements and glistening bodies, artificially created and produced to enhance the experience. The chair rocked slightly as he shifted position, a strained looking coming to his face as he felt the clear rush of climax.

He raised an eyebrow as he removed his hand and then the obligatory moment of uncertainty that followed the self-flagellation to elation. The room was silent except the strange cacophony that erupted in his mind. As he unplugged the headphones, the sounds from his computer filled the room.

Absurd moaning and telegraphed dialogue were combined with precise symphonic rhythm, creating an aural nightmare. The windows were lined with frost. Cold seemed to crawl along the walls, dampening the world. He stood, wiping his hand against his leg. And then again for good measure, he made sure to blend the color of his pajamas, dark black with white writing.

His feet were bare: hobbit feet.

Moving across the wooden floor without a sprite’s dexterity, he opened and unlocked his bedroom door with one quick movement. He lowered his head as he darted into the hall. Had he been looking up, he would have seen the slinking, crawling shadow with death on its breath at the end of the hall leading to the back porch.

As it was, he did not.

Closing the door behind him, he flicked on the light.

The partial shadow of something grotesque moved silently across the wooden floors without sound, watching him. And again, had he been more observant, he would have seen the cold eyes and strange, uneven mane of something awkward watching through the sliver of the door to the bathroom: something wicked.

A torn towel hung off the back of the door.

He turned on the faucet, hot water erupting in spurts and fits from the aged pipes of the cold apartment complex. He wrung his hands, washing them beneath the scalding water. Steam rose in little curls, fogging up the oval-shaped antiquity that served as a mirror in this closet masquerading as a bathroom.

The city of Locke did not have much in the way of community housing. Small, squat buildings weathered and frigid like human freezers lined a narrow street just north of the railroad tracks. The small apartment occupied by the lonely young man was one such sparse residential arrangement.

He splashed his face, reaching for the beaten towel. Rubbing his face hard, he let it fall to the sink. Looking around his miniscule accommodations, he sighed. There was something defeatist about living so far north.

You had to be content with the minor victories: working plumbing, a warm room with four walls. Necessity was paramount, want often falling to the wayside. Opening the door to the bathroom, the artificial light spilled into the narrow hallway.

He looked to his bedroom, the door half-open.

Feeling thirsty, he turned down the hallway toward the diminutive living room that was inhabited by a small couch with an orange comforter. There was an ancient television set, yellow blinking lights of the satellite receiver hidden beneath it in an avalanche of video games, movies, and various clothing.

The kitchen floor was cold linoleum. His bare feet bristled with gooseflesh and he made a face that indicated so. The dull light of the refrigerator cast shadows across the vacant cupboards and overflowing trash can.

He did not see the shadow approach.

The breathing caught his attention. He paused, his body partially illuminated by the refrigerator light. Licking his lips, he turned slowly. His breath caught in his throat.

“What the fuck,” he whispered.

The creature moved toward him slowly, chest heaving. The slash dislodged his intestines. He tried to catch them as they fell. There was blood, so much blood. His hands fell aside as the shadow climbed atop him, ravenous claws tearing flesh.

*

Lauren laughed.

She was more prone to smirking than the wide-mouthed laugh she was utilizing currently. Had it not been, of course, for a rather potent bottle of Pinot Noir that so succinctly ravished her palate. Jabbing her fork into an ample portion of fish in a manner that would not be considered womanly in any society, she attempted to engage in her wittiest of banter.

“So a federal agent? A fearsome title for such a beautiful woman.”

Lauren paused, glancing over her food with wide eyes. Beautiful: the compliment often elicited butterflies in women of all ages. She cleared her throat, brushing back her hair. “That is quite the sentiment. Being a federal agent keeps me from being harassed by the less than reputable.”

Dominic shifted, touching the glass of water. He did not drink the wine. She would surely not begrudge someone for having discipline. “So what does Agent Lauren Westlake like? What does she enjoy?”

She smiled coyly.

“I like this. I like being here.”

Dominic smiled.

It was in such a way that he knew, but did not judge.

He understood.

“I am pleased that you are enjoying yourself. Do you enjoy dancing?” The approach of the house band was subtle; violins humming softly. He stood and crossed to her side of the table, extending his hand. “Would you care to dance?”

She blushed, accepting his hand and standing with him. The restaurant was mostly empty. There were other patrons, older couples who smiled in reflection of their lives, of moments very similar to this one.

They danced slowly, his hand on her lower back.

She hugged against his strong back, feeling the powerful muscles and crevices where his muscles gave way to bone. After a time, she laid her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes. She thought of something she had not for some time: happiness.

Too long had her life been the job; in mere moments, he had broken down that defense. She felt safe and cared for in his arms. They moved across the floor. The veneer wood beneath their feet clicked and creaked with their every movement. Some people had gathered, cooks from the kitchen, wait staff in the back.

Together, they were a portrait of bliss.

A slight rumble became an intrusion; her phone vibrated inside her coat. She did not hear it at first, her thoughts lost in the powerful arms of Dominic. As they turned, he led her up the open area that was serving so well as a dance floor, twirling her and bringing her close once more. Her eyes looked out into the clear night, the moon hanging ominously in the distance.

The rumble came again, moving her coat. Her eyes caught the movement and she stared as Dominic moved her around the floor, finding great peace and rhythm. Her intense look grew, her mind retreating from the joy she had felt so briefly.

And then she saw the movement clearly, unmistakably. With a sad smile, she looked up at Dominic. “I think my phone is vibrating,” she spoke.

He looked deeper into her eyes.

His blue eyes were oceans of depth and consideration. Something quite old deep dwelled within those eyes, a history much older than the stunning man who stood before her. “I understand,” he replied and then stepped away, holding onto her hand.

He raised it slowly, holding her eyes and kissed the top of her hand lightly. She smiled, her shoulders lifting. He turned over her hand and kissed her palm, this time lowering his head and closing his eyes. Gooseflesh traced her body, the entire right side of her body experiencing a chill. Her smile had shrunk, though not from lack of joy. It took everything she had to not giggle goofily, to not blush and fawn as a teenager in love. It took a great deal of control to move away from him then.

But, she did so.

Lifting up her coat, she pulled free her phone and frowned. There were several calls from the sheriff’s department. Scrolling down, she saw another from the sheriff’s cell number. With a sigh, she put the phone to her ear and rung her voicemail.

The news did not improve.

The sheriff was speaking in hurried tones and despite Dominic’s electric smile, her brow furrowed. By the time she had replaced her phone back into the pocket of her coat, she was positively fearsome.

“There has been another murder.”

Dominic’s face mirrored her seriousness.

“I am sorry, Lauren. Where shall I take you?”

Time felt as if it ebbed with his words. She had forgotten her weapon, leaving it because she felt it would not be a necessary evil on this night. That had proven incorrect. “We will have to cut the evening short. I fear that I will be held up for a while at the scene.”

Dominic paused, a pregnant one in which he seemed to evaluate her claim carefully. “Would it be inappropriate if I accompanied you to the scene?”

She looked at him with wide brown eyes.

Again, he surprised her.

There was something powerful about the manner with which he conducted himself. The restaurant chattered on. Other patrons ignored their exchange, the elegance of their movements having faded back into the white noise of the world.

She grabbed her coat and put it on.

“I am not sure that it would be the best idea.”

He moved in closer, taking advantage of the height difference to surround her. “I will not be in your way, Lauren. I would simply be a glorified chauffeur. It would not be an inconvenience for me.”

She considered his words.

The night had only begun and her plans far exceeded where they had found themselves. The restaurant, though inhabited with souls, felt empty except for Dominic and her. His cerulean eyes watched her with an old look, a wisdom that wandered far beyond his near perfect body. A body she wished to explore more of. She blushed at the thought and his perfect smile returned.

“I do not imagine that Sheriff Montgomery will be too encumbered by my presence. It might amuse him somewhat. He seems intrigued by you, as I imagine a great many men are.”

Lauren had never felt so giggly and light as she did in his presence. For her life, she had always avoided those flowery feelings of placing men’s needs and wants ahead of hers. Dominic erased that, but she knew that he would never allow her to believe such a thing. She cursed herself for finding such a man during dark times.

He stepped closer, taking her hands in his.

“I am intrigued by you. You enchant me.”

Her legs felt weak, a feeling that made her resolve steel. Walking that tightrope of maintaining her reason and allowing her feelings to run away with her, she smiled. “You don’t strike me as the squeamish type, though I should warn you that these crime scenes can be quite gruesome.”

His smile faded to a tight smirk. “I will take that as your acquiescence. And if it alleviates your concerns, I am not in the slightest squeamish, as you say.”

She allowed him to put her coat over her shoulders. Looking at him, she spoke in a low tone. “I should at least stop by and get my gun.”

There were others things she would have liked to say. But it would have to wait. She had a feeling in her stomach that whatever she believed was haunting Locke had reared its tumultuous head again. She took his arm as they exited the restaurant out into the cold night.

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
Would you like to win a copy of Bitten?
 
All you have to do is comment on a post during the tour. Two randomly drawn commenters will be awarded either a physical or digital copy of Bitten.

Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!

Nine Questions with… Jeffrey X Martin

Today I’m featuring an interview with author Jeffery X Martin. Welcome Jeffery, why do you take a moment and introduce yourself to the captive audience that you now have before you.

JeffMartinMy name is Jeffery X Martin. Everyone calls me X. You should, too. I am the creator of the Elders Keep Projekt, a series of intertwining short horror stories, currently available for Kindle and Nook. Expect a full length collection of these stories to be released in time for the holidays. I am also the author of Tarotsphere, a funny book about Tarot cards. I’ve also co-written, with James Branscome and James DeHaven, an American giallo script called Murder Ballads. That movie is currently in pre-production. I write a weekly column about music from the 1980’s for popshifter.com. I also write horror and sci-fi reviews for Tony Schaab at his website, TheGASPFactor.com.

I seem to do a lot of writing.

Tell us about your writing process?

It’s pretty stream-of-consciousness. I don’t make normal outlines as much as I see sticky notes in my head. With the Elders Keep stories and their reoccurring characters, I have to check back with older tales to keep them in line, make sure I’m not revealing plot points too early.

But no matter what I’m writing, there comes a point where my mind switches to a different level. I call it the High White Noise. It’s almost like I hear some static in my brain and it blocks out everything but story. When I hear that High White Noise, I can write for hours, just pounding out pages and nothing distracts me. The kids, the cat, nothing. I just go. I can look back at it the next day and not remember writing it. It just shows up.

Is there a genre, other than the one you currently write in, that you wish you could break into?

I wish I were clever enough to write hard sci-fi. The people who do that amaze me with their world-building skills. I can only write so intricately before I start to confuse myself and others.

What are the 5 books that have influenced you the most, and why?

1) Stephen King’s Night Shift. It turned me on to the short story form. It was so punk. King got in, made his point, got out and EVERYBODY got hurt. All of those stories were quick terrifying shots to the gut. Who wouldn’t want to write that?

2) Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. I’ve always been fascinated with the Seventies. I was alive then, but I don’t remember them well. I always figured Nixon was a foul human being and this book, even with the realization that parts of it were pure drug-addled fantasy, did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion. Thompson’s writing was brutal and cosmic, sentences barely able to confine brilliant madness from the first capital letter to the final punctuation mark, every word the right one. Thompson embodied crazed drunken uncle storytelling at its finest.

3) Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Cat’s Cradle. The total flip-side of Thompson, but equally as influential on me. His simple sentences belied the cynical beauty beneath. He always had a point, and it was always made with sad humor and respect for the intelligence of the audience. I got to see him speak at the University of Tennessee when Timequake came out. He was so gentle and self-effacing, yet you could almost see the weight of the world on his brow. He’s my hero, to be certain.

4) Michael McDowell’s The Elementals. One of the only books that ever gave me nightmares. McDowell’s depiction of creatures that rose up out of the sand and threatened to swallow up a dilapidated family house on a Carolina beach burrowed itself into my brain and never left. I read every year for almost a decade until the book itself finally fell apart. It’s not easy to find now, but well worth the hunt.

5) Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. All right, I know this is a “comic book,” but this story arc transcends any other graphic novel I’ve ever read. On the surface, it’s a story about a team of crime-fighters. Underneath lies the key to absolute awareness. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, conspiracy theories, references to old BBC television shows and all the things behind the sun are contained in this story. It changed my mind and it changed my life.

If you could cast one of your works, who would you choose to play your main characters?

If I could cast the recurring main characters in the Elders Keep stories, I would first choose Josh Holloway (Sawyer from LOST) as Sheriff Graham Strahan. He could handle the warmth and gallows humor of the character, while not glossing over the supernatural elements. Holloway could keep everything human and grounded. I don’t understand why he isn’t a massive star right now. David Henne (from Wizards of Waverly Place) would be a perfect Deputy Moon. Young, a little over-eager and kind of twitchy. Tiffany Shepis would be Shelly the bartender, Graham’s love interest. She’s hot, she’s got a great way of finding the funny in any given situation and she’s hot.

What is the first thing you would do if you woke up one morning to find one of your books on the NY Times Bestsellers List?

Laugh maniacally.

Do you have any vices that you turn to while you are writing?

I’m not ashamed to say vodka is my friend. I quit smoking last October by using a personal vaping device, and I advocate vaping quite vocally. I firmly believe in tobacco harm reduction and you can often find me on Facebook in the Smoky Mountain Vapers group. If you want to quit smoking in a way that isn’t stupid, seek us out.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I sit on the couch with my awesome wife, Hannah, and watch Italian horror movies. I also read Tarot online, hang out at the swimming pool and tweet inappropriate things at all hours of the morning.

Please share with us the first nine lines of your current work-in-progress.

This is from the fourth Elders Keep story, which deals with a place barely mentioned in the very first one. A lot of things come together in this tale, which is one I know the fans of the series have been waiting for. It may start slow. It certainly doesn’t end that way. Here are the first nine lines of Tales from the Keep Volume 4: Parham’s Field.

“I’m not drunk, goddammit!” Will exclaimed, exasperation creeping into his voice. “You ever go into Parham’s Field at night?”

Graham shook his head and laughed. “Oh, hell no. Never.”

“Why not?” Will asked.

Graham shrugged. “Everybody knows you don’t go into Parham’s Field at night.”

“But why, Graham? Give me an answer.”

Graham searched his brain.

Now let’s take a sneak peek into Tales from the Keep Volume 3: Mouth…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal businessman Larry Ford has a terrible toothache and an appointment with a local dentist. It’s a simple procedure. But nothing is ever simple in Elders Keep, and nothing hurts like your mouth.

Don’t forget that clicking on the cover will whisk you away to Amazon!

Thank you Jeffery (I just can’t call you X) for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’d like to connect with Jeffery you can find him on his website, Amazon Author Page or Twitter.

Book Tour: The Path of the Fallen by Dan O’Brien

Welcome to the third day of The Path of the Fallen blog tour. It will run until July 8th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, character interviews, and a casting call by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this sprawling fantasy world:
Set against the backdrop of the tundra and a world desperate for hope, the journey of a young man, E’Malkai, will come to define a realm that has been broken by an evil that does not sleep. A bitter betrayal, and the inception of a war that will consume the world, forces E’Malkai to confront the past and undertake a pilgrimage that is his birthright. Follow him on his journey and be transformed. 

A few questions for the author:

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer? 

Probably a whole variety of things that would make me cry myself to sleep, but none that I would share. People are going to love you and hate you for what you do. Best prepare yourself for it now.

How do you react to a bad review of one of your books? 

Read it, see if there is anything useful, and then flush it from memory. It is easier now than when I was first starting out.

When are you going to write your autobiography?

It has been in the works for a while, though it might turn into one of those 80% autobiography, 20% bullshit books.

Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:

Fe’rein

Fe’rein was an abysmal sight. Crimson and shadow energy cascaded around him as he descended from the skies of Culouth, death and blood materialized. He lowered himself through the atmosphere feet first, as if gravity really held some control over him. His dark black boots emerged as he set foot on the platform outside the Commerce Deliberation Hall. The powerful energy trail diminished like ash and fog; his features returned. His white suit was unfettered, as if he had done no more than take a leisurely walk down the street.

The great balcony was a sight to behold. Golden railings ran the length of the three exterior sides. The interior wall was a tapestry of stained glass, ornate shapes and colors dancing across the crystalline surface. His feet clicked on the marble tiles. Strict arms were at his sides, as if restrained by some force. Hateful eyes directed forward, though a cruel smile crept onto his lips. As he approached the wall of tempered glass, a grand sound resonated in the open air. If Fe’rein had heard or cared at all, he chose not to show it outwardly so.

“Fe’rein, you have returned unscathed,” called the voice.

Fe’rein regarded him with a critical eye. He did not bother to turn as he passed by the diminutive orderly whose name he had chosen not to remember. The orderly opened his mouth to say more, but Fe’rein had already continued on. The mion moved through the wall next to the metallic port. He remerged within the confines of the inner chambers of the highest echelons of the Deliberations, into the personal chambers of High Marshal Kyien.

The room was dark. An artificial tint made the room darker than it would have been otherwise. Despite the impressive floor space there was only one real piece of furniture: a steel desk at the far corner of the room. The base possessed no legs that were apparent from the front. Deep indentations were carved into it; each was accompanied by another and another, until they appeared as erratic scratches on the surface.

“There is no need to degrade Jilen. He was merely greeting you as I had instructed.” The voice held power and influence––a tone of supreme confidence that was not readily found in such abundance, even in the overzealous confines of Culouth.

The walls were darkened as well. Fe’rein could make out the outlines of the Umordoc guards set shoulder to shoulder the length of the entire room, more than twenty-five in all. None of them were as intelligent as Elcites, nor were any of them so affectionately named.

They were designated by letters and numbers randomly assigned within their divisions. Each carried the metallic pikes that the lower beings told stories of them possessing. Their eyes had a haunting amber color to them, as wolves did when they hunted in the night.

Fe’rein stopped as he approached the table, behind which sat the High Marshal. The man’s face was a sneer no matter what angle it was perceived from. His stature was not as his voice suggested. He was almost a head shorter than Fe’rein, a fact that was amplified by their current positions.

“You were successful.”

Fe’rein cocked his head and bowed slightly.

“Though sloppy. The entire collective already knows of your exploits as if it had been broadcast all over the frequencies.” The High Marshal rose from his chair, his hands gripped one another behind his back. His gray suit flared out in the arms and legs as Fe’rein’s did. “You were instructed to kill those aboard, not to obliterate the entire installation.”

The man’s face flushed. His cheek muscles flexed as if to personify his anger, while Fe’rein remained as he was, uncaring. His face was impassive as he watched the smaller man.

“Have you nothing to say?” challenged Kyien.

“They decided what was necessary, not you.”

“They?” queried Kyien, the arch of his eyebrow rising.

“The word of the tribunal supersedes your own. I did as instructed. No more, no less.”

Kyien turned, resuming his seat behind the desk. He folded his hands and propped his face atop his arms, watching Fe’rein with a scornful snarl. “They speak to you directly now?”

Fe’rein merely looked at the man.

“Then you believe that you can perceive their will?” His words were feverish. But he kept his voice low, restrained. The High Marshal knew what would happen if the wrath of the mion were incited.

“They would have wished any indication…”

He was cut off as Kyien leapt up from his seat once more and approached Fe’rein with an unbridled speed. The smaller man raised his hand as if to strike. Words rolled from his lips before he had thought them through completely. “You are a fool of a human,” he roared.

Fe’rein caught his arm. His hand glowed as he did so, the energy seeping out like bloodied smoke and wrapping around the High Marshal’s arm. He lifted the squat Kyien into the air. The grimace on the High Marshal’s face grew exponentially as Fe’rein’s grip began to burn through the suit. A stomach-turning smell of boiling flesh flooded over the room.

“Damn you, Ryan.”

Fe’rein’s eyes exploded into energy, as did the rest of his body. The Umordoc began to move, a light twitch of their feet. Yet, it was far too slow to catch a Creator, the mion, unprepared. He extended his free arm out behind him, not bothering to look. An undulating pillar of liquid energy burst from his outstretched palm. Taking in three Umordoc with one blast, the energy incinerated them to ash as soon as the beam passed over them.

“Stop it, Ryan,” struggled Kyien. But as he looked into Fe’rein’s eyes, he saw the anger, the hatred, and realized that he had used his human name. He grimaced then, mostly from the pain, but more so from his stupidity at angering a Creator. “Stop this, Fe’rein.”

The energy receded as quickly as it had come. Fe’rein let Kyien fall back to his feet. Twisting his arm, the bones and metal there clicked against one another. They made a cracking sound with each turn of his wrist. “You forget your place, Kyien. I serve the Intelligence, not you.”

Kyien pressed the burnt flesh that had been underneath the grasp of Fe’rein. Looking ruefully at the mion, he grimaced. “Forgive my impertinence, Fe’rein. I was not myself. I trust then that the Resistance forces in the space station are no more?”

Fe’rein nodded in agreement.

His unwavering posture was strange after witnessing the power that resided at his fingertips, the awesome energy he commanded with nothing more than a thought. The orderly remained huddled inside the far balcony entrance. His wary eyes watched as the room returned to the more pleasant darkness that had been there before Fe’rein’s outburst.

“Jilen,” spoke Kyien, regaining his former confidence when addressing the cowering man. He eyed Fe’rein, though the mion did not bother to return the gaze.

Jilen pushed himself to his feet and approached, shuffling them at first. The stern look from Kyien quickened his step. He moved alongside the desk, bowing and not even looking in the general direction of Fe’rein.

“Yes, Kyien sien. How may I serve you?”

“Would you please escort the good councilman in, we now require his presence. The mion has arrived.” Jilen bowed and scuttled past Fe’rein. Disappearing past the Umordoc, he moved into the darkness of the council chambers.

“Why do we require the councilman? His words are useless, and neither truth nor action comes from them,” commented Fe’rein with a frown.

“Because there is a council. The citizens of Culouth may be sheep, Fe’rein, but they still like to believe they have a say. That belief originates from their spokesman, Augustine.”

Fe’rein blew air through his lips in distaste. Folding his arms across his chest, he moved about the room for the first time without violence. He faded back into the darkness near the balcony entrance.

“I would ask a favor of you. Do not be harsh with the good councilman, he scares rather easily,” commented Kyien as cautiously as he could without sacrificing his pride.

“So be it,” the mion replied with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The opposite doors slid open and Jilen appeared, scuttling across the floor in hurried steps as he had before. This time Augustine remained no more than a few paces at his back, his robes dragging on the floor. His robust face beaded with sweat from the minimal exertion of walking.

Kyien stood, spreading his arms wide. A smile crossed his face as he took in the approaching figure of the councilman, but not before looking across the chambers to the pacing, faint figure of Fe’rein. “My good friend Augustine, how nice of you to join me––us here.”

“Kyien sien, it is good to see you as well,” he replied stiffly, still not yet aware of Fe’rein’s presence. Jilen disappeared and reappeared with a flat-backed chair. The plush cushion at its bottom was a dark purple, the yellow-clawed globes at its feet were engraved with runic symbols of ancient languages. “Will M’iordi sien be joining us as well?”

Janel M’iordi was another member of the council. His position dealt more with the war maneuvers of the Culouth state. He served as Secretary to the Intelligence, a rank set just below High Marshal Kyien. “He will be joining us shortly, but I wished to speak with you about the nephew of the mion, the one called E’Malkai sien.”

“Yes, young E’Malkai sien. He is well, even though the meeting was sullied by that bumbling fool Fredrick. The drunken one who blathers on; he said some things about Fe’rein.”

Fe’rein came out from the shadows in a flash. He was next to Augustine so quickly that the large man leapt from his seat as if a ghost or specter had accosted him. “What did Fredrick say?” rasped Fe’rein with interest.

His wide eyes subsided. Augustine evened out the twisted ends of his robes, his sweaty hands drying against the fabrics. “Nothing of consequence, my mion.”

“Let me be the judge of that, Augustine,” replied Fe’rein. His tone assured the councilman that he held him in no respect, his title meaning nothing in his eyes.

“Of course, Fe’rein sien,” stuttered Augustine, casting a worried glance at the calm features of Kyien. The High Marshal allowed himself a smile as he watched another of power quiver beneath the mion. “He said that you were not a hero, not like Seth, I believe is what he said. I do not know of any Culouth warrior by such a name.”

“Nor would you,” snapped Fe’rein, ending the man’s words with a thin hiss.

“Your nephew has accepted the trials. He seemed dispirited by the human’s words,” added Augustine, his fat face frowning in contemplation.

“Fredrick’s words,” mused Fe’rein, eyeing the reluctant councilman.

“A ward of a mion has not been chosen for a thousand years, perhaps a thousand’s thousand. Nor has there been a Creator for near as long,” spoke Kyien, sensing that Fe’rein’s already dark mood threatened to grow worse after hearing the councilman’s words.

Jilen approached the table; his hunched shoulders slackened since Fe’rein had returned to the far shadows of the room. “Secretary M’iordi has arrived, my sien. He asks for an audience with you,” spoke Jilen, his head bowed, body lowered to one knee.

“Show him in, Aide Jilen.”

“As you wish, Kyien sien.”

Jilen disappeared as quickly as he had come. Silence descended upon the three of them. Fe’rein’s anger manifested as the dark energy billowed off him, lighting the shadow with the blood red of his power.

“Is it true that the Harbinger has been destroyed?” queried Augustine, trying to break the tense silence that had wound itself around the three men.

Fe’rein did not look up, but instead fader deeper into his thoughts of E’Malkai and Fredrick. His cold eyes permeated the darkness, sending a shiver over the portly councilman as he averted his gaze back to Kyien.

“It was indeed, though it was necessary in order to seal away any indication of the Resistance,” replied Kyien, choosing his words carefully. He felt the power that he wielded sapped by the mere presence of Fe’rein. He could feel that the mion had his eyes on him at all times, listening, seeking out those who were not worthy. “There is little left of them now. They hide in the streets and here among us, chameleons that they are.”

“They will not for long, High Marshal Kyien.” The voice came from the direction in which Jilen had exited. The shadow broke, and a man strode forth, sauntering. His lank frame was taller than Kyien’s. Although his waistline possessed much less girth than the High Marshal’s, he still had much wider shoulders.

M’iordi had stark white hair, as white as the garb Fe’rein wore. His eyes were blue globes, and his pale skin was freckled. He extended his hand across the desk to Kyien as he came in range, waving away Jilen who had brought a seat for the Secretary.

“Kyien sien, you look well,” he offered. His accent was lighter than any of the others and then turning to Augustine, he bowed slightly. “Councilman Augustine, you look well-fed.”

They all laughed, even Augustine, though his faded the quickest. He watched the lank Secretary with a distasteful glare. Kyien leaned back into his chair and gestured to the shadow, his fingers twitching under the cold glare of Fe’rein.

“You, of course, know Fe’rein.”

M’iordi bowed, interrupting Kyien. “My mion.”

“You look well, M’iordi,” returned Fe’rein, stepping out from the shadow. His thoughts lost for the moment. A twinge of a smile crossed his face, the canyon of his scar twisting as he did so.

“Only through your graces, my mion.”

M’iordi remained bowed as he spoke.

Fe’rein stepped forward. He placed a gentle hand on him before he spoke again. “Call me Fe’rein. If the others see fit to do so, then so shall you,” replied Fe’rein as amiably as he could muster.

“Of course, Fe’rein. There is talk that your victory was complete; that their base is no more and the day of their meddling will soon come to an end. Is this true, my mion?”

“Fe’rein has…” began Kyien.

The dark demigod silenced him with a wave of his hand. The High Marshal bowed, although his contempt was not lost on the others. “Yes, there were some there, even Marion. I doubt that they were based there. It is my belief that the base was merely a diversion. It matters little, for it was necessary to make an example of their impertinence. The destruction of the space station was an unfortunate side effect––an effect that has seemed to create a rather heightened state of affairs here within the city.”

Kyien looked on with surprise, Augustine as well. It was well known that Fe’rein rarely spoke at length, and to hear it in person was something of a memorable occasion. Many spoke of the trust between Fe’rein and M’iordi; a bond built on the distrust of the hierarchy of the Culouth Commerce.

“A decoy in space to draw you away from the city? To what end?” queried M’iordi incredulously. His concern and surprise were not as heartfelt as they seemed, but the others went on whether they noticed or not.

“There is a belief that they wish to strike Fe’rein’s own blood, to attack a blood relative of a Creator. How foolish. E’Malkai, sien of the House of Di’letirich, has been advised of a possible attack, yet he and Leane ilsen seemed rather unconcerned with it all,” replied Augustine, the jowls of his face swaying as he spoke.

“Then the rumor that the young sien of the House of Di’letirich is to take on the trials of Tal’marath is true. What do we hope to accomplish from this?” continued M’iordi, pacing behind Fe’rein.

“A ward of a mion is granted powers, so it is written. To have another powerful force aligned with us will be a great help as the Resistance continues to gather followers to its cause with each passing day,” explained Kyien. He laced his hands together and placed them on his chest, leaning back in his chair.

“Do you believe this as well, Fe’rein?” queried M’iordi as he turned to the stoic mion.

“There is certainly a possibility. There are those who doubted I would become what I am, yet here I stand. I believe that what was written possesses the same power now as it did then in the cradle of its birth,” replied Fe’rein, his arms crossed in front of his chest.

“There are also those who say you do not deserve the gift that you have received,” spoke Augustine. His eyes glazed and he stared forward, his lips moving mechanically.

Fe’rein was beside him with such deftness that neither M’iordi nor Kyien had the skill to follow. “What did you say, Augustine?” queried Fe’rein with a deepening scowl.

“You do not deserve the power that you took,” echoed another’s voice through Augustine. The robust man was no longer himself. “Seth Armen, son of Evan, was to inherit the mantle of the Believer, not Ryan, son of Evan, desecrator of the power.”

M’iordi took a step back, gasping. He held his hand over his mouth in horror. Kyien rose from his seat, drawing a weapon from underneath his desk. The sidearm was twice as large as the High Marshal’s hand. He held it unsteadily as Augustine stood from his chair, throwing it aside and pointing a putrid finger at Fe’rein.

“This is not over, another will see you fall.” Those were the last words as a blue light fell over Augustine. It consumed him, bathing him in unnatural energy and then dissipated in a flash of light. The heavy councilman dropped to the ground with a colossal thud, sprawling him out on his stomach.

Fe’rein remained were he stood; his face showing as much surprise as he would allow himself. M’iordi and Kyien ran past him to the side of the fallen councilman, jostling him. He opened his eyelids and looked at them with a hazy, glassy stare.

“What happened?” he asked as he wobbled, trying to get to his feet. He fell back to a sitting position with an uncomfortable groan.

“Shaman,” whispered Fe’rein.

“Fe’rein, what was that?” spoke Kyien.

“What is it that you remember, Augustine?” responded Fe’rein, not bothering to turn or answer the High Marshal’s question.

Kyien’s eyes were aflame again, his passions getting the better part of him as he stormed toward Fe’rein. He paused, his shoulders shrugging as Fe’rein turned to face him. His cold stare reduced him to a child once more.

“Answer my question, Augustine. Do not think, just speak what you remember. The words that still linger,” continued Fe’rein, standing over Kyien. His eyes swirled with liquid shadow and flame.

Augustine shook his head. His hands trembled. “I––ah…”

“Speak, do not think,” commanded Fe’rein with considerable force behind his words.

“Seth Armen of the Fallen. The true herald of the Believer,” replied Augustine with shame. He lowered his eyes away from Fe’rein, a whimper escaping his lips.

“Fear not Augustine, I do not blame you. This was not your doing,” spoke Fe’rein with a sigh, as though a fantastic weight had been placed on him. “There is another at work here.”

“Are we in danger?” asked Kyien, placing his hands on his desk for support as he rounded it. “Will this voice come again?”

“I doubt that he would risk it again, but he came for me. He wished to speak to me and did so through Augustine,” returned Fe’rein with disgust plastered across his features.

He turned now, fading into the darkness, leaving the others to care for Augustine. His voice floated back over the shadow and his words froze their hearts. “If this being returns, it will be the end of Culouth and all those who serve the Intelligence.”

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
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